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Visitors line up to see Living Light on the Mall in Washington DC.

Living Light, UT’s solar-powered house, stood on the National Mall in the shadow of some of the nation’s most recognizable architecture as an exhibit at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which concluded earlier this month.

The ten-day event coincided with the 150th anniversaries of the US Department of Agriculture and the Morrill Act, which created land-grant universities. An estimated one million people saw the home and nearly 16,000 toured it during the festival.

The zero-energy home demonstrated the merits of solar-powered living when a large storm struck the nation’s capital on June 29, leaving thousands of residents without power and forcing the festival to close for a day.

Living Light maintained full-power during this time, producing twice the energy the house needed for all its normal day-to-day functions, such as powering its air conditioning, television, kitchen appliances, and lighting. Throughout its entire stay at the festival, the house was completely removed from the electrical grid and self-sustaining in all of its energy production.

The house was one of only seventeen projects selected to represent the nation’s land-grant universities at the Smithsonian festival.

“I’m proud that Living Light was there, illustrating our strength in finding alternative energy solutions,” Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said. “It’s really a fitting way to show how UT is living up to the Morrill Act’s goals of bringing education to the masses and making the world a better place.”

Living Light’s visitors had the opportunity to experience the home’s sleek interior, cutting-edge technologies, and energy- and cost-saving features.

“People enter the home and their faces automatically light up,” said Lauren McCarty, a recent graduate from UT’s bachelor of architecture program. “Many visitors are stunned at how open and light the interior space is and are very impressed with the coolness, especially during 100-degree weather.”

Being on the National Mall for the July 4 holiday was a special treat for the Living Light team. As thousands of people huddled together to celebrate Independence Day, the team watched fireworks explode behind the Washington Monument from the house’s back deck.

“It was a wonderful moment for me, my colleagues, and my students,” said Edgar Stach, professor of architecture and the lead faculty member for the project. “After three years working on the Living Light House, the opportunity to see a project from UT on the National Mall, in such a visible way, was a great honor and a major achievement.”

Being at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival allowed UT to also provide tours to professional and government organizations, host an alumni day for graduates, and share the knowledge of Living Light faculty members through Smithsonian U., a series of mini courses and panel discussions taught by experts and teachers from the featured land-grant universities.

Six students coordinated UT activities for the festival. Those students were Kate Armstrong, a graduate student in architecture; Steven Davis, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering; Peter Duke, a graduate student in architecture; Karl Hughes, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering; McCarty; and Jason Pimsler, a graduate student in architecture.

Diane Bossart, the project manager and research associate for the Tennessee Tour, oversaw all the logistical items necessary to bring Living Light to the festival. The Tennessee Tour turns Living Light into a traveling educational exhibition that teaches K-12 students and industry professionals about cutting-edge sustainable science, technology, and design.

Living Light began with students and faculty in the College of Architecture and Design and was led by faculty members Stach, Richard Kelso, James Rose, and Barbara Klinkhammer of the college, along with Deb Shmerler in the School of Art, Leon Tolbert in electrical engineering, and Stan Johnson and Bill Miller in mechanical engineering.

More than 200 UT students and faculty across nine academic disciplines designed the house for the 2011 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, an international competition among collegiate teams. UT placed eighth overall in the decathlon and claimed high-standing marks in several categories, including first in energy production, third in engineering, third in hot-water production, third in energy-efficient appliances, and fifth in architecture.

After the decathlon, Living Light began the Tennessee Tour. The tour is a joint effort of UT’s colleges of Architecture and Design and Engineering, and UT Extension, the outreach office of the UT Institute of Agriculture.

Contributions by Powell Companies, which provides trucking services to the house, Blaine Construction Corporation, which has been central in setting up and dismantling Living Light on the Tennessee Tour, the Tennessee Valley Authority, UT Institute of Agriculture Office of Extension, and the sponsorship of alumni and industry partners have been vital to Living Light’s success.

To read first-hand accounts about Living Light at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, see blog articles by UT students at

For more information about the house and its next stop on the Tennessee Tour—Chattanooga—visit

C O N T A C T:

Kiki Roeder (865-974-6713,