The story of the Harvest Home is one of missions converging. Through its biennial Solar Decathlon, the US Department of Energy seeks to challenge collegiate minds to design and build solar-powered homes that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.
Seemingly far from this effort is Wounded Warrior Homes, whose mission is to provide affordable transitional housing to medically discharged, single men and women of the United States armed forces with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. These divergent goals meet in the Harvest Home, where a vegetable garden provides a soothing daily activity, motion sensors monitor sleep patterns, and the sound of rainwater catchment serves as a calming water feature.
There was another joining of missions that made Harvest Home possible: the creation of Team Capitol DC. For the first time in history, three area colleges joined together to represent Washington, DC, in the 2013 Decathlon. Student designers, architects, and builders came from Catholic University of America (CUA), George Washington University (GWU), and American University (AU), and by culling the talent of its metro area, Team Capitol DC was able to leverage the unique talents of each school while also tapping into wider alumni networks. CUA is a top architecture school; GWU boasts a strong, multidisciplinary engineering program; and AU is known for a formidable communications department.
From the beginning, Team Capitol DC sought to create a sustainable home that had a life beyond the competition. When it was decided that donating the home was the best avenue for success, Wounded Warrior Homes, which is based in Vista, California, was selected. The hope is that the home will see a new veteran approximately every two and half years—helping twenty individuals throughout the Harvest Home’s lifespan of approximately half a century. “The whole home was designed to service a need that we saw: veterans who are mentally, physically, or emotionally disabled that need a home specifically designed to meet their needs,” says Kyle Noell, the graduate leader and construction manager for Team Capitol DC.
The single-family house uses natural resources to power the home and creates a regenerative atmosphere by connecting veterans to the land and blurring the line between the natural and built environments. Many of the home’s elements are based on the concept of a harvest. That term has become ubiquitous with the act of reaping, but the individuals on Team Capitol DC were looking at the notion as a holistic and cyclical process that addresses both consumption and production.
In the end, the design of the solar-powered, net-zero home is guided by five “harvest elements”: sun, water, wind, vegetation, and materials. Sun is represented in the home’s photovoltaic array and solar-thermal system, water is collected to maintain the landscape through irrigation, and wind is incorporated through an air-to-air heat-distribution system and passive ventilation. Vegetation is amply supplied via two gardens, one of which contains sustainable edibles, and all but five percent of the wood—used on the exterior and for the home’s floors—served a previous life elsewhere.
The home encourages the occupant to engage all five senses, helping him or her intuit the inner workings of the home. Strengthening the ties between environmental health and human well-being are elements that simultaneously nurture the home and the individual. “The user has a harvesting garden they’re able to tend,” Noell says. “Doing that helps the gardens grow and thrive, but it also helps [the occupant] grow, thrive, and feel more calm and relaxed.” The home remains health-conscious by following the American Disability Act requirements for physical accessibility. Other aspects serve to calm the user, such as the sound of water from the rainwater-collection system or rubber decking tiles that are soothing for feet.
Inside, the reclaimed hardwood floors are paired with soft colors such as pastel purples and greens, and through its clear sight lines to the vegetation space, the home continually blurs the divide between inside and out. The smart home also learns certain tenant habits, such as waking times, in order to optimize temperature, and motion sensors monitor PTSD-related sleep movements. On the east side of the bedroom is a morning terrace that allows natural daylight to wake the inhabitant; at night, the light silhouettes the west-side living space, animating the Earth’s natural cycles.
As with any home, a beautiful, functional final product is the result of years of work and innumerable partners. Harvest Home’s roots, for instance, stretch back to January 2011 when it was first conceptualized. The team’s proposal was accepted in 2012, construction began in February 2013, and the home was shipped to California seven months later. The success of the Harvest Home—at the competition it placed seventh out of 20 finalists—is in large part due to the formation of the DC triumvirate, which helped the home garner the necessary support. Numerous sponsors and faculty members offered construction services gratis to support their alma mater or simply the area’s younger generation. Companies such as Clark Construction Group volunteered more than 250 hours on the project, assisting Noell and his team by connecting them with local subcontractors and providing the students feedback after undertaking a comprehensive review of its construction documents. Drawing on its experience with waterproofing, Clark helped modify the openings of exterior windows and sliding doors to be more efficient.
Individuals such as Lisa Enloe of Held Enloe & Associates also volunteered support; as an alum of CUA, Enloe provided the project with estimating services and pricing concepts as they were being designed.
The curtain closed on the 2013 Decathlon last October, and Team DC Capitol’s Harvest Home will soon begin its life as a regenerative aid in the healing process, meeting the needs of our wounded soldiers—and our wounded planet.