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Solar Decathlon 2011

The University of Tennessee

Living Light: UT Solar Decathlon House

The University of Tennessee's Living Light, designed for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, incorporates the knowledge of Tennesseans past and present. Although the forms and spaces of Living Light were inspired by the cantilever barns of southern Appalachia, the systems in the dynamic façade and integrated roof array are scalable and tunable to a range of climates and applications.

Design Philosophy

Tennessee seeks to apply global technologies to local contexts. To find the most refined aesthetic expression of these technologies, the team integrated multiple complex systems into relatively few architectural elements. The Living Light design uses passive systems where appropriate and active systems where necessary. The team also used off-the-shelf technologies in innovative ways to meet the needs of today's homeowner.


Living Light's large, loft-like design includes features such as:

  • A dynamic double façade system made of alternating translucent and transparent panes and horizontal blinds

  • Sensors that automatically manage the electric lighting, which includes color-changing LED strip lights along the façade

  • A home automation system that can be programmed with preferred conditions for activities such as watching a movie or entertaining dinner guests.


Several technologies distinguish Living Light. These include:

  • A blind system, sandwiched between two panes of glass, that is programmed to provide year-round lighting and shading

  • An energy recovery ventilator that harvests air through the double façade system to supply the house with passively warmed or cooled fresh air

  • Cylindrical modules in the 10.9-kW photovoltaic array that capture sunlight across a 360° surface.

Market Strategy

Living Light is designed to attract emerging young professionals with an average income of $100,000 working in the vibrant design, science, and technology industries of Nashville, Tennessee. For this clientele, technical systems are not hidden but embraced as aesthetic features in a contemporary design. A house that balances technology and modern design features with regional history and landscape will be of value to these residents.


Edgar Stach
1715 Volunteer Blvd., Room 224
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: 865-974-6113

Photo of a group of people standing in a V shape in front of a glass building with PV panels. Enlarge image

The University of Tennessee Solar Decathlon team (courtesy of the University of Tennessee Solar Decathlon team).

Illustration of Living Light in a mountain setting. Enlarge image

A computer-generated rendering of the University of Tennessee's Living Light (courtesy of the University of Tennessee's Solar Decathlon team).

A video walkthrough of The University of Tennessee's Solar Decathlon house.

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