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Concordia-McGill collaboration dominates at the 2018 Solar Decathlon in China

TeamMTL's Deep Performance Dwelling wows jury members in the architecture, market appeal, communications, engineering and innovation contests
August 23, 2018
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TeamMTL competed against 22 teams from 38 schools and 10 countries. | All photos courtesy of TeamMTL

After more than two years of hard work, members of Canada’s sole entry in the 2018 Solar Decathlon China competition are proud of what they’ve achieved.

In the short span of three weeks, 60 Concordia and McGill students raced against the clock and the sweltering heat in Dezhou, China, to assemble and furnish their innovative row house from top to bottom.

Juries began their assessments earlier this month and the winners were announced on August 17. TeamMTL competed against 22 teams from 38 schools and 10 countries to construct the best solar-powered house, picking up prizes in five out of 10 categories.  

The Montreal-based collaboration dominated the juried contests, receiving first place in architecture, market appeal and communications; and third place in both engineering and innovation.

“I’m proud of the urban leaders who competed in the Solar Decathlon,” says Concordia President Alan Shepard.

“Their strong showing proves this is a viable design and demonstrates the key role universities play in shaping smart, sustainable and resilient cities. Congratulations to the many Concordia and McGill students who contributed their technical skills and innovative thinking to build an affordable, scalable solution to housing that fits into the urban fabric of Montreal.”

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Michael Jemtrud, faculty lead and professor at McGill’s Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture spent the last two years fundraising, building and project managing the entry. He says it was the most powerful experiential learning process he has ever been part of in 20 years of teaching.

“I am incredibly proud of how much we have overcome and with our final result. We have the most well-crafted, complete, and livable building in the competition and we were the only ones to construct it completely ourselves with no local contractors. Our unanimous reputation at the competition has been that of the hard-working Canadians: the blue-collar team, bar none.” 

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Student experience

TeamMTL is an inter-institutional and interdisciplinary group made up of faculty members and students from Concordia’s Faculty of Fine ArtsFaculty of Engineering and Computer Science and the John Molson School of Business (JMSB), as well as McGill’s Faculty of Engineering and Desautels Faculty of Management.

The team’s Deep Performance Dwelling (DPD) is net-zero energy capable and low or zero carbon system-built. It uses 80 per cent less electricity than conventional homes.

Michael Montanaro, co-director of the Topological Media Lab and professor in Concordia’s Department of Contemporary Dance, was in China for the competition. Working with his students, he installed ambient, responsive data-visualization technology that tracks resource consumption in the DPD — the only house in the competition to do so.

“For me, it has been less about the prizes and more about the personal pride of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges as defined by our team’s vision,” he says.

“I don’t think that I can remember a project or an event in my life that serves as a better example of what can be achieved with blood, sweat and tears. A fantastic experience with a group of tremendously talented people,” says Montanaro.

Claire Kapusta, a building engineering undergraduate student at Concordia, also says working on the home was profoundly rewarding.

“I have really proven to myself that any task, no matter how daunting, can be accomplished by breaking it down into smaller chunks. After completing this project, I feel like anything is possible!”

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Viability as a housing option

TeamMTL pulled together nearly 80 companies, government agencies and institutions to support the project — a testament to its viability as a scalable housing option, says Jemtrud.  

The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced a $50,000 grant from Natural Resources Canada’s Program of Energy Research and Development in April 2017. Shortly after, Hydro-Québec became the principal sponsor with the announcement of a $250,000 donation.

The technology behind the house has since been integrated as part of Hydro-Québec’s infrastructure plan to create a more energy-efficient housing stock in the province.

“We are very proud of TeamMTL's work during the past two years that led to their presence in this competition,” says Alain Sayegh, director of Implementation of New Technologies at Hydro-Québec.

“The fact that they managed to design and build such an impressive house, but mostly their positive attitude, their team spirit and their hard work during the Solar Decathlon is so amazing! It has been a great experience for us to be the main sponsor of the team during this project and to share our expertise with such a cooperative and curious group of students.”

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Immersion in an integrated design environment

Over the course of the competition, many Concordia students and faculty members contributed to the project beyond the 60 participants who went to China.

During its first year, Carmela Cucuzzella, associate professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, worked with students on the DPD’s interior and exterior designs. Bruno Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Building, Civil, and Environmental Engineering, also supervised a class of engineers who integrated the solar-powered aspects of the home.

Meanwhile, students from the Department of Finance at JMSB examined affordability, scalability, budgeting and costing.

Last summer, Concordia hosted TeamMTL on the Loyola Campus, where they constructed a test assembly of the prefabricated home, gave tours and used it as a platform for fundraising.

“This has been an amazing opportunity for Concordia students to immerse themselves in an integrated design environment. Our engineering students considered many aspects of design, and handled many challenges through the whole design-build-operation cycle,” says Amir Asif, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.


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