Working together within the smart living lab – where the prototype has been built – the EPFL, the HEIA-FR and the UNIFR joined efforts to design an energy-efficient pavilion to demonstrate Switzerland’s capability to handle issues related to a sustainable lifestyle. Finn de Thomas, the author of this insight, was part the winning team which created the NeighborHub.
With a 50 point lead ahead of the second placed team, the Swiss Team enjoyed a thrilling and rewarding win at the 2017 Solar Decathlon in Denver, Colorado. Over the past 3 years, students from four universities in western Switzerland worked tirelessly to build their vision of what Switzerland needs to tackle the necessary urban and energy transition. The NeighborHub acts as a tool where an entire neighborhood can come together to learn how to become more sustainable.
This concept of creating a tool, not a home for a family, proved to be challenging for team’s performance at the competition. Although the Swiss Team won podiums in 8 of the 10 competitions of the Solar Decathlon, the two in which the NeighborHub was portrayed as a social innovation for neighborhood learning, were less successful with the team reaching 48/100 points (10th out of 11) in the Innovation contest, and 60/100 points (last out of 11) in the Market Potential contest.
This however does not have to do with unplanned failure, but rather with the conscious risk taken and the seizing of an opportunity by the Swiss Team. They to developed a house which is less suitable to the competition requirements of building a home for a family, but rather built a house which fits Switzerland’s need to encourage behavioral change to become more sustainable in face of a growing population resulting in urban densification.
Qualities of winners
The decision of the Swiss Team to go far beyond the rules of the competition – so far that they suffered by losing points – is a testament to the strength, vision and determination of the team members who were prepared to take risks, go far beyond the required and to foster and shape innovations, which have the power to change the way in which we live. To me, these are qualities of winners!
Having joined the team over a year ago, I am happy to say that it has been a fascinating yet challenging experience. It was fascinating because of the many creative ideas that came together in the project from engaged and energetic students, willing to change the world for the better. It was also challenging because of the need to bring these together to create a coherent, strong and compelling story for the competition.
Apart from having learnt a great deal about housing, urban planning and interdisciplinary work, the greatest learning of all came from taking on an inherently challenging task which consisted in developing the best possible narrative, which fit the competition rules, despite ignoring them by not building a family home. By taking on this challenge, I had to take my thoughts that one step further, think about that one thing again and again and take a completely different mindset as usual. As they all say, learning is lifelong, and by constantly taking on challenges and going that one step further to find the best possible solution, we truly lived that notion within the Swiss Team.
Our three year, 250m2, 29 photovoltaic panel strong and 200 student large challenge is making its way back to Fribourg whilst you read this, and we would love to give you a tour come spring!__________