University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students had five weeks to produce plans to wow judges in a competition with 124 teams from universities across the world.
They did it.
The eight-member team of students from the Department of Interior Architecture and Design and the College of Engineering and Computer Science entered the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2023 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge to design a house to be energy- and cost-efficient while also a comfortable living space.
An entrant in the Attached Housing division—for designs of multi-family structures such as apartments—the UTC students’ preliminary floor plans submitted in February impressed the judges, and the team ended up as one of 10 finalists in the category.
“We want to have energy- and cost-efficient housing but, at the same time, what can we do with interior design?” asked Dr. Eun Young Kim, assistant professor of interior design and faculty advisor for the Design Challenge team.
Winners will be announced later this month in the Solar Decathlon conference in Golden, Colorado.
When the students began the design process, they started with plans from the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a local organization that provides new homes to low-income families.
One of the CNE’s ongoing projects is Missing Middle, which builds small-scale apartments that fit into the style of traditional neighborhoods, said CNE Vice President Justin Tirsun.
“I knew what CNE is doing,” Kim said. “So I approached them and said, ‘Hey, we are doing a design competition, and we want to use your project. Is there any way we can enhance your building’s energy performance and enhance occupants’ experience?’”
A six-apartment Missing Middle project already has been completed at the intersection of Bailey Avenue and South Willow Street, and blueprints from that project were given to the UTC team.
“Dr. Kim and her students are leading the project. The team is incredibly enthusiastic and hard-working,” Tirsun said. “We hope they will produce a better product that we can incorporate into future building plans. They have already shown us promising recommendations we will likely try to adapt into our future construction.”
UTC senior Landon Parker said he and the three other team members majoring in interior architecture and design are working on ideas for the interior and exterior of the house and on lowering energy costs—which can mean costlier building materials that are cost-saving in the long run.
“It depends how you look at it because, after a while, it pays itself off, but it tends to be a lot more expensive upfront,” said Parker, who’s from Nashville and graduated from Brentwood High School.
Learning the ins and outs of structure design is a plus in his plans to be a commercial architect after graduation.
“My dad’s an architect, so I’m following his path,” he said.
Engineering students, under the guidance of Dr. Sungwoo Yang, assistant professor of civil and chemical engineering, tackled the preliminary studies into the structure’s energy performance. Team member Caleb Traxler, a junior in mechanical engineering, has been focusing on the home’s appliances and overall energy needs.
His ultimate goal after college is to work in the nuclear field and, even though there’s an enormous difference between the energy needs of the Design Challenge house and a nuclear reactor, the engineering concepts are basically the same, he said.
“A lot of this is helping me to apply those thermodynamic concepts on a much smaller scale,” said Traxler, who’s from Chattanooga and graduated from Collegedale Academy. “If it works in a home, you can actually scale it quite well to a much larger area. Thermodynamics is fun like that.”
Design team students
- Interior architecture and design: Landon Parker, Blake Burba, Jacob Ridenour and Robyn Wood
- Mechanical engineering: Caleb Traxler
- Chemical engineering: Daron Lyons
- Construction management master’s students: Lina Abdelkarim and Kenisha Gardner