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Photo of the Mobile Utility Unit's Airstream trailer and entryway at dusk. Enlarge image

The Mobile Utility Unit designed by the University of Texas at Austin is one of the core buildings associated with the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems.
(Courtesy of Kit Morris)

Who: University of Texas at Austin
What: Mobile Utility Unit
Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
8604 FM 969
Austin, TX 78724
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Public tours: Visitors are welcome the first Friday of every month. For tour information, call 512-928-4786.

Solar Decathlon 2002

University of Texas at Austin: Maximizing Potential

Students from the University of Texas at Austin designed the Mobile Utility Unit for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2002. Based on an agreement with the University of Texas School of Architecture, the part-modular building, part-Airstream trailer is now permanently parked at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS) in Austin, Texas.

CMPBS—the oldest nonprofit organization focused on sustainable design, research, and education in the United States—was co-founded in 1975 by Pliny Fisk III, one of the team's architecture faculty leads. Its facilities include experimental structures such as the Advanced Green Builder Demonstration and the Department of Energy's demonstration Greenforms building.

The Mobile Utility Unit, generally referred to as "Solar D," serves primarily as an office and demonstration building and provides occasional housing for interns and guests. It is one of the featured buildings in the center's monthly First Friday Open House.

"[The house] has hosted countless memorable parties and tours," says Fisk. "CMPBS staff and interns have a particular fondness for the Airstream mobile kitchen."

Although the overall structure of the house remains the same, CMPBS has made weatherization improvements to the building envelope with volunteer help from American Youthworks. A window-mounted AC unit was added in summer 2010. The batteries to support the solar photovoltaics, the ice battery designed to provide cool air, and the solar water heating system are not currently functioning.

The Mobile Utility Unit is one of many projects featured in the commemorative book Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems: 35 Years of Serious Commotion and will be featured in Fiskʼs upcoming biography, Pliny Fisk: Creating a Maximum Potential Future. The house's inclusion in these books speaks to the center's belief that one of its enduring legacies is as a teaching tool and source of inspiration.