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Students create eco-friendly, affordable ‘Empowerhouse’
Dec 13, 2012

After several years of planning, design and construction, a team of students from the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology which had participated in the 2011 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, celebrated the completion of Empowerhouse, an innovative model for affordable, energy efficient green housing located in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington.
Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. (DC Habitat), and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), it is the first Passive House—the leading international energy standard—in the District of Columbia, and already a recipient of a Mayor’s Sustainability Award.

"This project fulfills a longstanding vision of our team to create a house that would endure in a meaningful way after the Solar Decathlon was over,” said Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons The New School for Design. “Empowerhouse illustrates The New School's commitment to design-led civic engagement, and is a true model of affordable sustainable housing that has the potential for national as well as international replication. Due to the success of this project, Parsons is now in the planning stages of a second project to build a home with Habitat in Philadelphia."
The Solar Decathlon is a biannual, international competition that challenges collegiate teams from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses, which were exhibited on the National Mall in September and October 2011. The Empowerhouse team took the competition beyond the mall by designing and constructing a house specifically for Habitat on a site in the Deanwood neighborhood. At the competition, it won the Decathlon’s first Affordability contest, as well as several additional categories.
At the Decathlon’s conclusion, the house was moved to Deanwood and expanded into a two-family home for local residents. DC Habitat selected the two families that will occupy the final house. Lakiya Culley, a Deanwood resident and single mother of three young children, who works as a secretary for the U.S. Department of State, will move into the house in January. A second family was just approved, and will be transitioning from public housing.

Beyond bringing together the non-profit, academic and government sectors, Empowerhouse also brought to the table the knowledge and support of the design and construction industries, as well as important local stakeholders. This includes such project sponsors as Binational Softwood Lumber Council, Jones Lang LaSalle, MetLife Foundation, Tess Dempsey Design, and Sheila Johnson and the Washington Mystics; as well as community organizations such as Groundwork Anacostia River DC, which provides environmental education and restoration projects to neighborhoods along the river.
“This project has given students an extraordinary opportunity to address first-hand one of the most pressing problems facing the world today – affordable, sustainable housing supported by alternative energy,” said Dr. Michael Bruno, dean of the Charles V. Schaefer Jr., School of Engineering and Science at Stevens Institute of Technology. "The team has set itself apart by designing a house that is not only net energy neutral but also requires low energy consumption to operate – a welcomed feature for the Washington, D.C. family that will be living there.”
The Empowerhouse project was community-driven. Throughout the course of its development, the team hosted design charrettes with community members, and conducted extensive research on the neighborhood, including its rich architectural history and sustainable practices and resources. In addition to creating new residences, the team extended the project by leading workshops to educate residents on how to make their homes more sustainable—from retrofitting solar panels to community gardening. The team is also creating a new learning garden in Deanwood, working with Groundwork Anacostia and local volunteers.

“The team has taken an integrative approach that reflects both the wide range of issues in the project and the students’ wide array of expertise,” said David Scobey, executive dean of The New School for Public Engagement. "Empowerhouse has brought together over 200 graduate and undergraduate students in ways that connect sustainability with management, urban policy, engineering, and many levels of design—from architecture to fashion, to product design, to communication design, to technology. The project engages sustainability in a fully interdisciplinary way.”

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