Students and faculty of the University of Puerto Rico team want visitors to the Solar Decathlon to know that "my house is your house." Their house is open and inviting by design—it's all part of capturing the warmth and hospitality of island life. You'll see this in the style of the house, from the horizontal design elements, to the shallow roof pitch, to the luminaries used for lighting.
"The house expands—it looks bigger than it is," says student Robert Roche. A goal was to have a big comfortable area for living. By locating the terrace right by the living room, the whole space opens up. "The house represents a lot of our culture. One of the points of the house being beautiful is to represent who we are," he adds.
The team also wanted to use as many conventional materials as they could—to make the house "buildable" and something the consumer can use today. There are a lot of new materials and systems on the market, but they can be expensive; so, wherever possible, the team worked with items at hand. "We chose the best appliances, selected for saving energy and reducing the heat that appliances produce. We modified the dryer to use hot water heat to dry the clothes instead of electricity," says team member Irwing Vargas.
The students see their Solar Decathlon experience as a continuum of learning and growing, from their first meeting in the fall of 2003, to their coursework focusing on rigorous design and building-specific requirements, to fundraising and actually building the house. A team member describes the experience as a melting pot of four or five different departments. "You don't see that anywhere else at the university," says Cuadrado. "This is knowledge you don't get in the classroom. I've learned about dealing with companies and public relations. The confidence grows."
Student William Santiago seconds that notion. "In the classroom, I can learn about electrical engineering, but with this, we had to open our minds to other defining concepts. We had to learn about how to interact and get to a common goal."
Time will tell how well they met that goal, but the achievement and the competing is a reward in itself. "There's a great spirit here. I feel that we are heading for our future—and it's the very near future," says Roche.
Dr. Gerson Beauchamp
Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept.
Mayagüez, PR 00681
787-832-4040, x 2502