Competition showcases energy-efficient designs

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 24, 2012 

— UC Merced officials on Wednesday said the university continues its commitment to sustainability.

Several zero-net energy building designs from architecture students and professionals from around the world were on display in a room inside the library at the University of California at Merced.

The designs were created as part of the second annual Architecture at Zero competition. The competition was organized by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco chapter, in collaboration with UC Merced.

Winners of the competition were announced during the event Wednesday.

The participants created examples of zero-net energy designs for an administration building, a student housing unit and a district energy plan. Zero-net energy means that a building produces as much clean energy as it uses during a year through energy efficiency and using renewable energy.

"UC Merced is a perfect place to have this competition," Chancellor Dorothy Leland said, adding that all of the institution's buildings are LEED certified. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a rating system for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

During the event, Leland also told attendees that, a decade ago, none of the campus' sustainable buildings existed.

"Ten years ago, there was nothing here," she said. "The first shovel was put into the ground to break ground in the first building that you are in."

The university, which has been a leader in sustainable campus design, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its groundbreaking with several free activities on Main Street that will be open to the community.

'A real commitment'

UC Merced has a goal of producing zero-net energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

"That's a real commitment," Leland said. "We measure ourselves every year to see how we are doing."

Steve Malnight, vice president of customer energy solutions for PG&E, said the utility supports zero-net energy buildings because that's the future of design and construction.

The Architecture at Zero competition is in line with the California Public Utilities Commission's goal that all new residential construction in California be zero-net energy efficient by 2020. The goal for commercial construction is zero-net energy by 2030, according to PG&E officials.

"It's really a commitment for driving sustainability for our business, California and the world," Malnight said.

Participants from three continents submitted designs for the competition, Malnight said; $25,000 in prizes were awarded.

"We've seen some incredible ideas," he said.

Yi Wang, a student at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, was part of one of the winning student groups. She said she gained a lot of knowledge about zero-net energy.

"We'll be thinking about that now," the 25-year-old said of incorporating zero-net elements into designs. "It's just been great."

Student: Good experience

Lalita Latumahina, also a student at the Academy of Art and part of Wang's team, said the competition was good experience because the members of her team brought different abilities and skills to the project.

It taught them how to work as a team and get the most out of each other's abilities. "Our goal was not winning, we were just looking for the experience," she said.

The design contest winners were:

• Loisos & Ubbelohde Associates for "Silver Streak" and Ren Ito Arq. for "Cactus"

• Merit Awards: Archassist for "Cotton Farm" and team Wei Yan and Edward Clark for "Homeostasis"

• Student Awards: Team Daniel LaRossa and Amadeo Bennetta for "(AGRI)cultural Durability," recent graduates of University of Virginia, and a student team from Academy of Art University in San Francisco for "Mountain"

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or

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