VIRTUe scores in Dubai

[UPDATE: Team VIRTUe finally reached a sixth place in the general standing.] For Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, student team VIRTUe has erected in Dubai its construction kit LINQ, previously on display on TU/e’s KOE field. By email we asked spokespersons Simone Tax and Tamar Henquet how things are going at the competition. “The curved green wall, together with our biocomposite facade panels, the bicycles and the solar car are attracting a lot of attention.” And the team already has the second prize for communication under its belt.

photo Team VIRTUe

What has been the highlight so far?

“There have been several. We had the first while we were still building. On day 5 LINQ's entire structure was complete and so the shape of the building was already there. On November 13 the house was finished, so that was a highpoint of course, and it meant we were ready to receive our partners for the opening of LINQ and Stella Lux's reveal. During the competition the highpoint so far has definitely been winning second place in the communication awards. The jury's tour went brilliantly, but we knew we faced strong competition. When our name was called and we were allowed up onto the rostrum, all of us cheering, that was amazingly cool.”

Highlights come with low points; when have you lost heart?

“The absolute low point was the first day, when our containers were stuck at customs and so we couldn't start building. We had no idea when – or even if – they would be allowed through. After having worked on this project for so long it was dreadful to think that it might all have been for nothing.

The second low point was when we started testing the systems and it turned out that – due to the expansion of the wood during the journey in the containers – there were so many cracks and gaps in the house that the air conditioning was having to work much too hard, and so we were losing a lot of water and energy. Then, to cap it all, a battery broke down and an inverter (which converts voltage) stopped working. That made everything even worse. All these problems have already cost us points unfortunately, but luckily we have been able to repair many of them, so we hope we'll perform better in terms of energy and water during the coming days.”

Why were you guys allowed to give His Highness Sheikh bin Saeed Al Maktoum a guided tour? What was that like?

“Sheikh bin Saeed Al Maktoum is a very important and influential man in Dubai. He is a relative of the Sheikh of UAE and also the director of Emirates and many other large companies. He is one of the richest men in the world. As he is one of the main sponsors of SDME2018, he came along to visit a number of houses on the day of the opening. It was an honor that he chose our house for his very first visit. Michiel Derikx and Simone were going to give the tour and we were overwhelmed by the huge number of Emirati (locals from UAE dressed in white robes) who descended on us. At the outset it was even difficult to work out which individual was the Sheikh, but luckily we soon realized and then we gave him a three-minute tour of our apartment; that's all the time we had. The experience made a big impression on us and it was really fun to do. During the tour he even laughed at a joke Michiel made!”

How many visitors are you getting?

“It depends on the time of day, and it also varies from day to day. Sometimes a long time goes by without any visitors, and then all at once busloads of school children arrive. What we are noticing, though, is that LINQ is popular with the visitors. The curved green wall, together with our biocomposite facade panels, the bicycles and the solar car are attracting a lot of attention.”

On paper SDME started out with fifty countries. There are now fifteen houses standing. What do you find striking about them? Is there a team or house that jumps out?

“It is striking that almost all the houses are square and are wrapped in a second facade that casts a shadow on the actual facade. What's also striking is the big difference between the teams who have designed for expats and the teams who have designed for Emirati. This is because the culture here is so completely different than in the Netherlands; privacy is a much bigger concern here, and the separation of men and women.

The teams that jump out from the rest are mainly the teams with a lot of experience, including those who have even won solar decathlons in the past. Virginia Tech (USA), for example, has a really high-tech house with movable internal walls, and Australia has designed a house specially for people with dementia. And LINQ definitely jumps out too. We have done a lot of things differently than the other teams and we have a lot of extras. Here's a selection: the special shape, the urban design with the scale model, the bicycles, Stella Lux and the events we are organizing, such as yoga workshops and Dutch language lessons.”

When will you learn the results of the various contests?

“The results for Sustainability (89.47 out of a max. of 100 points), Engineering & Construction (94 out of 100 points) and Communication (79.13 out of 80 points) have already been announced. For Communication we came second by less than a full point, so we are incredibly proud of that. In the other two contests, we came fifth, so that is also a very decent result. We expect the house to continue to perform well in the next jury-judged contests: Energy Efficiency and Architecture.

As well as the jury-judged contests, performance readings are taken in the house, we have to drive a car as sustainably as possible and we host dinner parties for the other teams. The driving and cooking are going very well and they are earning us a lot of points, but as for energy we are lagging slightly behind many other teams, due to the problems I mentioned earlier. So we hope this will improve in the coming days.”

What are your expectations for the last days?

“It is really exciting because the ranking changes all the time. We are now in the top 5 and, of course, we hope we stay there. Quite a few teams have a lot of experience and we have noticed how that really makes a difference in such a complex competition, so we are satisfied with how it is going at the moment and obviously we hope to finish as near the top as possible!”

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