Solar Decathlon students

A multi-disciplinary group of CAP students and faculty are embarking on a five-semester-long project for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2023 Build Challenge, an international competition.

One of the U.S. Department of Energy's most successful outreach efforts, the Solar Decathlon aims to:

  • Provide participating students with unique training that prepares them for the clean energy workforce.
  • Educate students and the public about the latest technologies and materials in zero energy design and technologies, smart home solutions, and high-performance buildings. 

Watch The Solar Decathlon 2022 Competition Event

Project participants from Ball State include interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students from all four CAP departments: ArchitectureLandscape ArchitectureUrban Planning, and Construction Management and Interior Design. Approximately 100 undergraduate and graduate students will be involved directly through enrollment in eight courses over five semesters (Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Summer 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023) at Ball State’s Muncie campus and CAP: Indy location. Ball State's students finished duplex will eventually house two families with children.

Follow the Projects Progress

Solar Decathlon Testimonials

Al Mitchell

Degree Received by Ball State: M. Arch

Current Employer: Phius

Title: Technical Staff

Solar Decathlon you competed in: 2019 Design Challenge

 

What exactly did you like most about participating in the Solar Decathlon while a student at Ball State?

The depth of analysis and exploration in the project is very cool. High performance building is like a ball of yarn, you pull on the one side, and the string you were tugging at on the other side gets sucked back into the ball. Trying to balance all the critical elements gets more difficult the more detail that goes into the project, but also becomes more rewarding. Working in a small, tight-knit team allows for each member to focus on an area of their interest and take a deep dive and brings something back to the table. This level of “realness” in terms of systems, detailing, modeling, documentation, etc is hard to come by in more “normal” architectural studio projects.

What two things did you learn through your experience with the Solar Decathlon have benefited you in your career?

Presentation skills and better using standards / codes / resources. Presentation skills are important for every path you go down in the field, and being able to explain a lot of complex, technical items in a concise and approachable manner will make for a better architect in relation to the clients and the rest of the project team. Referencing standards and protocols can be tough during a typical studio project as so much emphasis is put on design exploration, so that the design ends up getting VE’ed or shoehorned into compliance with some standard or code, but this project makes sure that the team reads the documentation first, establish the rules of the game, and then begin the exploration of the boundaries. It is important that the standards are complied with, but I am a strong believer in constraints forcing creativity.

How does a Ball State student’s experience with Solar Decathlon prepare them for leadership roles in practice related to sustainability and high-performance buildings?

The experience of having worked on a high-performance project and realizing that it is not that far off from a normal project is really important and being a team player. High performance buildings require additional analyses compared to a standard prescriptive code compliant project and having been exposed to all of those moving parts is important. But even with extra though being put into detailing, systems, glazing, etc, all the elements, forms, and components from a standard building are still there, just better tuned for performance. And with a team, working a stressful project requires management, and therefore being able to manage different types of people in his or her stress behavior builds up the leader ship skills.

Is there anything else about your experience with Solar Decathlon that you would like to tell us?

This was one of the best studios of my time at Ball State, I wish I would have had a little more time to do some design work in the project, but the experience I got was very valuable. The networking was also well worth it, meeting and discussing all of the projects with the industry professional and college students alike is one of the coolest things I have done. Touring NREL is special too. My participation in the SDDC (and former RTZ) have changed the course of my career, passions, and future.

Degree Received by Ball State: Bachelor of Arts, M. Arch

Current Employer: Schooley Caldwell

Title: Designer, Project Manager

Solar Decathlon you competed in: 2013

I started working on the Solar Decathlon in the summer of 2012 as a graduate student in one of our summer courses. At this point I believe it was the second semester that the project was part of CAP’s curriculum as a studio course. Looking back, while it was immensely beneficial for us students to be able to work on this project and also receive school credits, I think there was a unintended consequence of a high student turnover rate each semester as the project moved from studio to studio. We eventually found that a core group of students who could oversee the project from beginning to end would be beneficial to the overall success of the project.

One thing that helped set the stage for what’s been my early career was the team dynamic and ability to work with the group to come up with inspired design ideas. I cannot stress enough the value of being able to effectively and efficiently communicate your ideas both amongst your team members and the public at large. A design idea that is consistent can go a long way, especially when you encounter setbacks during the design or even later during construction.

What got me most excited about Solar Decathlon was the chance to build something that I had also had a hand in designing. I had participated in one design-build course while in undergrad, and so I was enthusiastic to participate in another similar endeavor. There is something very rewarding about seeing something that you designed built to completion. Something that you spent countless hours, and maybe in some instances literal “blood, sweat, and tears” in order to see its completion. It’s something I continue to experience in my career today.