Gallery: INTERVIEW: University of Maryland Wins Big at the 2011 Solar D...


Here at Inhabitat we’re suckers for the Solar Decathlon — the biennial design/build competition in which university design teams from all around the globe battle it out on the National Mall in Washington DC to see who can design and build the best solar-powered home. This year’s Solar Decathlon was a nail-biter of a competition, but it was the University of Maryland team which ultimately triumphed over all the other teams with an elegant, water-conservation focused home called WaterShed. We were fascinated by this beautiful winning home, and sat down with project design lead and student designer David Gavin to find out more about how the house came together. David is a second year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Maryland and he’s dreamed of being a Solar Decathlon contender since before he started school. Read on for our insider interview with Gavin as he explains the design of the award-winning home, and how his team utilized Building Information Modeling to streamline the design and construction processes.

This interview is brought to you by Autodesk – Removing the barriers to better business.

INHABITAT: How did you get involved in the 2011 Solar Decathlon?

David: I became involved in the 2011 Solar Decathlon pretty much the minute I began my graduate degree in architecture at the University of Maryland. When I was applying to graduate schools, I saw that Maryland had presented course options for their Solar Decathlon entry. At that point I knew that Maryland and the Solar Decathlon would be a great fit for me because I wanted my graduate education to go beyond the classroom, and I wanted to get my hands dirty. The Solar Decathlon has been able to provide that, and I feel that it has prepared me very well for the professional world by allowing me to work collaboratively with people from a variety of fields, including engineering, construction and management disciplines. It has also presented many of the technical and logistical challenges of a real building project.

INHABITAT: What is your favorite part of the WaterShed Home design?

David: My favorite design element of WaterShed is probably the relationship between the constructed wetlands we’ve created inside the house and the bathroom. When one stands in the shower, they realize the impact of their water usage simply through being able to see the water draining into the grey water filtration wetlands just outside the window. The bathroom’s open design and delicate detailing suggest the continuation of the wetlands through the bathroom, thus reinforcing our message of water conservation.

INHABITAT: What do you think it was that pushed your team’s house to the top of the Solar Decathlon pack and allowed you to win the competition?

David: Two of the main things that allowed us to win the 2011 Solar Decathlon were integration and organization. The University of Maryland had a number of different departments and majors working on WaterShed, and our constant communication among all disciplines allowed us to design a truly integrated house. Every component of the house, from structure to envelope to landscape to mechanical, plumbing and electrical components, were all designed with respect to the other disciplines. This minimized conflicts during the construction period, and in the end, allowed WaterShed to function most optimally during the competition. Organization was also key, all of the team leaders were in constant communication and aware of their responsibilities so that we could operate the house with precision and confidence throughout the competition.

INHABITAT: The Team Maryland WaterShed Home was designed in Revit. Was BIM (Building Information Modeling) an important part of your design process?  Can you explain how you used it and how it helped you?

David: BIM was very important in the design process of WaterShed. Being able to model WaterShed in three dimensions was very important in the integration of all of the house’s systems. Not only did we model the structure and architecture of the house, but we created all of the engineering systems as well. BIM allowed us to see all of these systems together in one program, which in turn allowed us to design all of the house components in relation to each other so that there were no hot water lines running through light fixtures or ductwork cutting through structural members. This proved to be critical because it minimized the amount of problem solving we had to do in the field during construction. BIM was also great because it allowed us to generate all of our construction documents very efficiently. The 3D model also served as the base for all of the renderings and graphics we used for our communications materials.

INHABITAT: How did BIM technology allow you to do things you might not otherwise been able to do?

David: One of the great ways BIM was able to help us with WaterShed was being able to see all components of the house in three dimensions. It allowed us to really make sure that everything within the house actually fit and worked before we began construction in way that two dimensional drawings would not have been able to reveal. Being able to explore the 3D model of the house also helped us to resolve many construction details before construction even began. So, BIM really helped us to streamline not only our documentation process, but construction as well.

Our use of BIM definitely gave us an edge and probably helped us to win the 2011 Solar Decathlon. Not only did it allow us to efficiently design and build a great house, many of the materials that were generated from the model helped us place in many of the juried categories. The quality of our construction documents was a scoring factor in both the architecture and engineering competitions, and in both we were praised for the completeness and clarity of our documents. Also, the model was the basis for many of our graphics which were judged in the communications contest. So, our ability to create a great BIM model was definitely a big part of our victory.

INHABITAT: What would you like to do after you graduate from University of Maryland?  What are you goals?

David: After I graduate from University of Maryland, my main goal is to just get a job! I would like to get a job in a smaller architecture firm somewhere along the east coast. I would like to learn how to run a firm and operate a business so that I can one day accomplish my goal of having my own practice specializing in urban design and redevelopment.

Congratulations David, on your big win, and best of luck in your final year of school. With design skills like these, we think you’ll be in much demand when you graduate!

This interview is brought to you by Autodesk – Removing the barriers to better business.


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  1. jmerkovich October 25, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Beautiful and simple – well done. We are working on a transition to Revit at my firm and this is a very good example of what integration between disciplines can achieve with good software and good design. Congrats to the “other” U of M (sorry, I’m a University of Minnesota M. Arch grad =^).

  2. Jessica Dailey October 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I was happy to be a part of the Inhabitat team reporting on the Mall, and I absolutely loved the WaterShed home! It’s great to learn more about the behind-the-scenes process. Congrats, David & Team Maryland!

  3. Lori Zimmer October 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    He will no doubt find an amazing job after this amazing project!! Congrats!

  4. Diane Pham October 19, 2011 at 11:58 am

    great interview. and great work by a group of promising students!

  5. jjegan3 October 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

    See my photos of the WaterShed House on my FB page/albums. WTG Terps!

  6. Mike Chino October 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    It’s fantastic to see a Solar Decathlon project focus as much on water conservation as it does on energy generation!

  7. Allison Leahy October 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Congrats! WaterShed is one of my favorites.

  8. dan mendes October 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    it’s nice to see software help manage material use and building processes, effectively removing waste and simplifying the understanding of the construction process so you don’t run into implementation errors. pretty darn cool

  9. Andrew Michler October 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    It think the interview demonstrated how much great design is about team work. And the idea of connecting to water quality is brilliant.

  10. Rebecca Paul October 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Great interview and good luck with the job hunt David!

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