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October 21, 2004 - Image 20

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-21

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8B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 21, 2004

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The Michigan Daily




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By Niamh Slevin
Daily Weekend Editor
Saturday morning at 11 a.m., six students crowded into
a small studio. space, tucked into the heart of the Art and
Architecture Building. While the majority of campus spent
their weekends having fun in the sun elsewhere, cramming
their noggins with facts they will soon forget or comfortably
nestled in their beds, this handful of future architects and
engineers made their way through the rain to participate in
the design and creation of the University's first solar house,
the MiSo house.
A brief history
Back in the summer of 2002, John Beeson, then a young
graduate student, heard about a national design competi-
tion promoting sustainable solar architecture. After sending
his sister, a Washington Post reporter, to the National Mall
in Washington for pictures of the Solar Decathlon 2002,
Beeson approached the chair of the architecture department
wondering why the University was not involved in this cut-
ting-edge technology. Soon, the college had assembled a fac-
ulty team to help put together an initial proposal, which they
sent to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the host
and organizer of the Solar Decathlon. And thus, MiSo, or the
Michigan Solar House project, was born.
From there, the college implemented a graduate seminar
in the fall of 2003, where students could analyze previous
entries into the competition and determine what had worked
it sopoef,, is how th deca:thlort haS tore
utto other dep-r' mets locylv .omni and
well. The students then started research on solar design,
transportation, flexibility, materials and solar building pro-
duction. At the end of the semester, they published the MiSo
manual, a book which would then guide future research and
With Beeson as project manager, the college officially
kicked off the design process last winter with a graduate
option studio devoted solely to the MiSo project. In April,
the studio's end project, the first prototype, was submitted to
the NREL for its first deadline and followed up every three
to six months with further submissions. With a 60-page
report in hand that analyzed numerous energy simulations,
the group began its first major redesign. A mezzanine locat-
ed on the top of the prototype had to be eliminated because
it was too much of a liability. In the words of Jim Kumon,
spokesperson for MiSo, it was a huge smokestack.
The original concept for the solar panels was that they
would be rotating to catch the most sunlight. Unfortunately,
Michigan's unpredictable weather couldn't offer the solar
potential to make these type of panels cost-effective. The
model had to be reshaped to allow for a more curvilinear L-
shape, and the structure had to be made taller to best capital-
ize on air circulation.
With the corrected model in place, the design and man-
agement teams started the physical construction. A portion
of the 800-square-foot life-sized model currently stands
behind the architecture building, where the group can exper-
iment and determine where they will run into problems.
Mixing academics with
the extracurricular
In March 2004, MiSo instituted a management team to
help guide the project and coordinate the academic and extra-
curricular components of it. Ten managers were responsible
for organizing about 60 students enrolled in the curriculum,
25 to 30 extracurricular volunteers and a range of commu-

