Ball State University’s R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning (ECAP) students—with faculty leads, design advisors, and interdisciplinary consultants—earned the grand prize in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2023 Build Challenge. Ball State’s ECAP was named the 2023 Build Challenge Overall Winner during the Solar Decathlon Competition Event in Golden, Colo., April 20-23. The Department of Energy announced the 21st Annual Solar Decathlon Winners on Monday, April 24.

An international competition, Solar Decathlon challenges student teams to design net-zero energy homes that generate at least as much energy onsite as they consume on an annual basis using “green” building techniques and renewable energy technologies.

To participate in the Build Challenge portion of the Solar Decathlon, the ECAP student team planned, designed, and helped build the Alley House—an affordable, energy-efficient, eco-friendly duplex family home in Indianapolis. Located at 201 N. Temple Ave, in the Westminster/St. Philip Neri neighborhood on the city’s Near Eastside, the duplex will eventually be home for two families.

“I am proud of our ECAP students and faculty, who earned the top prize in this international competition as a result of their skill, knowledge, creativity, and dedication,” Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns said. “This win is also a testament to the value of Ball State’s Immersive Learning and high-impact learning practices—ways we engage students in experience-based projects that benefit people in the communities that we serve. Equally impressive is the fact that this thoughtfully designed and well-constructed duplex will serve as affordable housing for two Indiana families.”

In addition to the grand prize, Cardinal Studio, ECAP’s Build Challenge Team won first, second, or third place awards in several specific contest areas including: architecture (2nd), market analysis (2nd), energy performance (1st), presentation (2nd), occupant experience (1st), and integrated performance (2nd). The 15 finalist Build Challenge Teams and the scores and standings for each team competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2023 Build Challenge are listed online.

ECAP also had two Solar Decathlon Design Challenge teams earn prizes at the competition event in Denver: Education Building Division, second place; and Office Building Division, third place. A full list of winners in the 2023 Design Challenge contests are listed online.

As a Ball State Immersive Learning project, Alley House provided students the opportunity to work with community partners such as businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies to address community challenges through the creation of a product that has a lasting impact. Over the last 21 years, Ball State students and faculty have engaged in more than 3,300 Immersive Learning projects focused on solving community challenges.

ECAP’s community partners on Alley House are Englewood Community Development Corporation, Gratus Development, and Cedar Street Builders. Alley House will be part of the 40-unit Englewood Homes affordable infill housing development on Indianapolis’ Near Eastside. The Alley House will be the only net-positive energy duplex in this development.

Cardinal Studio has been working on Alley House over the past five academic semesters—meeting ten rigorous competition requirements, from calculating the embodied environmental impact of the built duplex, to defining all engineering systems used in the Alley House, along the way.

“This recognition is a mountaintop experience at the end of an arduous journey—but our students and faculty stayed focused and determined, and generated a building and site that will help transform how designers and builders think about affordable housing and the opportunity to have a net-zero, or in this case net-positive energy, footprint,” said David Ferguson, dean of ECAP. “This hands-on experience is the best kind of learning and has advanced our capabilities across all of the planning, design and construction fields in our college.”

The last part of the competition involved six 30-minute student presentations with a question-and-answer period to juries of industry experts during the recent Solar Decathlon annual event in Colorado.

“The competition was fierce, but our students were well-prepared, determined to succeed, and excited to present their shared knowledge and innovations in zero-energy, low-carbon, sustainable designs to industry experts and professionals,” said ECAP  Professor of Architecture Pamela Harwood, faculty co-lead and architect-of-record for Alley House.

Planning and designing an energy-efficient, eco-friendly structure never overshadowed the Alley House’s primary function as a home, and Solar Decathlon judges saw that, said Tom Collins, associate professor of Architecture at ECAP. Prof. Collins also served as a faculty co-lead on the duplex.

“The Alley House stood out among the competing teams, particularly for the way it addresses the local affordable housing needs of low-income Indianapolis families," Prof. Collins added.

Read this Ball State blog post to learn more about the Alley House, the Solar Decathlon Immersive Learning project, and the ECAP students’ commitment to keeping people at the forefront when planning and designing structures. ECAP also maintains a Solar Decathlon site with additional information about Alley House.