Utilizing Urban Roof Space for Efficient Living

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The City College of New York contributed an innovative way to utilize the underrated, yet valuable space of NYC’s roof tops for its 2011 Solar Decathlon entry.  The sleek, modular building was named the Solar Roof Pod.

New York Solar Decathlon

The City University of New York created a home that could be situated on the roof of a building.


The roof mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels supply the house with energy while it also shades the structure to keep it cool in the summer.  In addition, each solar panel was fitted with a micro-inverter to maximize solar energy output.


The bathroom in the Solar Roof Pod.

The bathroom in the Solar Roof Pod. Photo credit – DOE Solar Decathlon, Jim Tetro


One enters the inner sanctum of the Solar Roof Pod via a ramp while passing a rooftop garden.

There were two main entrances to the home that were situated on opposite sides of the structure.  The tour entered the home through the north entrance.

Immediately upon entry, one could easily access a bathroom just across the entryway.

The close proximity of the washroom is a nice asset to have in any home.

Note the efficient stacking washer and dryer in the bathroom. Because there is an inner core within the house, the water lines are kept away from the colder edges of the house and kept in close proximity.  This makes building the house more efficient.

The traffic-flow took place around the core of the home.



Continuing around the corner from the restroom, one continues to the bedroom and sleeping area.


The Murphy-style bed is hidden in the wall on the west side of the house.

The Murphy-style bed can be hidden in the wall on the west side of the house.


There was a Murphy – style bed that descended out of the wall.

In the panoramic picture above, there are two people on the left -hand side by one of the main entrances, adjacent to the bathroom doorway.  In the middle of the picture, the Murphy-style bed is being placed in the wall, and to the right of the picture on the west facing outer wall, a solar energy collector can be seen.  It allows light into the living area, while it also collects solar energy from the setting sun.


Sliding doors, often referred to as 'pocket doors' do not take as much space as a swinging hinged door, yet provide privacy.

Sliding doors, often referred to as ‘pocket doors’ do not take as much space as a swinging hinged door, yet provide privacy.



Continuing around the corner, one finds a kitchen and deck area that faces the south.  (See pictures of the kitchen in the photo gallery below.)

Note the sumptuous wood paneling on the walls.  I am pretty sure that the team built the walls along with all other facets of the house.

I visited the team in the middle of the summer just prior to the 2011 Solar Decathlon and was impressed by the engineering and architecture teams that were working together and building many of the different aspects of the house.  See the insulated walls being built.



The living room space was airy and inviting.

The living room space was airy and inviting. Photo credit – DOE Solar Decathlon, Jim Tetro



Continuing past the kitchen area, one enters the living room area.  It was the largest space in the home with ample areas to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.




Ideal Solar Roof Pod

The Solar Roof Pod would ideally grace the rooftops of large cities, extending the building’s potential living area.

Because the Solar Roof Pod was destined to be situated on a roof, the building was set upon I-beams and surrounded by a deck, complete with a system to recycle to water for the garden surrounding the building.

As mentioned earlier, this was a project that I had the opportunity to visit during the preceding summer. It was impressive to see how much work the teams accomplish over the summer.

I realize that it’s also easy to overlook the massive amounts of work that can not be easily seen when touring homes during the Solar Decathlon.

Because I saw part of the building process, with the panels lined up in a warehouse, I knew that the panels of the house were all hand made, even down to the insulation that was blown into them. This extra effort, however, is not recognized in the Solar Decathlon within the points system.  In my opinion, it should be recognized.

Other schools participating in the Solar Decathlon contracted out various aspects of the building process to other companies, some to the extent that main aspects of the house were not built or experienced by the students. No doubt that student teams learned regardless of the process that was used, however, the point being that some schools expended more effort than other teams did.

This team worked hard to create a symbiotic house destined to utilize the rooftops of city buildings.  It was a brilliant idea that should be recognized and mass-marketed.

Take a look a the photo gallery and the video below to learn more about the Solar Roof Pod.


Photo Gallery

Click on a picture to enter the gallery.  Click on the right side of the picture to proceed to the next one.  Click anywhere in the darkened space or on the “X” to exit the gallery.


It was a noble effort with thousands of hours of work from the Solar Roof Pod team.  The team learned a lot while finishing in 17th place overall.


The scores for the City College of New York team for the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

The scores for the City College of New York team for the 2011 Solar Decathlon.



Shortly after the 2011 Solar Decathlon, it was announced that the City College Architecture Center would be closing.  It appears that it has become the J. Max Bond Center.

See the original model of the Solar Roof Pod entered into the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

Preparation for the Solar Decathlon during the prior summer.

The website for the Solar Roof Pod: Ccnysolardecathlon.com – It appears to have been hacked at the time of this writing, so this is not linked.

Solar Decathlon Main Website: solardecathlon.gov

Keya Lea

Keya Lea likes to spend time outside, enjoying the sun.

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3 Responses

  1. Farah Ahmad says:

    Thank you for the informative article! Please note that you have made an error in this article. The team’s website is up and running, ccnysolardecathlon.com.

  2. Ellis Simon says:

    Thanks for your terrific coverage of the Solar Roof Pod, City College’s entry in the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. I just want to point out that the team website, ccnysolardecathlon.com, is still live and accessible.

    Ellis Simon
    Director of Public Relations
    The City College of New York

    • Keya Lea says:

      Thank you for letting me know! I changed the article to reflect the website.

      It does, however, look like it has been hacked, because the title of the page recommends pharmaceuticals. So, I put the website address into the article, but didn’t link there.

      (Sometimes those types of things can happen because of an insecure plugin or other vulnerability.)

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