Photo by Keziah Johnson

Solar Decathlon Middle East: Team NYUAD

NYU Abu Dhabi students have spearheaded a project involving full construction of a solar-powered house.

Dec 2, 2018

For the past month, a small cohort of students has been dedicating the majority of their time and efforts to one of the largest projects ever undertaken by students at NYU Abu Dhabi: the construction of a completely solar-powered house.
For many participants, the idea of building a sustainable house began in their first year at NYUAD. Tired of dozing through Foundations of Science lectures, relearning trigonometric integrals and satisfying Core writing requirements, these aspiring engineers decided to devote their efforts toward a hands-on project. The dream for tangible impact drew them to a novel opportunity in the region: Solar Decathlon Middle East.
The Solar Decathlon competition challenges universities to encourage innovation in the field of environmentally-conscious architecture through designing, building and operating a completely solar-powered house. Initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2002, Solar Decathlon has since expanded to include five regions, including this year’s inaugural Solar Decathlon Middle East. Early in November, 15 teams from 11 countries joined Team NYUAD at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, where they have spent the past month constructing their full-scale models of sustainable homes.
Since the project’s inception in 2016, 15 students across engineering disciplines have been committed to making their vision of sustainable housing in the UAE a reality. In pursuit of this objective, many of Team NYUAD’s members have spent their summers on campus working full-time on SDME, delayed January Terms to submit deliverables and accepted a ninth semester to fully dedicate themselves to the project. After two years of design preparation and a month of on-site construction, Team NYUAD walked away from the event venue this past weekend leaving behind their completed sustainable home.
Team NYUAD’s house aims to offer a unique opportunity for tourists to interact with the emerging agricultural industry in the UAE. Intended as a remote getaway in the Emirati desert, the team hopes that their off-the-grid, modern house would provide visitors with a unique travel experience that leaves them with a greater appreciation for the natural beauty of the region and the innovative agricultural developments implemented here.
The Team NYUAD house was constructed incorporating several unique design features that set their project apart from other participating teams. Recognizing the environmental conditions of the UAE, the team has prioritized the implementation of systems that promote water conservation, thermal insulation and energy efficiency. The house also incorporates reclaimed wood to enhance the modern, rugged style and highlights local designers and artists through the pieces that it features. Most significantly, the main structural supports of the house are made from aluminum framing that future-proofs the house so further innovations can be added.
For those who have not seen the tired eyes of the SDME team members, it is difficult to convey the level of perseverance that our peers have demonstrated in seeing this project through to its completion. They have overcome many obstacles over the two years of the project: pulling all-nighters in the Engineering Design Studio to making last-minute adjustments to design deliverables, cramming computer monitors into a New York dorm room for a makeshift study-abroad headquarter, finding major sponsors who believed in the team and supported their vision of sustainable future housing. They invested large amounts of their time, energy, and money into this endeavour, cold-calling companies and demanding deadlines be met by contractors. From shipping construction supplies from more countries than represented by students on the team, sleeping on cardboard boxes in a remote warehouse leased for one dirham a year, to balancing a full academic course-load while commuting back and forth to the construction site, and sacrificing their academic grades as well as free time to make their dream a reality. 15 ambitious students and one committed adviser have spent two years designing a sustainable home and have built it in a month.
I hope that we as a community can acknowledge these individuals for their achievement and welcome them back to our campus with the pride and recognition that they deserve.
Congratulations Team NYUAD! We’re glad to have you back at your original home in the UAE.
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Alexander MacKay is a contributing writer. Email him at
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