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Computer-generated image of the Universidad de Puerto Rico 2007 Solar Decathlon house.

The Puerto Rico students designed their house as a sustainable dwelling that can adapt to any environment it might occupy.

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Solar Decathlon 2007

Universidad de Puerto Rico

Technology Imitates Life — in this Case, a Single Cell

Biomimicry was the genesis for the Universidad de Puerto Rico's motto: Technology and Ecology: Partner for the Future. Biomimicry is the study of nature's best ideas, enabling astute observers to imitate design and process solutions provided by the natural world.

The team took its inspiration from a single cell. The simplest unit of a living organism, the cell produces energy, recycles waste, adapts to changing conditions, functions independently, and communicates with other cells. This is also an apt description of Puerto Rico's solar house.

Sustainability was fundamental to all design and building decisions. "Because we are transporting our house [to the National Mall] by sea and land," explains architecture student Fátima Olivieri, "the house was built using lightweight materials, and divided and shipped in two pieces. One half incorporates all the electrical equipment including PV modules and batteries, and the other half, the water components such as its solar thermal system."

Also contributing to the house's energy efficiency and sustainability are a unique louvered screen that provides shade when the windows are open; an insulated exterior reflective siding that softens and diffuses daylight entering the house; and recycled wood for flooring and walls.

Media attention helped the team reach its audience. The project was written up in two magazines and covered monthly by local TV news stations. According to Professor of Architecture, Jorge F. Ramirez, the project has not only raised the consciousness of the students and the community, but that of the university. "Sustainability is no longer an elective, but a required course in the School of Architecture."

The team feels that their house demonstrates that energy efficiency and sustainability are practical options for comfortable, livable dwellings. "Using the cell as a model for our home put us in touch with the environment and ecosystems and has taught us how to lead cleaner, better lives," concludes Olivieri.

Team Contact

Rafael A. Olivencia-Martínez