ECO-STRUCTURE recently caught up with Jordan Tait, a project architect for the ENJOY house, a joint entry from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon.

How is your solar paneling unique?
We think that a solar array has a large impact on a project architecturally that it should inform the geometry of the architecture. We wanted to design an integrated solution in which the performative aspects of the solar array are coupled with the aesthetics, so we optimized the roof angles for solar gain and utilized those roof geometries to create interesting spaces. From a more technical standpoint, we used micro-inverters on each panel, converting DC electricity to AC before it leaves each individual panel, making the system more efficient and safer to install and handle. The entire array was designed around the house's electrical loads and is net zero.

What other sustainable features have you incorporated into your design?
The house's largest sustainable feature is the use of concrete. The thermal mass of concrete will mitigate temperature swings in the house between day and night so that you spend less on heating and cooling the house. We designed the house around as many passive strategies as we could, including cross ventilation, rainwater collection and reuse, daylight strategies, material selection, and orientation. The house then uses active strategies that take advantage of the latest heating and cooling technologies, including a reverse cycle chiller which acts similar to a compressor for our HVAC systems. We also used a solar-thermal system to heat all of the water in the house, including our radiant flooring. The idea was to do as much as we could for the house in terms of passive design before "throwing" technology at the house.

What was the inspiration of your design, and does it display any regional influences?
We wanted to design something that took the utility of a project and exploited it for an aesthetic. This house is meant for a couple retiring at the Jersey shore, so we wanted it be low-maintenance, as the Jersey shore is susceptible to salt water and corrosion, which also informed our decision to go with concrete. In this way, the house responds to regional environmental requirements, which we think is of foremost importantance for the sustainable movement.

How has the new affordability criteria affected the design of your house?
It forced us to get creative in terms of the house’s construction. By doing precast concrete it allowed us to take almost all of the trades involved in building a house off-site into a controlled factory environment. Using advanced BIM software, we were able to streamline our construction process by having a 3D model and then extracting all of the necessary drawings and documentation from that model, saving time and money for fabricators and contractors. All of the shop drawings and deliverables come from one central 3D model. By constructing and deconstructing the house in a 3D environment we were able to foresee any site operation problems and address them before we arrived on site. By optimizing the construction process we were able to properly allocate funds back to the architecture and building systems.

What will happen to the house after the Solar Decathlon?
The house is going to be reassembled at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., and will be open for public tours.