College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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The 2007 Solar Decathlon Competition


Combining an MBA with architecture can create some bright accomplishments.

Joe Simon (’07 BS, Architectural Studies and minor in Business), who is currently pursuing  a joint MBA and master of architecture degree, was one of 200 University of Illinois students and faculty advisors participating in an international competition to build a 100 percent solar powered house.

Sponsored by the Department of Energy, the 2007 Solar Decathlon pits top universities such as M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and others from around the world against each other to gain knowledge that will ultimately help reduce the cost of solar-powered homes and advance solar technology.

Elementhouse, as the Illinois modular home is known, held an open house in September and will be transported in early October to the national mall in Washington, D.C. to compete against 19 other houses from universities around the world. In late October, the house will be disassembled and moved to Chicago where it will be on display in the backyard of the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT).  Elementhouse will finally return to University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana campus to serve as a research facility.

The winner gets the opportunity to make a presentation at Greenbuild, the world’s largest exposition dedicated to green building, to be held Nov. 7-9, in Chicago. The conference is held annually by the U.S. Green Building Council, developers of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the national benchmark for high performance in green buildings.

Simon became involved in the project during fall semester, 2007 in order to use the knowledge he was soaking up pursuing architecture and business. “I was intrigued by the chance to apply some of principles I was learning to create something useful and practical,” he said. “It’s truly the best experience that I’ve had at the University of Illinois.”

At approximately 500 square feet, with an additional 250 square feet of deck, everything concerned with the house was carefully chosen for energy efficiency – from the two-drawer dishwasher for large or small loads, to the kitchen table made from recycled coat hangers, to the three 12’x16’ modules that can be loaded onto semi trailers using only hand cranks.
Simon’s contributions include creating the 3-D renderings of the final design and drawing the construction documents that will be judged as one of ten categories, as well as actually helping to build the house.

Michael McCulley, associate professor of architecture, said that application of Simon’s MBA studies helped other students involved in the project see problems differently.
“Joe was instrumental in coordinating with everyone and the large number of ideas put forth,” McCulley said “He also helped solve issues that involved the whole group.  Coordinating everyone’s needs in one small space, such as where to put the electrical room, water heater and even the fluorescent light fixtures, was a challenge. I really appreciated Joe’s problem solving abilities and helping to bring everyone together on the team.”

Simon said the opportunity to work with students outside of the College of Business and Department of Architecture was especially appealing. “It was a great experience communicating across all the different disciplines to work together to find solutions,” he said.  “This process enlightened me to many of the issues faced in the real world outside of idealized theoretical design problems.”

The combination of a joint MBA and architecture degree by its nature fit together well and have worked favorably in the workplace, said McCulley, who was an advisor to dual degree architecture and MBA students in the 1990’s. “I saw a lot of students graduate and become very accomplished in their careers, particularly in architectural development.”

Ty Newell, Professor Emeritus, Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, who served as a faculty advisor, said the students have a lot to be proud of. “We don’t want to go in over confident, but we will have a wonderful looking house and space.  We’ve already had an offer to buy the house, and it’s not even for sale,” he added.

Related Information:

Solar Decathlon - Department of Energy website

University of Illinois Team - Department of Energy website

University of Illinois Team - U of I website

Illinois 2007 Solar Decathlon Weblog

UIUC College of Business