In the midst of yet another hurricane season along the Gulf Coast, albeit a predictably timid one, a variety of media outlets across the state have consistently posed the same question—where are we now? At the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, a team of professors, researchers, students, businesses, and informed individuals (also known as TEAM BeauSoleil) has worked tirelessly for the past two years to examine an arguably more enlightened question—where do we need to go in the future?
Beginning in early, TEAM BeauSoleil began to formulate its own set of answers to this lingering question as they worked together to conceptualize a proposal for the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition. Every two years, 20 university and college teams from all over the world are awarded $100,000 over the course of 24 months to design, build, and operate a culturally relevant, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly, fully functioning energy-efficient solar powered house.
This year’s competition will culminate in Washington D.C. where each team will operate and display their home on the National Mall from October 8-18. Judges will award points in 10 different categories that address practical issues such as temperature and humidity levels, net energy metering, and hot water availability. They will also explore more subjective issues like market viability, engineering, and architecture. The solar village erected as part of the competition attracted over 100,000 visitors, and this year’s numbers are expected to exceed previous records.
Louisiana’s unique heritage was a central component when envisioning the design for the BeauSoleil home. Entertaining and cooking with friends and neighbors inspired the inclusion of a porch and a transitional kitchen that acts as a flexible gathering place at the core of the home. In addition, TEAM BeauSoleil took into account real world scenarios that affect home design along the Gulf Coast region, particularly relating to hurricanes, and dedicated their efforts to creating a sustainable, affordable model that is both structurally sound and entirely self sufficient.
As Mississippi architect James Polk noted in a recent article for Hattiesburg American, which recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “ . . . the day after the storm was worse than the storm itself.” The basis for this observation stems from a discussion with a neighbor whose insistence on the unlivable conditions of her home without electricity prompted him to reconsider the practical relationship between buildings and their respective environments. He continues, “Why? Because her house, as designed, was uninhabitable without the benefit of electric air conditioning. In a hot and sometimes muggy climate, her home was constructed with low ceilings, and the windows—placed for ‘look’ instead of sized and located for comfortable ventilation—were painted shut.”
TEAM BeauSoleil used this observation as a basis from which to challenge and advance building efforts by introducing new possibilities for solar energy. Guided by the benefit of hindsight, these students, teachers, and community activists identified a workable design for affordable homes that will ensure a continual flourishing of our beloved communities along the coast, despite the challenges presented by hurricanes. The BeauSoleil solar some banks on solar energy and smart design to weather the inevitable challenges of storms yet to be formed and energy demands of generations yet to be born. It stands as a shining beacon of hope, a working example of persistence and innovation, and a testament to the ingenuity and creativity that exists in our region.