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Architecture students reveal solar home design

Allison Engelby Allison Engel
USC School of Architecture faculty members Anders Carlson, left, and Gary Paige (Photo/Lois Lee)
Photo: USC School of Architecture faculty members Anders Carlson, left, and Gary Paige (Photo/Lois Lee)

A solar home designed as an alternative to Southern California tract housing will start to take shape on the South Lawn behind Watt Hall on Jan. 14.

The innovative design for the home, USC’s entry in the worldwide Solar Decathlon competition, was unveiled by USC Architecture students in a campus presentation on Dec. 13.

In a nod to the Craftsman bungalow, the house has three porches and a façade of metal shingles. The façade acts as a rain screen, and its design can be customized for individual homeowners. In a nod to the courtyard style of housing, the fluxHome house has an interior courtyard with a retractable skylight that also covers part of the bathroom, creating an outdoor shower.

  • See a slideshow of the fluxHome design’s unveiling

A mix of fourth-year and fifth-year students and two levels of graduate school students worked in the Solar Decathlon design studio this semester to create the working drawings for the fluxHome dwelling, which is just shy of 1,000 square feet. Their estimated cost to build the house was $249,999 — a dollar under the competition limit.

USC School of Architecture Dean Qingyun Ma, Solar Decathlon faculty advisers Alice Kimm and Gary Paige and dozens of interested students, faculty, team family members and others crowded the Verle Annis Gallery to hear students explain the project’s energy-saving ideas, mechanical parts, materials and how they will build and transport the home to the competition site next October.

Chris Flynn, a master’s student, said the team “had to do a breakdown of every nut and bolt,” create a health and safety manual and adhere to Los Angeles building codes and the contest rules, which ran 350 pages.

Ma praised the students for their thoroughness and the practicality of their entry. “Our design is always connected to manufacturing — a design/build solution,” he said. “fluxHome is innovative in its art and environmental policy — and we get the South Lawn to build it.”

Paige said that the construction documents for the house ran to 75 pages — “the largest set for the smallest house” he’s ever encountered. He described the design as “turning the tract house lot inside out” and eliminating the largely unused space of side yards and a front yard.

The house includes an interior “green wall” of plant material — a solar roof that will capture enough energy so only a few kilowatts of power will be needed daily to run the mechanical systems and louvered exterior walls that take advantage of the mild Southern California climate.

The home will come apart in three pieces, the better to load it onto two flatbed trucks next fall. Each of the 20 university teams selected for the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored competition must rebuild its entry on the grounds of the Great Park in Orange County for the judging. The entries are then to be dismantled and reconstructed once again in each university’s hometown, for use by families.

Team member Corey Koczarski said contestants are given 10 days to build their houses in Orange County, but the USC team hopes to do it in four or five days, giving it more time to test its appliances and heating and cooling systems, all of which must operate for the judges.

By building the home in transportable sections, “it’s plug and play and not much labor,” he told the onlookers.

USC’s entry is a multidisciplinary effort that includes input from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the USC Rossier School of Education, the USC Marshall School of Business, the LA/USC Smart Grid program and USC’s Center for Energy Nanoscience, among others.