They say good things come in threes. UNLV's Team Las Vegas proved it, placing third overall during the students' third showdown in the international Solar Decathlon homebuilding contest.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition challenges collegiate teams around the globe to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses that combine market potential and design excellence with smart energy production and maximum efficiency.
Despite competition delays and other obstacles associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, UNLV's entry — Mojave Bloom, which was designed as a place of healing and respite for military veterans suffering the adverse effects of wartime trauma — performed well in multiple categories. Team Las Vegas took home first-place wins in the operations and presentation contests, as well as placed second out of nine teams in the innovation and energy performance categories.
"Winning third in the world is a testament to the tenacious mettle of the dozens of students who dedicated so many hours to this project while balancing school, work, and family responsibilities amidst the coronavirus pandemic," said UNLV architecture professor and team faculty advisor Eric Weber. “Team Las Vegas embodies the resilience of our university and this community, and the entire UNLV community is so proud of their success.”
The victory solidifies UNLV's stronghold as a gamechanger in the sustainable homebuilding arena. Team Las Vegas placed second overall and first in the nation in 2013 with DesertSol. In 2017, Sinatra Living finished eighth overall, with a first-place grab on the innovation title and second-place wins in the engineering and architecture categories.
Teams start the planning process two years in advance — gathering data via research and focus groups to help guide blueprint design and partnering with industry partners and mentors to build the homes from scratch. The finished homes are typically transported to the competition showcase site on Washington, D.C.'s National Mall, but social distancing restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic postponed competition day from July 2020 to mid-April 2021 and resulted in the competition's first-ever virtual showcase.
Over the course of 32 months, roughly 50 UNLV students from a variety of academic backgrounds including architecture, engineering, and psychology, designed, planned, and built the 628-square-foot home.
The project’s layout incorporated prospect-refuge theory, which lowers stress by allowing one to see throughout the space and make the resident feel protected via gates and other elements that let the homeowner close off spaces when needed. Design elements include windows and skylights to combat feelings of entrapment by providing unobstructed views and let in natural light to aid sleep rhythms, as well as gates that could be closed off to protect the inhabitant. Mojave Bloom also features solar panels, radiant flooring, a thermal solar collector, and a highly sophisticated fresh air system that helps regulate oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity levels.
Through a partnership with the City of Las Vegas, Mojave Bloom will be displayed at the downtown Las Vegas Healing Garden, where it will be used as a break room and storage area for employees and for special events. The home, which will continue to be monitored by UNLV students for sustainability performance research, will also be available for public tours.