Northwestern University Builds Sustainability Without Sacrifice

University competition team uses Bluebeam Studio™ to build the perfect retirement house.


The summer of 2017 found the House by Northwestern (HBN) team knee-deep in design strategy and customization with Bluebeam Studio for their entry project into the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2017 Solar Decathlon. The contest pitted 11 schools together in a worldwide competition to push the boundaries of design and integrate themed functionality into the build of an actual house that would ultimately be rebuilt and judged in Denver, Colorado.

The Collaboration Process

Power Construction was able to advise the HBN team on modularity and the value of project communication by using Bluebeam Studio to compare and markup drawings, make comments and simplify reviewing for the overall schedule. The project required considerable time and effort from the students, so the time savings Studio created were a crucial benefit for them. “I knew it was going to be a fast-paced project getting drawings in and reviewed, and I knew the collaborative aspects of Studio would be very helpful,” says Chase. “It only made sense to use it to help make the whole process easier for everybody.”

City of Evanston building codes were followed for the build as were design concepts that would support the city’s baby boomer demographic. The HBN team discovered that people aged 65 and over are forecast to make up 20% of Evanston’s population by 2020, while the housing market currently holds only 1% of structures designed for that demographic. Inspired by aging homeowners who want to spend their golden years at home, as independently as possible, the House by Northwestern team christened the project “Enable,” combining two core tenets “energy” and “adaptable,” and got down to work.

The Results

The HBN team collaborated to produce a full-sized, solar-powered home equipped with many features that make it suitable for the baby boomer demographic to live in comfortably in retirement and beyond. Valuable lessons were learned along the way and noted in detail, as everything then had to be broken down and shipped to Denver, giving the House by Northwestern team just two weeks to rebuild the Enable project into a fully functional and walkable home. This meant that the team needed to work quickly to rebuild the house and leave it properly staged for the judges.

After the literal dust had settled, the House by Northwestern team took home sixth place overall, along with first place in Market Potential, and first place in Communications. The Market Potential ranking turned out to be accurate as buyers have already expressed interest in the final product!

2017 Solar Decathlon Awards for House by Northwestern Team

  • 1st Place Market Potential
  • 1st Place Communications
  • 3rd Place Engineering
  • Student Choice Award for Most Awesome House
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