January 25, 2011
by: Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon has challenged 20 teams of international college students biennially to design solar-powered houses. These houses have been exhibited on the National Mall, bringing public awareness to sustainability and the challenges facing future thought leaders in green design. A couple of weeks ago, just eight months before the launch of the showcase, the Solar Decathlon website posted an announcement that this year the venue will be changed and relocated to a yet-to-be-determined site. The post states that the reason for the site change is because of the historic effort to protect, improve, and restore the National Mall. This is creating quite a stir, especially among the teams of students who have been planning their designs for the Mall for almost two years now. Perhaps it is a harsh wake-up call to idealistic students that projects will not always turn out as expected, but it also sends a message to them that the government does not see the value in hosting the event on one of the most visible — and visited — center stages in the nation.

There is a petition posted by a student in protest to the relocation that, as of this publication date, 5,193 people have signed. It states, “In your inaugural address, President Obama, you stressed the importance of a national movement towards more sustainable practices…. You affirmed that our colleges and universities possess the ability to influence future generations to adopt more sustainable practices — this truth resonates with the mission of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.” I agree that, in a time when sustainability has gained momentum, and with the supposed support of the national government, relocating the event is making an antithetical point. Instead, the program requirements should be adjusted to either include a clause about minimally affecting the grounds or incorporate grounds rehabilitation. If plans for relocation prevail, however, I hope the new site will be just as accessible to the public as the Mall.


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