Solar Decathlon Moved from the National Mall

Courtesy of DOE

The 20 collegiate teams chosen for the 2011 headed to Orlando, Florida last week for the International Builders’ Show where they met with media, exhibited scaled models of their current designs, and had their Design Drawings reviewed – the last stages of preparation, feedback, and red-flags prior to the September assembly at the National Mall in .

In a strange turn of events, the National Park Service and Department of Energy decided to simultaneously announce last week that the Solar Decathlon would not be hosted at the National Mall.   Contestants were blindsided by the announcement to relocate this years U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. The launching pad for the largest solar competition in the world, where contestants are educating the general public about sustainable living and further are held fiscally responsible under competition rules for maintaining and restoring their respective sites to their natural state following the exhibition, is apparently not good for sustainability.

More following the break

Courtesy of DOE

With well over a year of dedicated time and energies (the submission process began in November 2009), the teams were greeted with the news that they will not be showcasing their homes on the National Mall – the front yard of America – as originally planned.

The decision to revoke the permit so late in the game directly effects teams as they are approximately 6 months from shipping their final Solar Decathlon designs to Washington DC, from all over the world. The teams are extremely concerned how this haphazard decision will effect their designs and engineered systems based on the site, budgets, shipping logistics, and financial backers – as the National Mall was an incentive for teams to gain support.

Courtesy of DOE

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon stated the following on their website, “Over the years, the National Mall—the nation’s front yard—has played host to many large, public events, which have impacted the long-term health of the National Mall. In support of the historic effort underway to protect, improve, and restore the National Mall, the Department of Energy, in conjunction with the National Park Service, has decided to seek a new site for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011.

The National Mall, a great American treasure, has served as a unique launching pad for the Solar Decathlon, hosting the first four events from 2002 to 2009.

The Department of Energy is presently researching alternative venues to hold the event this fall, and will announce the selected location in the near future.”

Courtesy of SCI-Arc/Caltech 2011 Solar Decathlon Team

A park, a memorial, and a platform, the National Mall location in the mind of SCI-Arc/Caltech 2011 Solar Decathlon Team Manager Elisabeth Neigert is a place of “honor and credibility and prestige, and is an international platform to display all of the efforts teams are putting forth solving problems of affordable sustainable housing.”

Neigert continued, “The teams believe in what they are doing, the research, the teamwork, educating the public and changing the way Americans live and the way the world lives.” Despite the obvious hiccup during the International Builders’ Show, a time when teams are tying up loose ends, the Solar Decathlon teams managed to present their latest designs and in their downtime mobilize themselves in an effort to have the decision by the Department of Energy and National Park Service overturned. “The silver lining,” Elisabeth shared, ” is that all of the teams have bound together because they believe in the cause beyond the competition.”

Follow this link for more information on how you can help the 20 Solar Decathlon Teams

Solar Decathlon Teams 2011:

Appalachian State University
Florida International University
Middlebury College
New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington
The Ohio State University
Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology
Purdue University
The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology
Team Belgium: Ghent University
Team Canada: University of Calgary
Team China: Tongji University
Team Florida: The University of South Florida, Florida State University, The University of Central Florida, and The University of Florida
Team Massachusetts: Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell
Team New Jersey: Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey and New Jersey Institute of Technology
Team New York: The City College of New York
Tidewater Virginia: Old Dominion University and Hampton University
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Maryland
The University of Tennessee

Cite: Minner, Kelly. "Solar Decathlon Moved from the National Mall" 18 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>
  • Sammy

    Victoria University’s proposal looks the best! It appears to be based more on good design rather than super expensive technology.

    • Liam

      big ups to Vic uni, NZ!!

  • D. Lee

    It is a travesty that the Solar Decathlon can’t take place on the National Mall! There is no better way for the government to show support for responsible energy use and clean energy than by hosting the most cutting-edge sustainable designs in the heart of DC!

    • DIY Solar Power System

      Well said, D. Lee

  • DIY Solar Power System

    I agree that the government is sending out totally the wrong message by disallowing the Solar Decathlon to take place on the National Mall. They have missed a great opportunity to connect with people who believe in future clean energy and responsible use of energy. This says a lot about what the government in DC think of alternative energy initiatives.

  • Anthony

    I don’t know if any of you have been to the National Mall, but it is in bad shape–really bad shape. The problem is that they haven’t been able to fix things because it’s so used as a space. It hosts yuppy kick ball, the Smithsonian Folk Festival, Colbert/Stewart, Glenn Beck, picnickers, countless protests, tourists and more. While it is a disappointment (a real disappointment), I can sympathise that the grounds need time for a little TLC for everyone’s benefit. Hopefully the grounds crew from the NPS and the Architect of the Capitol have figured something out so the Decathlon can come back next time.

    • Reed Finlay

      Your comments are valid and well reasoned, and i don’t think there is a decathlete that argues with the need to improve the surface condition of the national mall. Our objection to the recent decision of the parks service does not claim that the restoration is not valuable, only that the timing has left our teams reeling to get back on track due to the advanced nature of our projects. It is important to note that the Solar Decathlon is the ONLY event of dozens to be removed from the mall and there is no specific schedule or timeline for the restoration effort. We feel that it is a reasonable and fair request to ask the National Parks Service to honor the commitment they made when they granted the permit to the decathlon in September, 2011.

      Thanks for your support of the competition.
      I hope these additional comments help to inform the discussion further.

      Reed Finlay
      Project Manager
      SCI-Arc/Caltech Solar Decathlon Team

  • eric

    The Solor Decathlon should be moved to the lower 9th ward of New Orleans; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; or some other place in need of housing…
    Why hsould these projects be built at a university shipped half way around the world and then return to that university when they could be utilized as housing in places of need?
    Cameron Sinclair where are you?

  • J.

    the Solar Decathlon is as much a contest to drive innovation as a real solution to housing needs. It is far more valuable in demonstrating what is possible and showcasing it to the greatest number of people especially those in power. The Washington Mall is what give the Solar Decathlon its prestige Without this site I don’t believe It will survive as an international event and I say this as someone in an international team. I do appreciate irony though, a competition focusing on green principles being moved to save the grass

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