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Teresa Hamm Modley:
Designing, Building and Beyond

Monday, March 9, 2020

We’re continuing our series, #SDLivingTheDream, highlighting alumni of both the Build Challenge and Design Challenge and how their time in the competition 

has shaped their careers and their lives. This month, it’s an alum of *both* Challenges.


Name: Teresa Hamm Modley

Year participated in Solar Decathlon:

  1. 2011 Solar Decathlon (as a team partner for the Empowerhouse, I worked for Habitat for Humanity of DC)
  2. 2017-2018 Race to Zero, Elementary School Division

University team:

  1. Parsons School of Design, The New School, and Steven’s Institute of Technology
  2. Virginia Tech

Current organization / employer: VMDO Architects

Current role: Designer

How did participation in the Solar Decathlon affect the trajectory of your career?
The Solar Decathlon has been a source of learning and opportunities throughout my career. In 2011, the Empowerhouse project introduced me to passive house design as we pursued PHIUS certification for the project. I became a CPHC consultant and continued to work on passive house projects in D.C. When I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech, I  joined the 2018 Race to Zero, Team EOS. I became interested in net-zero school design while researching the Discovery Elementary School by VMDO as a case study. After completing my M.Arch degree, I pursued a position and was hired by VMDO!

Virginia Tech’s entry for the 2018 Design Challenge.

Describe a work outcome, building project or other achievement you are most proud of and how (if) it relates to your experience with Solar Decathlon.
After the 2011 Solar Decathlon, the Empowerhouse project entry was moved to a lot in northeast D.C., and with the help of volunteers we converted it into a duplex for two Habitat for Humanity homeowners. This was such a rewarding project because all of the student’s efforts and creativity in designing a passive/high-performance solar home resulted in two beautiful, resilient and energy-efficient homes for local families in D.C. to live in. This was the first certified passive house project in Washington, D.C.! Since then, D.C. Habitat has built six more certified passive house homes.


Empowerhouse, the entry for Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology in the 2011 Build Challenge.

A project that Teresa worked on for Hamel Builders, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons building.

Read more about Empowerhouse.

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