ECO-STRUCTURE recently caught up with Marilys R. Nepomechie, FAIA, the faculty advisor for PerFORM[D]ance House, Florida International University’s entry for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon.

How is your solar paneling unique? 

The nearly 9-volt solar array occupies almost the entire surface of our flat roof. Parapets were sized to protect the PV array from the high-velocity winds common to South Florida—and to shield them from easy view from below. We installed a system of sensors in tandem with the array, allowing us to monitor their efficiency closely, and to make adjustments as needed. 

What other sustainable features have you incorporated into your design?

Sustainable features include a solar hot-water system, highly efficient insulation, insulated double-pane glazing, Energy Star–rated appliances, the use of recycled materials in all building components (from structural steel to furnishings), the use of locally manufactured products, the use of native plant material in our planting beds, the incorporation of a kitchen garden, rain collection from the roof in a below-deck tank, and a system for its reuse for irrigation. It's also important that we interpreted the word “sustainable” to also mean accessible—to persons of all abilities. The house is fully ADA-compliant.

What was the inspiration for your design, and does it display any regional influences?

The work of the Sarasota School of Architects—particularly the Paul Rudolph Walker Beach House—was a special influence. We looked to that midcentury modern reinterpretation of the Florida vernacular for inspiration. Our own 21st-century update is an open-plan pavilion with an efficient centralized core. It opens completely on three sides for expansive views, cross ventilation, and indoor-outdoor connections. These make the house feel much larger than its 780 square feet, and encourage the outdoor living that Floridians value so highly. A system of hinged operable louvers serves multiple purposes: In the open position, the louver panels allow us to reinterpret vernacular porches, providing shade to indoor and outdoor spaces. In their closed position, the panels give the resident an additional level of privacy, and help protect the house from the high-velocity winds and storms common to our region.     

How has the new affordability criteria affected the design of your house?

We looked for cost savings throughout the project, including do-it-yourself furnishings, economical finishes, and ductless, intuitive systems and equipment. We selected systems that promised a long, low-cost, low-maintenance life.  We aspired to design a house that was financially accessible to a middle-class market of empty nesters.   

What will happen to the house after the Solar Decathlon? 

The FIU PerFORM[D]ance House will soon become the new Florida International University Office of University Sustainability. We're in the process of reassembling on our campus. All of the university's sustainability initiatives will be launched from it, the first LEED Platinum building on our campus.