Alberti Decathlon

Work from Alberti Program, Week 4, Spring 2009.

This summer's Alberti Program began with a solar-design challenge

Posted by Katherine Koss June 15, 2009

Forget about going swimming: For the 37 Alberti Program students, this summer is all about going solar.

As part of the Alberti Decathlon, which kicks off the summer session of the Sam Fox School program for fourth- through ninth-grade students, each student creates a design for a solar-powered house. Students work on their designs independently in the morning, and in the afternoon, they participate in 10 group contests—in essence, design charrettes that present real-life problems for them to incorporate into their designs.

The 10 contests are: Architecture, Energy Production, Energy Balance, Appliances, Comfort Zone, Biodiversity, Recycled Materials, Getting Around, Documentation, and Communication. As an example of how these problem-solving exercises work, in the Energy Balance contest, students calculate how much power their house needs to operate, accounting for everything from providing lighting to running a dishwasher; they'll then determine how many solar panels are required to create that energy and design where the panels will go in their house.

Adriane Riesser, one of the instructors for this year's Alberti Program, participated in the 2005 Solar Decathlon with Michigan Solar House; as part of her involvement, she went to Washington, D.C., to tell the general public about the design and sustainable features of the house her team built. Those experiences convinced her that the Solar Decathlon concept could be incorporated into the Alberti Program curriculum, giving students a chance to address issues of design and sustainability.

"I hope the students become more aware of how architecture is so closely related to both the environment and technology," said Riesser, a graduate architecture student in the Sam Fox School. "Designing a solar house involves more than solar panels—it takes thinking about energy issues, how the house is situated and takes advantage of its specific environment, and, of course, how comfortable the spaces are. And because we're studying ten different topics, there are many opportunities for the young people to find something that's incredibly exciting to them."

The Alberti Decathlon is just one of the sessions planned for this summer's Alberti Program, a problem-solving studio workshop about architecture, community, and the environment. Questions about sustainable design are an underlying theme throughout the program, and students get hands-on experience tackling two- and three-dimensional problems in architectural design, with an eye toward the greater environment.

Other highlights of this summer's curriculum include the design of an 'ecological playground,' including a classroom for the new zero net energy Living Learning Center at the Tyson Research Center, which students will visit on a field trip; three full-scale exhibition designs that will center on how nine nations in Africa address issues of procuring food and water; planting an organic garden at the Jewel Box in Forest Park; and the construction of a full-scale sunshade shelter.

Gay Lorberbaum, senior lecturer in architecture, leads the curriculum, and Washington University graduate and undergraduate students in architecture serve as teaching assistants. Students are selected for participation in the program by their principals and teachers. 

For more information, visit the Alberti Program website.