Commitment to research, community partnerships, and the mantra “reuse, rebuild, return” vaulted a team of Ball State architecture students over the competition in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero competition held in April.

This is the second year in a row that College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) teams have placed in the competition; last year a team won a first-place prize. This year it was a second-place win for graduate students Meghan Miller, Lauren Maloney, Miranda Osborn, and Katie Woodward, but it marked another first for Ball State, which had not one but two teams selected as finalists from among 84 entries. The students from both teams all received their undergraduate degrees from Ball State’s architecture program.

Nationwide 35 universities were represented among the 40 projects chosen, so Ball State was among a select group represented twice. Judges selected first- and second-place winners in each of five categories (suburban single-family, urban single-family, attached housing, small multi-family, and an elementary school).

Team One

For their project, Team One (shown with Assistant Professor Tom Collins) worked with ecoREHAB, a Muncie nonprofit. The team believes that reusing an existing home was a key factor in their win.

Tom Collins, assistant professor of architecture, led the graduate studio class that saw both its teams qualify for the competition finals. Walter Grondzik, professor of architecture and an expert in environmental technologies, and Tarek Mahfouz, associate professor of construction management, provided assistance as did students in Mahfouz’s classes.

Both groups had to meet the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home requirement to be net-zero energy ready, which means the projects were designed to accommodate systems that can make at least as much energy as the buildings use annually. The submissions had to be marketable, cost effective, low energy, renewable ready, and aesthetically appealing.

“The teams that seem to do well in competition are the ones that are really thorough and have a relationship with their partners,” said Collins.

Both Ball State teams nailed those criteria.

“We’re used to presenting our projects in depth and answering questions,” said Lindsey Stoy, who along with Tony Shupe, Sabrina Senninger, and Lindsey Kurucz, made up the second team of Ball State competitors.

From abandoned home to winning project

Both teams had ready partners.

Team One worked with ecoREHAB, a Muncie organization founded by Professor of Architecture Jonathan Spodek and dedicated to transforming run-down and abandoned homes into energy-efficient dwellings.

Craig Graybeal, ’11 MA ’14, himself a CAP alumnus, is executive director of ecoREHAB and was looking for a project to involve students when Collins contacted him about the Race to Zero competition. A friend suggested he partner with Muncie Mission which was looking for help getting a home ready to be used as transitional housing for the men it serves. Add in the abandoned house at 1810 S. Liberty St. on Muncie’s south side and a grant from the Ball Brothers Foundation, and the team was set for the winning project.

Team 2

Team Two collaborators Tony Shupe, Sabrina Senninger, and Lindsey Stoy work out some of the many details for their project, which included choosing appliances that won’t all wear out at the same time.

The two class projects are a continuation of CAP’s long-standing commitment to immersive learning, a tradition that goes back way before the term became the University’s calling card. The Race to Zero teams were supported by immersive learning grants from both the college and the University and participated in Ball State’s immersive learning showcase. And ecoREHAB itself is an outgrowth of immersive learning studios in the college.

This summer Graybeal hopes to secure a deed to the property and begin work to stabilize the house. By next spring, it’s possible students will be back to do some of the construction work. The floor will need to be replaced, and students hope to reuse some of its wood as trim in other parts of the house. Walls will be insulated, and energy-efficient appliances installed.

The team believes that reusing an existing home was a key factor in their win. Not many teams focused on a rehab project, they said.

“We want to be able to prove that old houses have life,” said Woodward who earned kudos from her teammates for deftly handling curious questions from judges who wanted to know how the house would be jacked up for repairs to the foundation.

All four students on the team took turns presenting facets of the project, and Maloney brought another classmate to tears when she shared the stories of the two men who will live in the transitional house. Both suffer from physical problems and have worked hard to overcome addiction with the help of the Muncie Mission.

“Their stories made us feel even more connected to the project than we had and drove us to make this project possible,” said Maloney. “In the presentation, I related the men’s journeys to the journey the house will be going through. Both the house and the men are in a process of rebuilding and have been given a fresh start.”

Team Two focused on a new build on a lot in Carmel’s Arts and Design district and partnered with builder Dan Porzel of Cedar Street Builders.

Working with a larger budget than their studio mates, the team picked out appliances and lighting and even faucets (low flow, of course) for their home. Their attention to detail was staggering, right down to choosing appliances that won’t all wear out at the same time. They call their project Cycle House and have created a story line for their homebuyers, imagining they will move in as young professionals and use more of the house as they have children (two are planned, but a wall can easily be built to add a third bedroom and maintain the required windows in both). As the family grows, perhaps an aging parent would move in, so the downstairs was designed with lighting at the baseboards and along the stairs, doors have lever  handles instead of knobs, and doorways are wide enough to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs. The house was designed to accommodate the life changes the family might experience.

Team 2

Team Two focused on a new build on a lot in Carmel’s Arts and Design district.

The team is energized that their ecological components fit within the budget of a typical home in the neighborhood.

Although Team Two didn’t place, the students said making friends with students from around the country and networking with judges and guest speakers was rewarding.

“I came away with a desire to dive in further, to see what else is out there,” said Sabrina Senninger. “Other teams talked more about embodied energy and embodied carbon, and as we sat through their presentations, I realized there’s more there to learn about than I’d thought.”

Collins and Grondzik like the way Race to Zero emphasizes sustainability, integrated design processes, the application of building science, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

“We thought that this would be a great opportunity for students to work together on a very challenging, real-world design problem, and to have to develop their schemes to a high level of detail,” Collins said. “We also liked that Race to Zero focuses on performance-based design decision-making.”