UM Architecture and Engineering Students Compete in DOE’s Race To Zero
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 6, 2016)—UM School of Architecture Master of Science students Abhirajika Agrawal and Ariela Cassinelli, both of whom focus on sustainable building, were part of the first team from the University of Miami to enter the United States Department of Energy’s Race to Zero Student Design Competition. Bernardo Samuel Benzecry of the College of Engineering was the remaining member of the team, which was advised by UMSoA’s John Onyango, assistant professor and director for the Master of Science program, Wanda Zou, assistant professor at the College of Engineering and professional advisors Greg Hamra and Jonathan Burgess.
The US DOE website states that “The Race to Zero is an annual competition, open to students and faculty from any interested collegiate institution. The competition is based upon a real-world scenario where a builder is developing a new high performance home product line or needs to update an existing product line (house plan) to a high-performance house design. College teams are posed with a design problem and are asked to either create a new house design that satisfies the project requirements or redesign an existing floor plan.” The UM team focused on a site in South Miami, with a goal of low cost affordable housing that met the energy effficiency requirements of the competition.
Agrawal said the competition was a great opportunity, “something of a legend for those aspiring to practice sustainable architecture. This inter-disciplinary student competition entails a highly technical approach to designing Net Zero Energy Homes, far beyond the processes a regular architect would deploy. It was Dr. Onyango who introduced us to the challenge this year and guided us through our participation.”
“Designing Net Zero Energy buildings is much more than what we consider and conceive when we normally talk about ‘green buildings,’” Agrawal said. “We usually think of the standards set by LEED, the Living Building Challenge, WELL and other such rating systems. However, the science of NZE buildings has more to do with understanding of the building interaction with the surroundings, materiality, construction techniques, above and beyond the climatology and spatial logic in designing.”
“When we started, we barely understood the technical processes or even the terms. Picking from there, it was a long journey to understanding and implementing those technical processes and making use of new software,” Agrawal said. “It was a great platform for networking with other students and a hoard of professionals across states engaged in Net Zero Energy buildings. Though we learned a lot, there is still a big ground to cover. Going forward, I hope UM SoA becomes a permanent feature at the event. And given the learning involved in the process, perhaps the competition can serve as basis for an awesome interdisciplinary studio.”
The 2016 competition was held at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory campus in Golden, Colorado, which is “one of the largest Net Zero Energy Campus in the U.S., completely heated by heat ejected from their supercomputers,” according to Onyango.
Onyango said that, even though the UM team did not win, Agrawal went “above and beyond” in her efforts in the competition.
— Special to UM News