What won us the competition in Colorado this semester was ultimately our succession plan that provided for a post TreeHAUS future. While TreeHAUS was designed to last 100 years or more, it was also designed to be deconstructed for repairs and ultimate disassembly. It was designed to be recycled at both component and modular levels. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, it was designed to biodegrade after its useful lifecycle in order to preserve the right of Crumpacker woods, the adjacent old growth forest, to take back the land and help TreeHAUS return right back to where it was initially conceived.
This process begs the question of what we do now that we have won the competition. Do we let TreeHAUS die as another unbuilt design? Is it destined to be another collection of pretty pictures that never make it past the page? As the leader of the team I can honestly equate this fate to my nightmare. We discovered too big of a need for housing like this. Of the 100 graduate students who responded to our survey, an alarming 54% were found to be housing insecure before considering utilities. This means that they were spending more than 30% of their stipend on housing costs. When utility costs were taken into consideration, this number jumped to 70%, with some students spending more than 100% of their stipend on housing and utility costs alone (See Figure 1). This is before considering the cost of things like childcare, and groceries!
We also developed too good of a design to let it remain only in renderings. The floor plans were applauded by the director of the Solar Decathlon as exceptionally well developed. We provided details for modular construction that could lead to significant savings in time, cost, and waste- not just for our construction but for the industry as a whole. And lastly we invested time to talk with all of our stakeholders, to really understand what it would take to make this thing real. We incorporated all of this feedback into our process and so we have an incredible headstart to actually building this thing. A site at RDF, a budget from the Virginia Tech Foundation, a champion and potential property manager in Residential and Dining Services. Lastly and perhaps most importantly - we recieved the blessing and encouragement of Dean Karen DePauw - who recognizes the need for affordable graduate student housing and tells us so at the end of this short movie we made for the first annual Solar Decathlon Film Festival.