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by R. Reese Fuller

UL Lafayette’s School of Architecture and Design unveils its plans for the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home.

photo by Terri Fensel

Every half-inch of the small basswood model equals 1 foot of a bigger idea — a 799-square-foot house powered solely by solar energy that’s within financial reach of Louisiana residents. The students and faculty of UL Lafayette’s School of Architecture and Design hope the tiny house will be the foundation for winning the Solar Decathlon and provide another kind of model for building sustainable and affordable housing in Louisiana.

Last Saturday night, UL’s architecture students and faculty unveiled the model and designs for the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home, the university’s entry in a competition of 20 universities, sponsored by the US. Department of Energy, to build a solar home. True to south Louisiana form, it was an evening with food, drink and music from the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

But in addition to the celebration, it was also a night of fundraising. Ticket sales to the event will help the team offset some of the $560,000 it needs to raise before year’s end to begin construction of the BeauSoleil prototype in the spring and in time for the autumn 2009 competition. To date, $60,000 has been raised. Sponsorships and naming rights to one of the five spaces of the house — which must also be transported to Washington, D.C., for the competition — go for $40,000 each.

Geoff Gjertson, an architecture associate professor and the team’s faculty coordinator, says the completed house will feature a cistern, porches, landscaping with native Louisiana plants, a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and a “dog trot.” Gjertson says, “By constricting and creating a passage all the way through the building you cause the air to move quicker, at a higher velocity through there, so it cools the space better.”

BeauSoleil’s dog trot can also be used as a transitional space. The area can be opened to the elements, separating the kitchen from the living quarters, or can be closed off to serve as another interior room. And metal doors can be used to seal off the area and create an interior safe room to provide shelter during storms. “The form of the house is also very much like a shotgun [house] so that it can exist in an urban condition where they’re side by side,” Gjertson says. “It’s a very efficient form both for ventilation and just for function.”

The end result of the team’s work is a house that will stand out on the National Mall with 19 other small homes. “I think the home and the design focuses on our lifestyle and our culture, that there’s an informality and a strong connection to the exterior,” Gjertson says. “This home is not going to be an introverted or a sealed-off box.”

The model for the BeauSoliel Louisiana Solar Home will be on display as part of the School of Architecture and Design’s senior show at the University Art Museum through May 24. For more information about the BeauSoleil house, visit