Team that built “house of the future” head to Dubai competition
The home of the future is en route to a temporary residence in the desert — and the Virginia Tech students and faculty who built it are following.
FutureHAUS Dubai, an innovative, interdisciplinary, and ambitious project to design and build a futuristic, modular smart home, is the lone American team competing against 14 other university teams at the Solar Decathlon Middle East, which will be held Nov. 14-28.
Caption 1: Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai, holds an American flag at the Dubai competition site. Wheeler previously led a team to a first-place win in the international Solar Decathlon Europe with a home known as the LumenHAUS. (Photo by Laurie Booth)
Caption 2: The Dubai sun sets on solar panels being used for FutureHAUS Dubai. (Photo by Laurie Booth)
The international competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was launched by the United States Department of Energy and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai Electricity & Water Authority to accelerate research on building sustainable, grid-connected, solar homes that perform optimally in Dubai’s harsh desert climate — all in line with the city’s bid to have the world’s smallest carbon footprint by 2050.
In mid-September, the home was shipped on a 30-day, 7,286-mile journey by boat across the Atlantic Ocean. Starting as early as mid-October, faculty and students who built the house — some of whom have graduated and are taking time off from their new jobs to attend — have been traveling in waves to Dubai in advance of the competition.
“It feels surreal to finally be traveling to Dubai after dreaming about this day for two years,” said Laurie Booth, a fourth-year architecture student from Charlotte, North Carolina, and student team lead of FutureHAUS Dubai. “We’ve got an extraordinary team and an extraordinary house. We’re counting down the minutes until the first day of competition.”
For two weeks prior to the competition start, the team will have to reassemble the entire house at the competition site. But the work doesn’t stop once the house is assembled. When the competition begins, the team will undergo two weeks of intense judging on 10 different contests, ranging from the innovation and efficiency of its architectural and engineering designs to how well it generates the energy required to execute everyday tasks, such as cooling, charging an electric car, doing laundry, maintaining a consistent refrigerator temperature, and cooking meals.
All hands are on deck to tackle the massive challenge. Twenty students and four faculty from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and College of Architecture and Urban Studies will be on site in Dubai.
“This has been the biggest project we have ever undertaken, and it has also been our most focused. As a team, we have assembled the brightest minds from Virginia Tech and our industry partners to provide innovative solutions to the questions of ‘how do we live’ and ‘how do we build’ in the future,” said Bobby Vance, visiting professor of architecture in the School of Architecture + Design, program manager for the Center for Design Research, and project manager of FutureHAUS Dubai. “The house has traveled halfway around the world to demonstrate what our vision of the future will be on an international stage.”
During its debut on the global stage, FutureHAUS Dubai will boast pioneering architectural concepts incorporated with sophisticated engineering, particularly in the area of power electronics.
The house is made up of 18 prefabricated “cartridges,” which come loaded with smart technology. This streamlined, modular building process is a hybrid of other home manufacturing methods: It blends the idea behind prefabricated, big-box homes like mobile homes that come in one piece with modular home design, which allows for the customization of the structure of the home.
FutureHAUS Dubai is an entire prefabricated house that can be broken down into panels, allowing for a home building process so efficient it can be erected in a day.
“The house design is a response to the need for a better way to build in the digital age. As the need for smarter, more sustainable, and more affordable housing grows, we find that our efficient factory process will provide an ideal method for making future homes. The cartridges are sets of transportable, prefabricated ‘plug and play’ modules that can be arranged on site, making construction simpler, faster, and more efficient,” said Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and co-director of the Center for Design Research in the School of Architecture + Design and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai.
In addition to the architectural feats, FutureHAUS Dubai utilizes cutting-edge engineering to achieve its sustainability goals.
The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) has been heavily involved in FutureHAUS Dubai by designing its electronic energy system and an algorithm that guarantees the home dominantly operates with a net-positive energy balance. CPES at Virginia Tech is considered to be among the top power electronics research centers in the world — a reputation it earned thanks to its characteristic hands-on approach for the development of advanced power electronics.