After winning the top collegiate prize for the world’s best solar house in 2010, Virginia Tech is gearing up to do it again.

On Wednesday, three members of the Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon team took the stage at the World Green Economy Summit in Dubai, kicking off the university’s bid to win the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East.

Virginia Tech is one of 22 universities chosen through a competitive process for the global competition and the only U.S.-based team. Over the next two years, the interdisciplinary faculty-student team will design and build FutureHAUS Dubai, a high-performance, net-zero energy home that meets the city’s complex space and climate needs.

This is Virginia Tech’s first time back at the event since it won the Solar Decathlon Europe six years ago with LumenHAUS. The solar home has been exhibited worldwide and earned the first American Institute of Architects Honor Award ever presented to a university team.

Michael Folta, a second-year student in the School of Architecture + Design, accepted the challenge on Virginia Tech’s behalf on stage at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. He was one of three representatives for the team, which will be made up of students and researchers from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, College of Science, and Pamplin College of Business.

“It’s an honor to represent Virginia Tech on an international platform and to be part of a university that’s leading the way to create smarter, more-sustainable housing for the world,” said Folta, a second-year student from Blacksburg, Virginia. “I’m excited to be part of a team that’s building on the work of LumenHAUS and carrying it forward in FutureHAUS Dubai.”

Joseph Wheeler, one of the team’s lead faculty members, professor of architecture, and co-director of the Center for Design Research, said FutureHAUS Dubai will be a model of intelligent infrastructure. It will combine the energy efficiency and sustainability of LumenHAUS with the responsive design, prefabrication, and integrated technology of Virginia Tech’s more recent innovation, FutureHAUS.

“We’re working on housing solutions to meet a world population crisis,” Wheeler said. “Our planet will grow by over 2 billion people before 2050 and we need to accommodate them with practical, affordable housing. FutureHAUS Dubai is a prototype for the high-volume production homes of the future that will be smart, sustainable, beautiful, and easily adapted to the needs of communities worldwide.”

Since helping lead the Solar Decathlon team to victory in 2010, Wheeler and colleague Denis Gracanin, associate professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, have turned their focus to FutureHAUS. The concept allows home components, such as kitchens, bathrooms, audio-visual walls, and closets, to be prefabricated in factories and shipped to a construction site for quick assembly. The homes are pre-finished, pre-plumbed, and pre-wired with integrated smart technologies and detailed interior elements for maximum efficiency and adaptability.

“We’re excited about applying our knowledge from LumenHAUS and FutureHAUS in Dubai’s extreme environment,” Wheeler said. “With FutureHAUS Dubai, we’ll be uniting the best of academia, research, and the industry. Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon students will be at the forefront of the movement to push the housing industry to a higher level.“

Over the next few months, Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS Dubai team will take shape as faculty and student participants are identified. A spring course called Intelligent Infrastructure: Exploring Innovative Building Solutions for Solar Decathlon Middle East will give students from all majors a ground-floor opportunity to become involved.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition created by the U.S. Department of Energy in which universities from all over the world design, build, and operate the world’s best solar home. The Solar Decathlon Middle East is the newest Decathlon, created through an agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. Dubai is hosting the event as part of an effort to become the city with the smallest carbon footprint in the world by 2050.

The final phase of the competition takes place back in Dubai in 2018, where teams demonstrate their homes and are judged in 10 categories. The winning team will blend design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market appeal, and energy and water efficiency.

Visit the competition's website to learn more.

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