CCNY students reach new heights with solar penthouse

The solar roof pod constructed by CCNY students for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.

It’s a penthouse with a purpose. Architecture, engineering and graphic designs students at The City College of New York have spent nearly two years collaborating on a cutting-edge solar structure that graces a rooftop on the campus.

The students are now putting the finishing touches on the “solar roof pod” before disassembling it and transporting it to Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a process that will require the assistance of construction cranes. It will be only entry that was designed for high-density urban environments this year. The goal was to create a practical solution for energy-efficient living in the city.

“This was not just about building a house. This is the generation that has to change how we power our houses,” said associate professor of architecture and faculty advisor Christian Volkmann. “Right now in Manhattan, 80 percent of our greenhouse gases are produces by residences.”

The team of more than 100 students and faculty advisers raised more than $1.4 million from about 70 sponsors for the project. They considered every detail of the house and used a variety of renewable materials to construct it, including Omilux bird-safe glass designed with a pattern transparent to humans, but recognizable to birds to prevent them from flying into it.

The 750 square foot solar roof pod features six evacuated tube solar thermal collectors designed to gather the sun’s heat and supply clean energy for hot water, heating and cooling. All the appliances in the pod are Energy Star rated. Even the cabinets are made from bamboo, a fast-growing renewable wood.

Students who worked on the project say the experience was invaluable.

“Not only were we architects and engineers but we were construction builders, we became marketers, we became sales persons for this project,” said Farah Ahmad, an architect student who helped build the solar roof pod. “So we were able to become skilled in a lot of different fields.”

The team from CCNY hopes its solar roof pod will beat out 18 other schools competing for the winning title. Its solar roof pod is also currently featured on PBS’s “Planet Forward.” 

“I think this changed their life completely. This is an extraordinary project for architecture and engineering education,” said Volkmann. “I think they will be very competent.”

The solar roof pod will be on display at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from September 23 through October 2. After the competition, it will be shipped back to CCNY where Volkman hopes it will remain a fixture on campus as a visiting guesthouse or a conference room.


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