Inside SCI-Arc


Will Design, Build House in D.C.

An academic team from SCI-Arc and Caltech will compete in the elite international 2011 Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Drawing on the talents of architecture students at SCI-Arc and engineering students at Caltech, the team will design and build a solar-powered house to be displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Selection for participation in the competition comes with a $100,000 grant to be used toward the project. The team will spend the next year and a half working on the house, which will be exhibited and judged in October 2011.

The SCI-Arc/Caltech Team is the first from Southern California selected for the 20-team competition, held every other year. In addition to other U.S. teams chosen for the 2011 decathlon, there are finalists from Belgium, Canada, China, and New Zealand. Top honors in the 2009 and 2007 competitions went to German teams.

“We're extremely proud that the SCI-Arc/Caltech team has advanced to the next stage of the federally sponsored Solar Decathlon competition," said Eric Owen Moss, director of SCI-Arc. "We anticipate the work of the team will be speculative and creative, and that it will contribute significantly to the evolving re-definition of the interrelationship of housing, construction technology, energy efficiency, and the sociology of housing."

The SCI-Arc/Caltech team was formed in October when students from SCI-Arc who had been preparing an application for the decathlon approached their counterparts at Caltech. Caltech had been considering entering the competition and within days the connection was made. In early November, students from the two schools met at the Corner Bakery in Pasadena to put together a plan—including how to quickly gain full support from each institution and develop strategies to make the project successful. The team navigated those challenges in time to complete its application by the Nov. 15 deadline.

Lead students in the project from SCI-Arc are Reed Finlay, project manager, and Elisabeth Neigert, public relations and development manager; from Caltech, lead students are Fei Yang, thermal engineering, and Ben Kurtz, solar engineering. Lead faculty members at SCI-Arc are architects Wes Jones, sponsor, and Dwayne Oyler, co-sponsor. From Caltech, lead faculty members are engineers Harry Atwater, sponsor, and Doug Caldwell, co-sponsor.

Key support at SCI-Arc has come from Moss, Ming Fung, director of graduate programs, and Jamie Bennett, chief operating officer. At Caltech, key support has come from Jean-Lou Chameau, president, Melanie Hunt, vice-provost, and Nate Lewis and Harry Gray, faculty co-sponsors.

At SCI-Arc, a design studio with 19 students led by Jones developed a conceptual model for the project—which organizers called for in addition to the initial application; Oyler led a corresponding design seminar. At Caltech, an independent seminar was taught around the project by Caldwell, a chief engineer in renewable energy, and Atwater, a leading expert in photovoltaic technology. Both schools plan additional integration of the project into the curriculum.

The conceptual model, named CH:IP/Compact House: Increasing Possibility, combines a minimal footprint with solar technology for a house that could fit into various urban locations.

The DOE grant of $100,000 covers only a portion of the cost of participating in the decathlon and additional funds will be raised by the team for the project. Construction of the house will take place on the grounds of SCI-Arc, which is located in the Arts District on the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles.

"We at SCI-Arc intend to support the work effort of our design and engineering team in whatever manner is required to enable these most imaginative of students to produce an extraordinary and precedent setting result," Moss said.

An exhibition of the proposal will be on display at SCI-Arc, beginning April 19. At Caltech, there will be an exhibit on Earth Day, April 22. The team will also have a booth at the AltBuild Expo in Santa Monica, May 7-8.

Anyone interested in helping sponsor the team is asked to contact Elisabeth Neigert at or Reed Finlay at

Solar Decathlon 2011:
The California Institute of Technology:

Visit SCI-Arc's official 2011 Solar Decathlon page >>