18 August 2011

The Old College Tri

Little-known fact about me: In addition to Sweet Briar College for my bachelor's degree and the University of Texas for law school, I'm a Middlebury College alum (sort of). I attended Middlebury's French School the summer after my sophomore year of college. In anticipation of spending my junior year in France, and because I had only taken one semester of college French (they usually require two full years, although I had taken French all through junior high and high school), I wanted to spend the summer in an immersion program. (Unpaid advertisement: Middlebury's Language Schools are unparalleled in the country, and Vermont in the summertime is pretty much perfect. Plus we were about an hour from the Ben and Jerry's factory. Which gives tours. And free samples.)

Anyway, because I'm a Middlebury alum (sort of), I get their alumni e-mails. Usually they revolve around departments I had nothing to do with, faculty I don't know, etc., but this week's subject line caught my attention by touching on two topics that are near and dear to my heart: "MiddNews August 2011: Solar Decathlon, Olympic Triathlon, and More."

Now they're speaking my language. I clicked right in. Taking second things first, the triathlon item was about Middlebury alumna Sarah Groff, who recently earned a spot on the US Olympic triathlon team. Even cooler? She did it at a race on the actual course that will be used for the Olympics. (What I wouldn't give to go to London next summer and see the triathlon in person....) The United States has a lot of world-class triathletes, any one of whom would do us proud at the Olympics, so making the team is an amazing accomplishment. Can't wait to see who else is going to represent us in triathlon in 2012.

Next, the Solar Decathlon. The U.S. Department of Energy hosts this biennial contest that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design and build green houses, and Middlebury is participating in the challenge. (It's called a decathlon because the houses are scored in ten different categories.) Middlebury's team of 75 students and a handful of faculty/staff recently unveiled their entry, called Self-Reliance, before it is partially disassembled and moved to Washington, D.C. for the contest (all 20 houses will be on display and open to the public -- free -- from September 23 through October 2).

Middlebury's entry is what the team is calling a Vermont vernacular New England farmhouse.

(Pictures used with permission from the Middlebury
College Solar Decathlon Team.)

It's a wonderfully simple home, made of mostly local materials (maple, slate, etc.), and designed with sustainable living in mind.

A series of garden boxes on the deck not only provide space to grow flowers and vegetables...

...but they also lend privacy to this outdoor living space.

Inside, two windows designed as a greenhouse provide further opportunities to grow food.

The living area is a little sparse for my taste (affordability is one of the ten criteria on which the houses will be scored...although an occupant could jazz it up with paint and furnishings), but the beams are impressive.

I'm always a little caught off guard by skylights, which are verboten in Texas because of the heat. In the north, where thermal issues are reversed, skylights are great for daylighting and also bring in passive solar (simply letting the sun come in and warm things up, instead of using energy-intensive mechanical means for heat).

Moving on to the house's modest master bedroom, I can totally see myself vacationing somewhere like this, with a view of a meadow out the window and the sound of birds chirping in the morning. And maybe a pond where ducks splash about.

The bathroom has more of the industrial look of the kitchen (which also had dark, rugged counters).

Middlebury is obviously proud of their work, as well they should be. It's amazing to see the range of projects submitted to the challenge...not all of which appeal to me as much as Middlebury's entry.

It's probably for the best that Middlebury didn't have a Solar Decathlon house in the works while I was there (the contest didn't start until a few years later). I've always loved construction and might have found myself breaking the French-only rule to hang out with the green team en anglais.

So, to sum up...I want to go to London in the summer of 2012 and Washington, D.C. in late September/early October 2011. But I'd settle for a trip back up to Vermont whenever I can get it.

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