McGill-Concordia collaboration wins big in solar-powered house competition

McGill-Concordia team wins international competition for the design and build of a truly innovative structure

After more than two years of hard work, a collaborative effort between students and faculty from McGill University and Concordia University dominated the juried contests in the 2018 Solar Decathlon China competition.

TeamMTL competed against 22 teams from 38 schools and 10 countries to construct the best solar-powered house. The team’s Deep Performance Dwelling (DPD) is net-zero energy capable and low or zero carbon system-built. It uses 80 percent less electricity than conventional homes. DPD was Canada’s sole entry in the 2018 Solar Decathlon, and won first prize in the architecture; market appeal; and communications contests with thirds in the innovation and engineering contests.

“The name of the house is the Deep Performance Dwelling because it presents a holistic solution to a whole series of issues,” says Ben Wareing, a graduate student in McGill’s School of Architecture and TeamMTL’s architecture lead. “Our interpretation of sustainability goes deep into the function and form of the house [including] its economic and sociocultural features. We are building something that will work well for dense urban living.”

TeamMTL is an inter-institutional and interdisciplinary group made up of faculty members and students from McGill’s Faculty of Engineering and Desautels Faculty of Management and from Concordia. Nearly 80 companies, government agencies and institutions supported DPD— including a $50,000 grant from Natural Resources Canada’s Program for Energy Research and Development—which serves as a testament to the project’s viability as a scalable housing option.

“I volunteered for this project because it’s a deviation from the theoretical degree work I have been doing,” says Natalie Manukian, TeamMTL’s communications lead and a McGill student studying Economics and Environmental Sciences. “It works toward a solution and focuses on sustainability. It is a group project which gives it dynamism and life and translated the work into real solutions to real problems that we are all facing.”

After more than a year of designing and planning, the team built a test assembly of DPD on Concordia University’s Loyola Campus in summer 2017. The prototype stayed onsite throughout the summer, giving visitors a hands-on vision of sustainable urban living—and high-performance construction techniques.

A year later, TeamMTL traveled to China to build DPD for real. In the short span of three weeks, the 60-strong team raced against the clock and the sweltering summer heat and torrential downpours in Dezhou to assemble and furnish their innovative row house from top to bottom. When completed, TeamMTL’s structure was among the most finished and presentable houses at the competition. They were also the only team in the entire competition to complete their project without hiring local contractors, a testament to the grit and determination of the student team.

The group was judged on its performance in five expert peer-reviewed juried contests (architecture, engineering, innovation, market appeal, and communications) as well as five measured contests (energy balance, home comfort, commuting, home life, and appliances).

“This experience has been extremely informative and rewarding,” says Wareing. “I have learned so much over the last two and a half years and the three-week construction period in China was an intense and enriching hands-on learning opportunity for us all. I’m so proud of our team and all we have accomplished, to have been so well received by the competition juries and to have been awarded first place in architecture is truly gratifying.”

“The Solar Decathlon has been the most ambitious and challenging academic project I have been involved in,” adds Mark Melnichuk, a recent master’s degree graduate from McGill’s Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture who worked on TeamMTL since its inception. “To see the project grow from a concept on paper into a fully realized building has been an extremely gratifying process. Not only am I proud of the quality of the project the team has put together but also the potential sustainable implications of the project in the future.”