nity professionals and faculty offering design, manufactur-
ing and material advice. Five departments oversee the parts
of the project that did not have an academic component, such
as the finances, material donations and deadlines.
Now, the academic aspect has grown to include several
colleges around the University. There are graduate land-
scape architecture classes, mechanical engineering classes,
simulations courses run with the environmental technology
faculty and a group of students within the business school,
who concentrate on marketing analysis.
But, even with the additional classes, MiSo relies on its
volunteer staff to help further the project. According to
Kumon, one of the management team's main priorities is "to
recruit people from the outside the curricular realm, espe-
cially because architecture students can't solve all of the
The decathlon
The decathlon itself presents a challenge for the team. They
have four days to recreate their building in the National Mall
and have to submit a timeline for what they will be doing every
15 minutes of the competition. Across from the Smithsonian
Castle, they anticipate working around the clock the first few
nights to unload the pieces of the house off of the trucks and-
quickly reassembling it. Washington's ordinances don't make
it any easier for them either: Trucks over a certain length can
only enter the Mall between midnight and 6 a.m.
While the MiSo team does hope to place as one of the top
five competitors at the decathlon, one of its primary goals is
education. "We believe there is a higher educational value
in what we're doing, reaching out to
student groups that are being affected.
ct- what mk Now that we have over 100 people
og.a. t iC h involved, it's getting a little interest-
Svast rnumbers of ing to manage, but at the same time, so
r4t a y many people can be engaged with the
e o P n project," Kumon says.
"The reality of the project is valid
- not only do we want to win for a
competition but as future architects, designers, engineers
and businessmen we want to influence the livability of
the future. As students we want to spread awareness of
sustainability issues and demonstrate the practicality of
sustainable design," adds Melissa Marks, a senior in this
semester's design studio. "It thrives on understanding the
needs (and wants) of the individual, the community, the
economy, and the environment. The process of learning
how to address such issues and resolve them will never
be finalized - the value is in continually trying to learn,
understand and analyze."
Though green architecture may prove to be cost-effective
in the future, the team is quickly learning that its research
and test stages do not come cheap. The estimated cost of the
entire project will amount to about $600,000 - $48,000
of which will be spent on prototyp-
ing. The College of Architecuture
and Urban Planning has provided the 1The ?ea4Iy a
team with a set amount of support, and a
it also hopes to get grants and in-kind ; ..mY
donations from local manufacturers.
Kumon and Beeson say they plan to
attend this year's United States Green
Building conference in a couple of weeks and hope to get
some material suppliers there. They expect about 400 people
to be on the expo floor, but they've focused their efforts into
creating personalized packets addressed to 50 companies
to present their case. Yet, the extra effort is worth it if the
project pays off.
"The College of Architecture and Urban Planning has
taken a renewed interest in sustainability in the last couple
of years, and we really think that ... having this as a corner-
stone for development and for relations, we can get money to
support these programs. We think we'll have a very strong

basis for the future to help the college in making its case
to donors to fund it," Kumon says. "That's actually one of
the five major initiatives within the college right now from
a development standpoint - is to get sustainable initiatives
going. This project has been a real shot in the arm for that."
Breaking down barriers
While solar housing certainly has its advantages, the
MiSo team has discovered its share of complications as well.
For the most part, the biggest challenge has been to break
down the misconceptions associated with solar design. One
misconception is that solar housing is not inherently as aes-
thetically pleasing as conventional housing.
"It's definitely a challenge to the way we think about
where we live. We've been kind of programmed into think-
ing that bigger is better, but I find bigger just means you
have more space to hide more junk that you're probably not
going to use. It goes beyond just housing, but how do we use
things and what is the life cycle of our materials," Kumon
explains. "Saying that we can live with all the comforts, all
the technology, all our sort of habits right now might need
to be adjusted, but can still be very much accommodated by
(this) system."
Beeson added, "Solar housing is easy. We just design with-
out it because conventional construction is stupidly easy."
Upon startup, the cost of the system may seem a little off-
putting to some. Marks explains in an e-mail: "The upfront
cost of building such a home is fairly large due to the cost
of materials needed to produce an energy efficient house,
however, the amount of energy saved in the long-run will
greatly decrease energy bills in the future and as a result, the
homeowner will spend less money by implementing energy
efficient techniques to his/ her home or office."
They cite maintenance and up-front costs as two real con-
cerns with solar housing right now, but they also argue that
steps are being made to minimize these problems. For exam-
ple, most solar panels have a life span of roughly 20 years,
but the repairs can be minimized with the right amount of
care. And, 20 years is actually a longer lifespan than some
conventional building materials.
The After-life
Regardless of what happens at the decathlon, the team
appreciates this one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact
with hands-on sustainable design.
"Personally, I'll never be the same. Involvement in the
project will launch you to a whole new level of under-
standing and leadership. What will come out of this
project is a huge matrix of knowledge, learning, leader-
ship and student/professor development, and green archi-
tecture is a by-product. Green design is understood as a
given in this project, what makes it so powerful is how
the decathlon has forced programs to reach out to other
departments, local communities and vast numbers of stu-
dents from every discipline to get this project into a real-
ity," Beeson explains.
he roectisva - o d s ewn townfr
--wat o Inac h A-.t 94 th 4-ur "
Kumon concurred, saying, "We learn a lot of things in
school about how to design and material choice and how
the space looks, making pretty pictures, but we hardly
ever get to the point where we have to make decisions
based on cost, based on performance, based on looks,
based on who the manufacturer is and the relationship
you have with them.
"It's a different level of architecture. It's a very real
world ... the biggest motivation in this project is to be part
of something that actually comes to fruition. It's not just a
still floor plan on a wall. It really does come together."

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