Mind & Matter


Solar Decathlon to be Held in China

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The 2010 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC. Image courtesy of Stefano Paltera, U.S. Department of Energy.


President Obama's recent hosting of a state visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao is symbolic of increased collaborations between the two countries in areas such as trade, education, and technology. Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy and China's National Energy Administration announced that China will host the Solar Decathlon in 2013. The two governments have entered an agreement with Peking University and Applied Materials to administer the international competition in which teams design, build, and maintain energy-efficient houses that run on solar power.

According to Applied Materials' Mark Pinto, “The Solar Decathlon is a powerful tool to teach young people and the public about renewable energy—especially the fact that renewable energy technologies are available for use today to reduce energy costs and environmental impacts. The extension of the program to China will demonstrate a continued commitment between the U.S. and China to advance renewable energy technology.”

Missing from the announcement is any speculation about whether the single detached house is an appropriate model of living for Chinese people, who have relied on various forms of collective housing—from traditional courtyard houses to modern high-rises—that arguably utilize resources more efficiently than their western suburban counterparts. It would be more intriguing and appropriate if teams were to design segments of a collective network of residences that share common services, thermal mass, and community spaces—a contemporary version of the traditional hutongs that exemplify a more sustainable model of dwelling than the suburban home.

Regardless of the approach, it will be interesting to witness China's participation in the international contest, given the increased sophistication of Chinese design and renewable energy technologies.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.