Green Architecture Growing Strong

A new sustainable architecture project is being constructed outside of Margaret Morrison [HALL? -ajo]. A group of architecture students, advised by Professor Stephen Lee, have designed and built a solar-powered energy project. The device converts sunlight into energy, which then illuminates outdoor spotlights once the sun goes down.

During the daytime, the project uses solar power to pump water from ground level up 50 feet to the Intelligent Workplace — a hotspot for sustainable design research and implementation — on top of Margaret Morrison. The water is stored in a large tank until nightfall when it is released down to ground level. As the water travels downward, it passes through a turbine and creates hydroelectric power. This power is then used to light the outdoor spotlights.

Fourth-year architecture major Dianne Chia, one of the students involved in the project, said, “There’s something poetic about it collecting energy from daylight to use to light up the night.”

The students see their project as strongly related to the Solar Decathlon project, also run by Stephen Lee. The Solar Decathlon is a project where an interdisciplinary group of students design and construct a sustainable building. This building is then taken to a national competition in Washington, D.C. Fourth-year architecture major Geoff Di Beneditto, another member of the group, feels that sustainable projects such as these are a “demonstration of how things could be done.”

One strength of the Margaret Morrison and Solar Decathlon projects is that the students are actively involved every step of the way. Under Lee’s guidance, they design the project, select and order the materials for the construction, and finally build and maintain the project. Chia, along with Di Beneditto, Jeremy Forsythe, Kevin Wei, and Xian Huay (the other members of the group), can now sit back and say, “We built it, we designed all this.”

Instead of just reading about abstract concepts in a textbook, many students and professors on campus are pushing to integrate more direct, hands-on learning into their curriculum. Interdisciplinary courses such as “Green Visions / Grey Infrastructure,” Larry Cartwright’s “Design Build,” and “Creating Virtual Worlds” challenge students to come up with innovative solutions to real-life problems. Hands-on work gives students concrete examples of how the abstract concepts they study in class can be applied in exciting and beneficial ways to the world around them.

Supporting this ideal of sustainable design, Carnegie Mellon has become a leader in the campus environmental movement, and the university has taken great steps towards building a more sustainable community. Starting with New House, the country’s first LEED (Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design) certified dorm, green design and architecture are now the rule rather than the exception for all new construction on campus. In addition, 6 percent of all the energy used to light up those buildings now comes from wind power.

Chia said that projects like theirs “speak about student initiative, student life” and that our campus should be proud to have student-led projects such as these as part of its community. The Margaret Morrison project, funded by SURF (Small Undergraduate Research Fellowship), will be on display through October. The installation is not intended to be a permanent replacement for powering these lights but is an experiment in finding creative and new ways to approach sustainable design.