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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s student design team (Team BeauSoleil) wanted to achieve more than just maximum energy performance from their Solar Decathlon house: they wanted to create a space where Louisianans could enjoy life. So, in addition to incorporating passive and active energy systems and hurricane resistance, the team drew on South Louisiana’s architectural heritage, love for entertaining, and general joie de vivre to inform the design of their house--dubbed BeauSoleil, meaning “sunshine” in Cajun French.

As a result, the 800-square-foot BeauSoleil House is a traditional dogtrot-style house with a twist: The 10-foot-square dogtrot corridor forms a “transitional porch.” Located between the kitchen and the living room, this flexible space serves either an interior room or, when its bifold hanging doors are lifted open to the outside, as a breezeway and outdoor living area. In addition, the dogtrot corridor can be opened to adjoining rooms to expand entertaining space. It accomplishes this through a set of six custom-designed sliding glass doors, manufactured specially for Team BeauSoleil by NanaWall. These doors open and close in various configurations—even rotating 360 degrees around a track—to divide or connect the kitchen and the living room and provide additional fenestration options around the dogtrot space.

In terms of overall design, the BeauSoleil house's simple rectangular footprint blends both traditional and modern aesthetic elements. Its roofline transitions from a traditional gable on one end to almost a shed roof on the other. It's clad with a custom-milled, sustainably harvested cypress rainscreen system that is oriented horizontally, creating clean, modern shadow lines. The house’s wraparound deck and the dogtrot corridor’s floor are made from FSC-certified ipe, a durable and naturally insect- and rot-resistant material. Inside, the kitchen, living room, and bedroom are light and bright, with white wall finishes and exposed blackened steel structural beams. The spacious bathroom offers both warm, modern finishes and practical accessibility.

The students made the most of their available resources in BeauSoleil’s design and construction. To save water and energy, students not only chose energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures, but they also incorporated a rainwater catchment system. The team also did whatever they could to reclaim leftover construction materials, according to graduate architecture student Catherine Guidry, the team’s public relations officer. Team members reclaimed trimmings from the cypress rainscreen’s milling to build exterior planters, benches, and competition signage; they used ipe cuttings to construct a richly-toned butcher block countertop in the kitchen.

The team applied their creativity to the skylight above the transitional porch as well. Constructed of two polycarbonate sheet panels sandwiched around a solar thermal system designed by the team, the skylight serves several purposes. It brings light into the transitional porch. It surrounds the solar thermal system that provides the home’s hot water. In return, the solar thermal system’s aluminum fins provide shade against the hot Louisiana sun and prevent excessive heat gain in the porch. Then, at night, power collected from the sun powers ambient lighting in the dogtrot corridor, making the space glow.

An 8kW photovoltaic system generates the BeauSoleil house’s electricity, which comes from a total of 39 Sanyo panels. (Thirteen of these are bi-facial to capture light reflected from the home’s metal roof surface.) The panels extend over the ridge of the roof, supported by strapping that allows their pitch to be adjusted as necessary for maximum utility.

The team turned to structural insulated panel (SIP) construction for the BeauSoleil house, which ensures a tight building envelope and substantial insulation values, as well as a strong, hurricane-resistant structure. The house is oriented north-south to catch breezes through several floor-to-ceiling windows and the dogtrot. Though the students designed the house to minimize solar heat gain, they also incorporated a mechanical ventilation and cooling system. Finally, because the main living areas can connected or separated, depending on the owners’ needs—or the size of the party-- the house uses a zoned HVAC system of ductless mini-split heat pumps in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom.

It may sound complicated, but Team BeauSoleil designed the house to be easy to manufacture, with the intention of mass producing their house in Louisiana. “We made sure the design decisions we made could be reproduced in the end. We didn’t want this to be a one-off. We want to make it available to people in the area,” Guidry says. Team BeauSoleil worked with Louisiana Systems Built Homes of Martinsville, La., to fabricate their modular house, and continues to work with the company, under the guidance of the university, to move the design toward mass-market viability.

COMPETITION UPDATE: The BeauSoleil house won the Market Viability competition, and although it placed 19th overall in the competition, it was voted by the public as the winner of the People’s Choice Award.

Stephani Miller is Associate Web Editor for residential architect and CUSTOM HOME magazines.