I really had no intention of ever writing a word about the Habitat for Humanity Student design Competition "The Sustainable Home" because it was so completely ludicrous, in that it was sponsored by the Vinyl institute, which is like the cigarette industry sponsoring a hospital design competition. Vinyl is not sustainable, it doesn't belong in green building and the Vinyl institute is an evil greenwasher that is part of the cabal that is out to destroy LEED. The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the faculty advisors who participated in this charade should know better.
On the other hand, the winning students did some really interesting work. Josh Robinson of Pennsylvania State University won in the Northeast (they divide up the country into districts) with his wonderful drawings, shown above. The jury writes:
This project is a fantasy, from fiberglass to vinyl. Surface and structure are the same thing. So much information conveyed without words. No real technical information was provided by this team, but their presentation creatively draws the viewer in, to get involved and to make assumptions. This project looked at vinyl as a material.
Indeed, it even won honorable mention for Vinyl inspiration and innovation.
The Galley House, By Auburn University students Ashley Clark, Peter McInish and Mary Win McCarthy, won the Best Use of Vinyl prize. It has it all; vinyl siding, pressure treated lumber, Styrofoam structural insulated panels. It could be the model home for the AHPBC. On the other hand, it is beautifully presented.
I rather like the S House by Yiming Su of the University of Calgary. The jury writes:
The design is captivating and expressive, while still remaining simple and straightforward. In a straightforward way, the final form of building and structure and mechanical issues are fused. All the systems are integrated into the single shell, and the louvers act as part of same system acting as a screen.
Shockingly, it is insulated with formaldehyde free fiberglass and the vinyl appears to be limited to the roof membrane.
Nick Barrett and Samuel Pruitt of Clemson University won in the southern region. They know their stuff, from planting deciduous trees to proper roof overhangs and louvered facade to water collection to community gardens. Insulated concrete forms are not my favorite styrofoam and concrete sandwich but I am told that they are terrific in hurricane and tornado country. Indeed, the jury thought that "The design offers many great options for using vinyl."
Agnieszka Wir-Konas of University of Detroit Mercy designed a clever and flexible modular house, complete with green roof. Jury's comments:
The jury appreciated the simplicity of the plan, its orientation to the sun, its consideration of cost-effective manufacturing construction techniques and its ability to grow and transform over time, to become a larger home or a multi-generational living space. The house has a clear planned diagram and a convincing composition. The design is very handsome, pushing the visual notion of what a Habitat house could be, while exploring modularity and production.
These students have displayed real design talent and presentation skill in this competition and deserve credit. However the issue of whether vinyl, PVC or polystyrene belongs in green building and can in any way be called sustainable is hugely controversial and is front and center right now. It may be cheap and low maintenance, but if those students and faculty advisors read BuildingGreen's Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Projects, they might choke on the word "sustainable."