Solar RoofPod: Team New York

CCNY: Team New YorkA group of innovative undergraduate and graduate students (architects and engineers) at the City College of New York are working on a project that would potentially redefine the use of the urban rooftop, particularly that of New York City. Team New York as they are collectively known, are designing and building a solar roof pod for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition.

The Solar Decathlon competition is a biennial event hosted on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The competition is scheduled to take place next year from September 23rd to October 2nd 2011. Since 2002 when the competition was first held 92 collegiate teams across the U.S. have participated. During the competition the National Mall will be converted into what they call the Solar Village. There, the twenty solar houses will be erected and tested rigorously to measure efficiency metrics, judged for architectural design and structural integrity (metrics and design are judged in 10 subcategories) and visited by hundreds of thousands of people from across the country. It is important to note that the competition stresses the need for the houses to be affordable and provide a healthy and comfortable living environment.

Leading Team New York City is Professor Christian Volkmann. He’s the faculty in charge of the putting the project together and assembling the student team. I was able to talk two students involved in the project, Asher Salzberg, a fourth year undergraduate architecture major and Master of Sustainability in the Urban Environment graduate student Michael Catalano.  Salzberg is a part of the core group of students working in conjunction with engineering students on the design of the solar roof pod. His motivation for this project stems from his personable belief that his profession has a responsibility to curtail the energy consumption of buildings. Salzberg believes that “the planet is our site, so we always have to design based on what our planet can provide.”

The solar roof pod is approximately 700 square feet and has a tripartite design, the deck, body and roof. The deck is a structural support for the weight of the pod on the roof.  It will also allow for plants to be grown, creating a green roof serving as a carbon sink (minimizing carbon release into the atmosphere) and reducing heat gain. Salzberg points out that a variant of the deck is being designed for the competition because the pod will be assembled at ground level. The body also contains a core which provides the living functions to enable the customizable layout consisting of a kitchen, bathroom, living room and a Murphy bed. Catalano and his team are conducting research to design a smart façade system that will be integrated into the Solar Roof Pods curtain wall. He says that the smart façade will “take advantage of solar heat gain principles and thereby passively regulate internal air temperature” to a section of the pod. Air filtration may also be a smart facade component. Finally the roof is described as a  “trelliswork space frame which supports a solar array”, the space between the roof and the solar array serves as a cooling mechanisms for the panels to facilitate maximum efficiency.

What is remarkable about the design of the pod is that it has an effect like it’s floating in mid air. The structure is designed to be mass-produced with many parts that can be transported to the roof via an elevator.  Salzberg does concede that some parts of the pod may have to be crane lifted but for the most part they are working to eliminate this scenario. Both Salzberg and Catalano expressed to me that the solar roof pod is unique because it is built to be plugged into an urban environment and work symbiotically with the existing building infrastructure. What that means is the pod will capture energy from the sun and distribute the surplus energy to the building. It reduces the heat island effect and will also provides infrastructure to support a green roof or some other form of biodiversity that’s non-existent at the ground level.

The competition serves two main purposes. The first is educational; it provides a platform for the public demonstration of practical uses of renewable and clean technologies, in addition to innovative, efficient and cost effective building design. The second I believe to be the teambuilding component, students work collaboratively across academic disciplines to bring the project together affording them with a sort of real world experience.

I wish Team New York the best of luck on the project and look forward to seeing the solar roof pod in D.C next year.

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