World’s top solar-powered house in Times Square

futurehaus times squareFresh off taking first place in the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East, Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS will take a victory lap that includes constructing the sustainable, grid-connected 900-square-foot building in the middle of Times Square in Manhattan.

“I never imagined I would be building a house in the middle of New York City,” said Laurie Booth, a fourth-year architecture student and FutureHAUS Dubai student team leader. “It was always a dream for the house to go on tour after the decathlon and serve as an educational opportunity, so it’s pretty surreal.”

FutureHAUS Dubai and the team are available to the public as a part of the Times Square Design Pavilion for New York City’s annual celebration of design, NYCxDesign. The house will later be transported to Virginia Tech’s newly established Innovation Campus in Alexandria and then back to Blacksburg for updates before returning to Dubai for the 2020 World Expo.

FutureHAUS Dubai’s success over 14 international teams in the decathlon was the culmination of nearly two decades of research, two years of accelerated development after the previous iteration was destroyed in a 2017 fire, and more than a month spent in a desert near Dubai erecting the structure. And the cornerstone of that work was the very foundation of the university’s vision for the future, Beyond Boundaries.

“We have the most interdisciplinary team that we’ve ever had around any research project, and that’s what it takes. That’s the secret,” said Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai. “That’s the formula to making something this amazing.”

The project united students and faculty from various colleges and disciplines in building a net-zero energy home incorporating new methods of prefabrication, technology, and sustainability.

It’s the type of work across academic boundaries that Richard Blythe, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, believes can enhance the college’s and entire university’s role as a global change agent for good. The Futurehaus is a core element in the college’s Smart Construction initiative that will transform the ways in which things are built using new technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced manufacturing.

“It was tremendous to see the tangible results that are possible because of our Beyond Boundaries vision and to see these concrete outcomes leading the world on the international stage in Dubai,” Blythe said. “It’s proof positive that we are on a great course to fulfill Virginia Tech’s land-grant transformation mission.”

Though far from a desert, Booth said rebuilding the structure, so it can be shared in the center of the city that never sleeps, might be even more challenging.

“This is definitely going to be our most ambitious construction timeline yet because we really have no alternative rather than to finish,” she said. “We’re going to start construction at 11:30 p.m. [on Monday, May 6] and we’re going to work through the night that first night just because we have the major challenge of Times Square always being occupied.”

But being on such a populous stage should help fulfill the team’s vision of using the house as a tool for education and advocacy about energy-efficient home design and quality construction. It’s estimated more than 3 million people will visit the pavilion during NYCxDesign.

“I think it really validates all the resource and work that’s gone into this house and I think it really steps it up to the next stage, which is to expand this idea and start thinking about mass scale production of this concept,” Booth said.

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