LAS VEGAS: UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS
Mojave Bloom offers military veterans an oasis where they can enjoy a comfortable and self-sufficient lifestyle insulated from both the bustling downtown of Las Vegas and the Mojave Desert’s harsh environment. Drawing inspiration from the traditional Islamic sahn, or courtyard, this house turns inward, sheltering the residents from heat and noise, and achieving a model of alfresco living otherwise unattainable in the southern Nevada climate. The house is a place of healing for veterans who suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Mojave Bloom empowers occupants to reconfigure the home as needed, adapting to weather conditions, social activities, and their needs for connection or refuge while healing from trauma.
Team Las Vegas designed Mojave Bloom as a sustainable, innovative, and therapeutic zero energy house for the U.S. Department of Energy 2020 Solar Decathlon® Build Challenge. Imagine a house that captures energy instead of reflecting sunlight; one that filters greywater and sequesters carbon in its vegetation and soils; one that gives back to the ecosystem in which it resides. Although Mojave Bloom incorporates many of the latest high-tech opportunities available to consumers today, the design is not focused on these systems. Rather, environmental technologies and renewable energy systems are there to support residents who want to live independently of the grid in a place of their choosing without having to give up modern comforts.
Because Team Las Vegas considers its core mission to be support for military veterans, the students designed Mojave Bloom as an affordable, self-sufficient home specifically for someone who served their country. The house's physical design addresses the specific needs of occupants who may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical limitations due to their military service. The team implemented multiple best practices from the environmental engineering and architectural psychology fields, including:
- A safe and secure environment that uses monitoring screens and diagnostic technologies
- A sense of autonomy through spatial design that empowers residents to physically manipulate their own environment
- Stimulation of both the senses and intellect with the integration of social and activity spaces, abundant landscaping, and daylighting
- Deliberate furniture, fixture, and insulations selections.
After the competition, the project will become a permanent structure in the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden, which features a Remembrance Wall memorializing the victims of the October 1, 2017, mass shooting.
The Design + Build program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas advocates for the power of design and innovation to change lives. This core belief guided the team to look at the Solar Decathlon not only as a chance to address sustainability and environmental concerns, but also as an opportunity to serve some of the most at-risk members of their community.
Las Vegas is home to Nellis Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, which is the largest and most demanding advanced air combat training mission in the world. About one-third of service members who deploy return home with combat-induced disabilities, facing years of rehabilitation and related issues, including substance abuse, divorce, incarceration, homelessness, and even suicide. These men and women have chosen to serve their country. Team Las Vegas believes it is their responsibility as citizens to support veterans in return.
PTSD and traumatic brain injury are two of the biggest challenges for returning veterans. Mojave Bloom accommodates these conditions by demonstrating prospect and refuge principles through simultaneous access to outside views without exposing the occupants to onlookers. With the gates and adjustable shades over the courtyard windows, residents are free to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing their privacy. The house's windows and skylight keep occupants connected to the outside world with visual access while also allowing them to experience light and shadows as the day progresses. This circadian connection has been shown to improve sleep cycles. Additional considerations, such as acoustic insulation in the ceiling and full ADA compliance, help residents reduce stress so they can feel safe and secure in their home environment.
- The inner courtyard draws inspiration from the traditional Islamic sahn, or courtyard, and is designed to shelter the resident from heat and noise, offer a place of healing and respite for veterans, and achieve a model of alfresco living otherwise unattainable in the southern Nevada climate.
- A canopy of bifacial photovoltaic panels bathes the inner courtyard in diffused light.
- Sliding, living green walls flank the inner courtyard, cooling the dry desert air via evaporative transpiration and acting as a windbreak against seasonal winds.
- Recaptured water circulating through the hydroponic system in the inner courtyard creates a meditative sound for the user.
- The sliding living green walls and operable window walls that separate the living spaces from the courtyard allow the user to manipulate space and control their own environment depending on weather conditions, social activities, and personal needs for connection or refuge while healing from trauma.
- Four monolithic walls offer a sense of solidity, safety, and enclosure, and provide an area for deep insulation, which prevents heat gain or loss and creates a barrier against exterior noise that may trigger PTSD.
- Clerestory windows draw the morning sun into the bedroom, regulating the circadian rhythm and helping to address insomnia.
- Narrow skylights flanking the high ceilings allow glimpses of the passing clouds, tree branches, and the starry night sky while bouncing indirect light down the walls, casting shadows that mark the passing of time throughout the day.
- An edible garden, living fences, and screening support perceptual and psychological restoration, as well as general health and wellness.
- A fully integrated home automation system monitors thermal and electrical energy use as well as water use and controls features, including lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, the solar thermal system, and the landscape irrigation system. A smart device display of system operations advises occupants on system status.
- The automation system ties into the load monitoring system and the battery storage monitoring to allow energy load shedding and sharing schemes to be integrated into the home’s operations.
- The solar thermal system includes adjustable collectors, allowing for optimal angle installation and seasonal adjustments. A compact, insulated box houses the components of the solar thermal system, minimizing the needed space, simplifying the installation, and displaying system operations.
- A compact unit using phase change materials (specifically, encapsulated eutectic salt) conditions the fresh air by removing odors and allergens and lessens the effects of outdoor air temperatures, decreasing heating and cooling needs.
- The proposed green wall system, staggered watering schedule, drought-tolerant plant selection, and low-emitter gravity-fed drip irrigation only require a small pump system, reducing the energy use in comparison to other high-demand watering systems.