A casual conversation between James Scott Brew, AIA, LEED AP, principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and Ryan E. Smith, who teaches architecture at the University of Utah, resulted in the formation of a new sustainable housing competition. Their brainchild, the Residential Affordable Competition for Efficiency (RACE-Home), is scheduled to officially launch in September, with the first batch of prototypes built and open to visitors by summer 2013. This student design/build program challenges entrants to produce a sustainable, healthy, efficient, durable, affordable, and well-designed house. Each team will be given $50,000 in seed money for their project along with permanent building locations already set with foundations and utilities.

Brew enlisted the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) as a supporting partner who will work with the RMI to identify and prepare five urban infill lots as the sites for this pilot event. Eventually each project will serve as a private home for a qualifying family. Before that happens, however, the houses will act as hands-on laboratories for measuring and testing indoor air quality, resource-conservation, and comfort. All of the completed buildings will be open to the industry and public as educational tools for at least 30 days. Then the DHA will identify families in need of affordable housing and will work with them to achieve ownership of these green, low-maintenance homes. 

During the monthlong open house period, projects will be judged on building performance and livability. Although the sustainable metrics will be a priority, design and context also will be key judging criteria. Brew says he anticipates that the jury will include representatives from the local architectural community in addition to RMI and DHA staff, building scientists, and possibly housing finance experts.  “Design will definitely matter in this competition,” Brew explains, “as these will be infill sites, at least in the Denver pilot program, in a traditional neighborhood.”