University of Maryland 2011 Solar Decathlon House rendering
U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon University of Maryland 2011 Solar Decathlon House rendering

Watershed, the University of Maryland house inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, won the architecture contest of the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon with a score of 96 out of a possible 100 points. Appalachian State’s Solar Homestead and Team New Zealand’s First Light House, modeled on the country’s traditional “bach” beach homes, took second and third, respectively. In the biennial collegiate green-building competition, student teams are scored across 10 categories—including engineering, affordability, and energy balance—with the overall winner announced Oct. 2. A three-member jury evaluated houses on their proportions, holistic design, lighting, inspiration, and documentation (such as drawings, a project manual, and an audiovisual presentation). “The Maryland home achieves an elegant mix of inspiration, function and simplicity,” says Michelle Kaufmann, architecture competition juror and founder of Michelle Kaufmann Studio in the San Francisco Bay area. “It takes our current greatest challenges in the built environment—energy and water—and transforms them into opportunities for spatial beauty and poetry while maintaining livability in every square inch.” The two other jurors were Paul Hutton, founder and principal of Hutton Architecture Studio in Denver, and Bob Schubert, professor of architecture and associate dean for research in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).

The nearly 900-square-foot home is made of two rectangular sheds with sloping roofs that maximize solar-energy generation and collect rainwater along a central axis. That rainwater mixes with the house’s graywater in constructed wetlands located under the bathroom and along the decks, where grasses and bushes metabolize excess nutrients in the water and filter out pollutants. Other features of the house include a 12-foot-tall vertical garden connected to the kitchen by a pergola-covered deck, and a composting barrel, where scraps can be converted to nutrients.

With five other competitions scored as of Sept. 29—home entertainment, appliances, hot water, comfort, affordability—Team Maryland sits in first place with 483 points, followed by Ohio State with 481, and Purdue with 472. Three juried contests remain—communications, engineering, and market appeal—as well as the measured energy balance contest, which tracks the energy produced and consumed by each house over the course of the competition.