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New York City College of Technology Finds Strength in Diversity for Its DURA Urban House

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

People from many nations arrive in New York City to pursue the American Dream. The New York City College of Technology team embodies this spirit in its U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project, called DURA—an acronym for Diverse, Urban, Resilient, and Adaptable.

“A lot of our work has been inspired by our location,” says decathlete Evgenia Gorovaya, a sophomore studying environmental planning and math. “The qualities of diversity and being urban go hand-in-hand because City Tech [New York City College of Technology] is one of the most diverse colleges in the United States. And a lot of different mindsets went into developing our design.”

Photo of a group of young people.

Members of the New York City College of Technology team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

As a result of all the varied cultural input, she says, “We made it so that in an urban setting, this house could fit almost anyone.”

And just as the Stevens Institute of Technology drew upon 2012’s Hurricane Sandy to shape its 2015 Solar Decathlon project, so, too, did the DURA team.

“[DURA] was our response to that,” says Gorovaya, who experienced the storm’s aftereffects with her family in coastal Brooklyn.

The slender, 24-ft. by 50-ft. house is suitable for single family living on a small city lot. However, the wood-frame structure is also stackable and can be configured as a four-unit complex. The facade has an integrated vertical solar array, and strategic window openings are part of its tight building envelope. DURA also includes a smart mechanical system that harvests waste heat for net-zero living.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house in an urban setting.

New York City College of Technology’s DURA house is a model for post-disaster housing that can meet the unique needs of a high-density urban environment. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 New York City College of Technology team)

“We maximize the usage of space,” Gorovaya says.

The group is assembling DURA in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in preparation for the competition this fall in Irvine, California. All of this is a novel learning experience for the 60 or so undergraduates on the team because this is City Tech’s first entry into the Solar Decathlon. The team does, however, have the benefit of a faculty advisor who worked on another school’s entry for a past Solar Decathlon.

Gorovaya, who joined the team last fall under a program with the City University of New York, says she was surprised by how much independence team members have to pursue their work.

“Coming in, I expected people to sit me down and say, ‘Here’s what you have to do’—as opposed to you kind of figuring out what is best for the project,” she says.

So being a decathlete has involved real-life problem-solving.

This spring, Gorovaya is looking forward to seeing DURA take shape.

“I imagine it will be a feeling similar to graduation. You’ve been looking forward to it for so long that you can’t believe it is actually here,” she says.

The team hopes that after the Solar Decathlon they can donate the accessible structure to a disabled veteran. And perhaps it will find a permanent address in the Red Hook neighborhood, southeast of Manhattan, adding one more piece to the complex mosaic that is New York City.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

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