October 17, 2023

UC Irvine Teams Rank High in Sustainability Decathlon

 TeamMADE, a sustainable home design and construction crew with student members from the University of California, Irvine and Orange Coast College, placed second overall in the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, which was held Oct. 5-15 at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

Edged out slightly by the first place-winning Rancho Cielo Construction Academy, based in Salinas, Calif., TeamMADE (Modular Affordable Dwellings for the Environment) had its name show up in several of the award categories, including first place in engineering & construction; first place in market potential; second place in sustainability & resilience; third place in architecture & interior design; third place in communications & marketing; and third place in innovation.

“We were already excited to see our luminOCity house become a reality, but to place so well in the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon is definitely the icing on the cake,” said TeamMADE project manager Jennifer Wilkens, director of special projects in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCI. “We were especially proud to place first in engineering & construction and in market potential, which reassures us that we were on the right track with our ideas and concepts.”

TeamMADE was one of 14 teams competing in the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon. Many participants were California-based, but other teams included members from China and the United Kingdom.

Team LUCID, which included graduate and undergraduate students in UCI’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, showcased an innovative home based on a concrete structure. Under the guidance of Ayman Mosallam, UCI professor of civil & environmental engineering, that project tied with other teams for first place in the energy efficiency performance rating category. The team also placed fourth in architecture and interior design, lights and appliances, communications and marketing, water use conservation, health and comfort and innovation.

“The Orange County Sustainability Decathlon provided the opportunity for our graduate and undergraduate civil and environmental engineering students to realize the importance of sustainability from every angle,” said Mosallam. “Highlights of the project included the involvement of our team members in the selection of innovative sustainable home building materials, the application of structural engineering design and the opportunity of interacting with experts in architectural, construction, mechanical, electrical and plumbing professions.” 

For TeamMADE’s first-place showing in engineering & construction, the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon jury recognized the 750 square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom home’s modular design as one eligible to be built as an accessory dwelling unit throughout California. Features highlighted include an affordable and easy-to-assemble steel structural system; effective building insulation; south wall exterior shading; indoor air quality maintenance through air filtration and energy recovery ventilators; a heat pump water heater; smart controls for appliances, lighting and receptacles; occupancy sensors for lighting control; and an expandable modular battery system. The team was also recognized for its high-quality engineering documentation.

For its first-place award in the market potential category, the luminOCity house was recognized for a “flexible design and ease of assembly” that makes the home “applicable to a very wide market.” The jurors said that the fact that the home can be field constructed (not trucked to the site) will save costs on project patterned this way. TeamMADE was lauded for developing deep partnerships among supply chain and service providers and for ideas such as selling component parts separately, such as a bike shed.

“We are thrilled to have received this recognition,” said Mark Walter, UCI professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who served as a faculty advisor and technical manager with TeamMADE. “It is what we set out to do: To form successful partnerships and student learning experiences that address housing-related sustainability and resilience issues facing not just California but also the world.”

Walter added, “There are multiple human, social, economic and environmental factors associated with sustainability and resilience. The future of housing, especially in California, must consider these factors. We have shown a prototype that does just that, and we are very happy that the O.C. Sustainability Decathlon has recognized the hard work of our students, advisors and partners with multiple awards. We hope that there will be substantial support to now implement what we have developed.”

Wilkens said that in addition to the experience of designing and building a marketable sustainable home, TeamMADE members benefited in other ways.

“The team bonded on the construction site over the summer, but we all got even closer going through the challenging competition schedule together and making our house the home we envisioned it to be,” she said. “Seeing the students be rewarded for their hard work and accepting awards in front of everyone on stage was priceless and I hope they will cherish those special memories. I am so proud of them. They will go out and do great things.”

TeamMADE members plan for their completed structure to be donated to Homeless Intervention Services-OC in Placentia, Calif., to provide a safe home to four young men overcoming trauma and homelessness.

“I have been incredibly impressed and inspired by the TeamMADE project; it has provided our students with the opportunity to showcase their passion and creativity,” said Magnus Egerstedt, UCI dean of engineering. “And I have been particularly moved by how the end product is so much more than just a house – it is a house with a story and a purpose. It shows how we can achieve affordable and sustainable housing at scale.”

UCI is a Platinum Leaders Circle Partner of the Greater Irvine Chamber.

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