I had the wonderful experience of accompanying the winning architecture students on a trip to Innsbruck, Austria to compete in the Isover/CertainTeed Multi-Comfort House competition sponsored by Saint-Gobain as the U.S sponsor and partner with Philadelphia University.
This competition started in 2005 with nine countries participating. There were now 18 countries represented, 32 universities, 46 projects submitted and 150 participants. In some cases, submitting universities brought their top three projects. In many universities, the Multi-Comfort House competition is incorporated into the third and fourth year architectural program.
I must admit that since this was my first experience with the International Isover/CertainTeed Multi-Comfort House finals, I was concerned that it would be more like a social event than a serious competition. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. The level of professionalism on the part of the competition organization and the high quality of the projects presented by the students was eye-opening.
The subject of this year’s competition was the renovation of a five-story warehouse in the Parisian quarter of Pantin. Industrial building renovation to Multi-Comfort House standard was a tough challenge, but participants had the freedom to propose any function for the building. The projects ranged from a hotel, a library, a textile factory, a museum, a shopping mall, a student residence, a vocational training center, a meeting place for young people, to name a few. All were viable and of the highest quality in terms of execution, attention to detail and compliance with Passive House standards.
It was fascinating to see the range of design from both a technical as well as a romantic/creative aspect. The work that was presented – the concepts and elaborate ideas – was surprising. The level of knowledge and creative solutions with regard to air-tightness in buildings, increased insulation, moisture management and zero-energy applications employed in the designs were encouraging since these are the architects, designers and engineers of tomorrow.
From the students’ perspective, what an extraordinary experience to meet with global counterparts and exchange ideas, share successes and develop professional contacts. Two of the American students had never been to Europe; this was life changing for them.
An added benefit for the students was the opportunity to meet and hear from Professor Wolfgang Feist, the founder of the Passive House movement. He even incorporated comments about the designs that they presented and the techniques employed by the students.
The winning designs came from Austria, Finland, Serbian and Germany, but all of participants were fantastic. The time they have invested in broadening their knowledge and practice of sustainable design principles, will certainly pay off in their professional life.
I am looking forward to supporting next year’s competition. The finals will be held in Prague and my hope is that we can begin to reach out to other American colleges and universities to participate in this program.