Team that created solar home reunites

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The student-designed BeauSoleil Home sits in its permanent location outside of Fletcher Hall on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The student-designed BeauSoleil Home sits in its permanent location outside of Fletcher Hall on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette architectural team of students and faculty who five years ago designed a solar-powered house they later built gathered for a reunion Friday.

The faculty and the now-former students, all of whom have graduated and are working, went on in 2009 to wow Washington, D.C., judges with their self-sustaining BeauSoleil Home, which does not need to be hooked to a grid.

Recalling the work that took the home from conception to fact, including hat-in-hand fundraising, choked up some of team members, including Professor Kari Smith with ULL’s School of Architecture.

“It was the equivalent of our bowl game,” Smith said.

Gretchen Lacombe-Vanicor, a student manager on the project who now works in business development, said she joined the team five years ago because, “They told me I could work with power tools.”

Lacombe-Vanicor, two other team students and four professors participated in a round-table discussion of the project that took two and a half years to complete.

Lacombe-Vanicor said that at the end of her term on the project, in 2009 when BeauSoleil Home sat on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., waiting to be judged, “It was completely surreal.”

About 200 students and faculty from among many disciplines at ULL — including architecture, engineering, interior design and business administration — collaborated to build BeauSoleil Home.

ULL was among 20 colleges selected to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon that featured teams from across the world.

The contest challenged schools to design and build a home that didn’t have to be plugged into a power supply — a sustainable home that took advantage of the sun and wind.

ULL’s entry could also remain intact in hurricane-force winds.

“It felt like the right thing to do, having just come through the hurricanes,” said W. Geoff Gjertson, professor of architecture at ULL.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 were powerful storms that in the post-storm months highlighted the need for better, stronger, sustainable and inexpensive homes.

It took 30 months of planning, designing and building to complete BeauSoleil Home, and it won the People’s Choice Award at the 2009 competition and placed first among judges for market viability.

The students who helped design and build the home have graduated onto professional roles. They said Friday being on the Beausoleil Home team helped define them.

“I was real interested in sustainable design,” said Scott Chippuis, who is an architect in Lafayette. Chippuis said he’d seen a video on a Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, then when he learned ULL was chosen to compete in one, “I jumped at the chance.”

The round-table discussion was held Friday in Fletcher Hall.

Behind Fletcher, the Beausoleil Home sits, all angles and sustainability.

Inside the home, which is not hooked to the electricity grid, a flat screen television played while musician Caleb Elliott plugged his electric instruments into a solar-powered socket. Elliott, whose performance was sponsored by The Green Room, played for the reunion.

Ed Cazayoux, retired dean of architecture at ULL, said his method of teaching freshmen students included not letting them draw designs or work a computer.

His first-year architectural students were made to grab hold of building materials and feel them, Cazayoux told those gathered Friday.

“They had to think about how their materials come together,” Cazayoux said. “They learn by doing. I think that’s typical of the creative mind.”