s.ky blue information

The Solar Decathlon is a project of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in partnership with DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Architecture: 71.000 out of 100 possible points


Teams are required to design and build attractive, high-performance houses that integrate solar and energy-efficiency technologies seamlessly. A jury of professional architects evaluates team construction documents and the final constructed house. It evaluates three main factors: architectural elements, holistic design, and inspiration. These elements are defined as:


  • Architectural elements—The house's strength and suitability, the appropriateness of building materials, the scale and proportion of room and facade features, indoor/outdoor connections, composition, and connection of various home elements
  • Holistic design—Ease of entry into the house and circulation among the public and private zones; architectural strategy used to accommodate the technologies required to run the house; and generosity and sufficiency of space in the house
  • Inspiration—Design surprises, such as unusual use of ordinary materials or use of extraordinary materials, to delight Solar Decathlon visitors.


s.ky blue Architecture


The s.ky blue house is designed “By Kentucky. For the World.” Taking its cues from its surrounding natural context, the UKY 2009 Solar Decathlon entry aims at being a catalyst for a number of significant projects focused at bringing solar and sustainability-oriented architecture to the Bluegrass and beyond. From Seoul, South Korea to St. Louis, MO then onto San Francisco, CA, and finally to the 2009 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, DC.


In a larger perspective, this endeavor will have an ongoing presence long after the Decathlon has been completed. The University of Kentucky architectural design response to the 2009 Solar Decathlon presents an optimized living and learning environment that actively engages the landscape through an integrated design approach.


The Kentucky project is inspired by the following vision:


  • To help reduce society's dependence on fossil fuel and other nonrenewable natural resources for powering living and working environments.
  • To inspire the design of high quality living and working environments that use nature's abundant energy derived from sunlight, wind and other sustainable sources in combination with energy-efficient technologies and designs.
  • To revive the wisdom of Kentucky vernacular architecture developed in an era when modern high-energy consuming technologies were not in existence.


Design Approach

The ADA-compliant, s.ky blue entry captures and expresses through design, a blend of beauty, simplicity, and passivity of various elements related to historic Kentucky vernacular. Imbued with local materials and modern active energy-efficient systems and technologies, the house is eclectic and syncretistic, historic and modern; a combination of human-made and natural energy sources, each individually and collectively controlled.

In doing so, the house not only harnesses the sun’s energy via building integrated photovoltaic cells and solar thermal collectors, but channels light to illuminate an articulated core that anchors the syntactic hearth of our home. This articulated core element spatially defines the translucent programmatic areas of the house with interior spaces extending out into the front and rear landscapes.

This holistic approach demonstrates a range of integrated possibilities for site-malleable and contextual solutions for our target market.

Digital Intergration and Factory Building

“Digital tools have the possibility of creating a hand-to-glove relationship between design and fabrication, between the testing ground and the conditions of construction and natures of materials.” Barry Bergdoll


The factory setting for the house construction and its link to digital fabrication through Building Information Modeling (BIM) is critical. Our virtual simulations and the ability to build continuously supervised “out of the weather” as a factory prefab takes the waste out of the construction process by pre-determining where efficiencies occur and how this knowledge could accelerate the construction process. The use of prefabricated components will also minimize erection time on the National Mall and will greatly impact reassembly at the Kentucky Horse Park, the Louisville Waterfront, the State Capital, and at our target market site — the University of Kentucky Arboretum.

Sustainable Design

Specifically designed as an eco-conscious modern house that emphasizes the beauty of the natural Kentucky environment and built to achieve a USGBC Platinum LEED for Homes rating for residential construction, our house is 55% more efficient than California's Title 24 energy standards and therefore, has net-zero energy, net-zero carbon, and net-zero emissions.

Based upon our virtual simulations, the s.ky blue house will receive 96 out of a total possible 109 points, six points more than the 90 point threshold required to obtain the Platinum rating. Once operational, our house will be 80% more efficient and constructed with 75% less waste than a traditional, similar sized home.


The sensitivity to placement on the National Mall, as demonstrated in the competition arrival sequence, carries forward from the construction processes and materials selection to the incorporation of the energy system. The house lightly touches the ground with steel crew jacks on pads, thus reducing the disturbance of the grade condition on the Mall.

This light footprint solution will also facilitate installation of the house at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, KY, on the Capitol Grounds in Frankfort, KY, and as the Visitor’s Center at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY.

The overall strategy represents a vision for simple, high-performance living and a study in minimal, yet adaptable environments. It is focused specifically at providing a long-term vision of energy-usage through integrated aging-in-place community design. It can be a home for both ends of the spectrum — the starter family for young married professionals and the baby-boomers/empty-nesters.

The house orients with its long side stretching east to west and is organized upon the rising and setting of the sun (with the bedroom in the east and the living room in the west) forming spatial bookends to the floor-ceiling private core.

This east-west siting also allows for natural ventilation so that the house can be cooled by the westerly winds during the summer months. It is also designed with operable windows that cross-ventilate the interior and obviate the need for air conditioning.

Our solution has one optimized living space under an adaptable electrical generating wrapper. The interior volume serves as the thermal envelope — optimized for comfort, programmatic engagement, and living, while the solar power wrapper has the ability to track the sun over the course of the year. However, during the competition the roof will be fixed so as not to exceed the 18’ competition height limit. As the solar roof tracks the sun, the corresponding envelope responds to the solar tracking.

In addition to the roof, the south façade offers additional power generation and solar hot water heating, the east and west façades passively block direct sunlight, while the north façade mediates the contained interior lived space within the house by expanding its boundaries beyond the house to create an extended lived condition on an outdoor deck.

The entry into the house is from the west through an intentionally low surfboard-like threshold. The purpose being to provide a defined entryway into the house. Once inside, the main circulation axis of the house continues along the southern façade.

The spatial sequence of the home allows for a dramatic diagonal or spatial release within an otherwise narrow, 14 foot wide living area, thus extending the visitor’s sense of arrival through a series of perforated screens. This experiential condition is further mediated on the southern façade in both active and passive systems that are woven into the house.

The house moves from opacity to translucency to transparency and ultimately back to opacity producing not only electrical energy and hot water, but a clear reference to the Kentucky vernacular breezeway plan between the front and rear porches of the house.

The kitchen opens onto the living space through an adaptable dining room environment. In this regard the public function of entertainment and dining form an adaptable core for the house. The result is a striking design based upon an open and porous loft concept anchored by the home’s hearth, the kitchen core and a series of seamlessly integrated outdoor rooms that envelope the house to form an engaged landscape.