SolArt Competition Supports Professional Training in Interdisciplinary Solar Design

Achievement date: 

Students with the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center (ERC) designed and organized a competition to train future professionals in interdisciplinary solar design. The 2020 SolArt competition, hosted by the student-led group Green Engagement Specialists (G.E.S.), inspired student teams to design beautiful, useful, solar-powered spaces and places for people to live and work outdoors at Arizona State University (ASU).


Creating innovative solar technologies requires learning to work in teams of interdisciplinary specialists in design, engineering, sustainability, and societal impacts. All SolArt participants were mentored by local design, architecture, construction, engineering, and cultural professionals to maximize cross-functional and intergenerational insights while promoting shared, experiential learning.

The 2020 SolArt competition also helped students explore the social value of energy. QESST Students argue that social values are often subtly embedded throughout energy infrastructures, but that these choices can be seen more readily in arrangements that produce renewable energy – particularly those that provide services or bring people together outdoors. Organized events associated with the competition actively demonstrated the production and flow of energy while supporting teams in intentionally creating more sustainable social spaces for the campus community.


QESST students Sarah Desmond, Brock Williams, and Dempsey Wilken designed and organized the competition with the help of mentors in the local professional community. A survey on outdoor campus amenities was completed to query ASU students about their needs and impressions of campus spaces and then students were recruited to participate in the design competition. The students were invited to design a structure to be built on a site at the ASU Tempe campus that utilizes a sustainable solar energy source, brings social value to the community, and makes people want to spend time outdoors. The designs needed to include: a solar energy source, a shaded area that encourages people to interact, and a demonstration of the social value created.

Four student teams competed, generating four unique designs: a solar picnic table, tree-inspired solar shade structure, outdoor sustainability classroom, and solar kaleidoscope patio. Team renderings are viewable on the GES website. Mentored workshops included a Strategic Planning Session for teams, a Branding Position and Analysis session, and a general Solar Workshop that informed students about how to implement solar energy into their projects.

Desmond and Williams are working with the winning team to bring its design to the building phase. Additional details are available on the competition website at: