Czechs win architecture contest, Austria takes overall lead

The Czech Republic entry in the 2013 Solar Decathlon won the architecture portion of the 19-team university competition Friday, but as the event sped toward its conclusion Sunday at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, a team of students from Austria surged into the overall lead.

Czech Technical University students placed first in the architecture judging with a minimalist studio partially wrapped in wood slat canopy. As we noted in a previous article, the design not only cools living spaces with beautiful simplicity but also creates ethereal moments when walking through the structure.


Second place in the architecture category went to the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Third place went to USC, whose fluxHome is designed to create an indoor-outdoor space without resorting to epic walls of glass. Doors positioned to capture breezes and cross-ventilate the house are complemented by a large, central skylight that keeps interiors bright and airy without overexposing residents to neighbors or traffic -- a key concern in densely built urban settings.

Also announced Friday were results in the communications category, which evaluates students on their website, on-site displays and other ways of conveying their design concept and house features. In an amusing twist, the team from Austria won, out-communicating (in English) all the American and Canadian teams by smartly selling its handsome indoor-outdoor house as a meditation on the responsible use of wood as a sustainable building material.

In previous articles we've noted how the Austrian design is beautifully suited for California living, and how the team's clever use of wood makes a compelling design statement. We also noted how the house's retractable deck shades and fluttering white privacy curtain -- material usually used as military camouflage in snowy conditions -- were among an array of strategies Solar Decathlon teams have used to shade living spaces, inside and out.

Second place in the communications category went to University of Nevada Las Vegas, whose modern desert house we featured earlier for winning the market appeal contest of Solar Decathlon. Third place went to Middlebury, which caught our attention early because the team consisted of green-minded liberal arts students competing against architecture and engineering heavyweights like the combined Southern California Institute of Technology and Caltech team.

Just one category is left in the competition: engineering, the results of which will be announced Saturday along with the overall winner of Solar Decathlon 2013. In the point totals, Team Austria is followed closely by UNLV, Stevens Institute of Technology and the Czech Republic. Stanford slipped to fifth place, and underdog Middlebury is sixth. USC is 10th and the SCI-Arc and Caltech combined team is 12th. We'll post final standings Saturday.