Now that I’ve featured the fantastic and formidable Tri-State competition — Team Jersey’s ENJOY House, Team New York’s Solar Roofpod, and Empowerhouse from a mighty team consisting of students from Parsons the New School for Design, Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy, and Stevens Institute of Technology — that will be duking it in Washington, D.C., during the 2011 Solar Decathlon, I thought I’d switch it up a bit and feature a home designed by one of the four international teams participating in this year’s event: First Light house, an entrant from the Solar Decathlon’s first ever Kiwi Team (and the first ever team from the Southern Hemisphere) comprised of students from Victoria University of Wellington

Like First Light's country of origin, this zero-energy abode is a sophisticated yet unfussy beauty that gets its name from the fact that New Zealand is the first place that sees the morning light on the start of a new day. Love it. 

A gussied up and green take on traditional New Zealand holiday homes known as "Kiwi baches," First Light is a cedar-clad, prefab structure that promotes alfresco living — "a relaxed lifestyle in which socializing and connecting with the outdoors are central to living" — through numerous design elements including decking that runs not only around the structure but right through the center of it. This "indoor deck" space, with its generous triple-glazed skylight and bi-fold doors, contains the kitchen and dining area and provides a bridge of sorts between the sleeping/study area and the main living area.

Reads the home’s descripton on the Solar Decathlon website: "Weather and climate are intertwined with the design philosophy of the First Light house to encourage an awareness of how to work with a changing climate rather than against it."

Sponsored by New Zealand energy company Meridian, the handsome home boasts transformative furniture for overnight guests, recycled sheep’s wool insulation, an energy monitoring system, LED lighting, numerous locally sourced materials (I'm loving all the abundance of local wood), and a nifty "drying cupboard" that dries wet clothing by pumping solar heated hot water through a heat exchanger.
The 6kW rooftop solar array itself, consisting of 28 Mitsubishi Electric polycrystalline solar panels and 40 solar thermal panels for hot water heating, is supported by an attractive cedar canopy that also provides First Light with much needed shade during the summer months. 
After being assembled and opened for public tours (and some awesome-looking dinner parties) in May at Frank Kitts Park on Wellington’s waterfront, First Light was dissembled and shipped to Washington, D.C., via Philadelphia at the end of June. The length of First Light’s journey at sea? Four weeks. The amount of time the Victoria University team has to assemble it for the big competition at West Potomac Park? Seven days. Post competition, First Light will once again be disassembled and make the long trip home to New Zealand where it will live on as the fully functional full-time home (it was auctioned off before departing to the States) of one very lucky Kiwi family.

To meet the team, get blog updates, and learn more about this most excellent — or "choice" as they would say in N.Z. — energy-efficient home head on over to the First Light website. Team Kiwi also maintains a Flickr account (lots and lots of photos here), a Facepage page, and a YouTube channel with informative videos about the home, two of which are embedded below.
And for those of you in the Washington, D.C., area and those who are planning to be in and around the Capitol come September, remember to mark your calendars: the Department of Energy's 2011 Solar Decathlon kicks off and opens to the public on Sept. 23 and ends on Oct. 2 with the big awards ceremony on Oct 1.
I'll be continuing to preview some of this year's fierce competition up until the start of the event. Up next week: a bit of natural competition for the New York-area teams: the 4D House from Team Massachusetts

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

2011 Solar Decathlon: First Light house
A contemporary take on the traditional 'Kiwi bach,' First Light house from Victoria University of Wellington is New Zealand's inaugural entry into the Solar Dec