Solar Decathlon AFRICA: Team Oculus

By Nate Rogers, E.I.T. | October 16, 2019

During my senior year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) earlier in the year, I was tasked with designing a net-zero energy house for the Solar Decathlon competition. The OCULUS house, as we named it, was designed over the last two years by several WPI students and several partnering universities in Africa. During this summer, my student team and I were fortunate to fly out to help build our design in the deserts of Morocco.

Our team at WPI primarily focused on the design of the building mechanical systems. To minimize footprint, simplify MEP systems, and allow for rapid installation, we designed a central modular unit which contains the HVAC, plumbing, lighting and electrical systems. Due to the unorthodox nature of the house, every component had to be individually designed and follow the guidelines of prescriptive codes ended up being a challenge. Ultimately, this ground-up approach has made me acutely familiar with building systems and given me a unique perspective when approaching any new design that I put forth into real world projects, now at Team Engineering. I guess you could say, that in this case, the best way to think outside the box was to build a dome.

2 thoughts on “Solar Decathlon AFRICA: Team Oculus

  1. Debby Dearborn

    I was fascinated by this building project, especially as the Oculus resembles the shape of a traditional Maasai house – a small circular house set within a circular acacia fence. As you partnered with several African universities, I wonder if this shape was influenced by a traditional African society’s house-building. The Oculus also conjures up Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, though I don’t think he was known for an all-wood dome structure, such as yours. I wonder why more people aren’t building and living in dome homes; they are so efficient, energy-wise, and strong under wind and snow loads… but then, this is New Hampshire. Solar panels are enough of a stretch for strong advocates of tradition! Thanks, Nate, for this brief report.

    1. Nate Rogers

      Debby – You are completely right that the dome shape of the Oculus was inspired by traditional African house-building. We did our best to design the Oculus with traditional styles and materials in mind. The house also features a traditional Moroccan hand-laid tile floor and hand-woven wicker façade. I’m not sure that Buckminster Fuller was a direct influence for the Oculus but I have studied his work in the past and you’re absolutely correct that he utilized many of the same design principals: minimizing footprint, circular and dome shapes, structural efficiency, etc. It might still be an uphill battle to convince people to build dome homes in NH, but I have hope that some people will embrace some of these unorthodox and highly efficient designs in the future!


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