On Aug. 29, nearly 10 years ago today, a calamitous young hellion from the Bahamas named Katrina, having previously caused quite a ruckus down around Miami and the Panhandle, marched straight from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into southeast Louisiana with all her might. Floodwaters unleashed by Katrina’s Category 3 fury inundated the city of New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. Levees were breached, highways were submerged, roofs were peeled off of buildings, entire neighborhoods were washed away. Over 1,200 human lives were lost as were thousands upon thousands of homes.

Ten years of healing and rebuilding later, areas of New Orleans and neighboring Mississippi still haven't completely recovered from Hurricane Katrina. They likely never will. And in those 10 years, there have been other historic and horrific storms, both home and abroad, including tornados that literally turned the towns of Joplin, Missouri, and Moore, Oklahoma, inside out and upside down in 2011 and 2013, respectively. And then there was Hurricane Sandy, a storm that, in October 2012, managed to bring even New York City to its knees.

Following each of these catastrophic weather events, after the dust has settled and the floodwaters have retreated, residents living in the impacted areas, many left homeless, are often confronted with the same question: How can we rebuild in a more resilient manner?

Over the past decade, particularly following Hurricane Sandy, resilience against Mother Nature's rage has emerged as a major design consideration. In 2014, Architect wondered if resilience — building strong, smart and sensitively in preparation for future disasters — has even overtaken environmental sustainability as a core design concept.

Perhaps it has. And if it hasn't, perhaps it should.

Long a hotbed of eco-friendly innovation, resilient design is also front and center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a biennial event that challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate attractive, affordable and efficient solar-powered homes. While resilience has always played somewhat of a minor role at the Solar Decathlon — an event that itself was left homeless in 2011 but not due to natural disaster — this year’s edition places a special emphasis on deep green homes that stand up against — and provide refuge after — bouts of extreme weather.

Kicking off on Oct. 8 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, the 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon will feature at total of 14 competing teams (originally 18 teams as Team Tennessee and Team Florida/Singapore alongside Ivy League contenders Stanford and Yale have all withdrawn from the event in recent weeks and months) duking it in 10 juried and measured contests. Here’s a look at three of the competing homes designed to bounce back and stand strong.

SURE HOUSE, Stevens Institute of Technology

SURE House, Steven Institute of Technology's competing entry in the 2015 US Solar Decathlon. SURE HOUSE (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

The Stevens Institute of Technology, a repeat Solar Decathlon contender, knows a thing or two about storms. After all, the school’s home of Hoboken, New Jersey, “filled up like a bathtub" during Superstorm Sandy. When all was said and done, Sandy’s powerful surge had inflicted $100 million worth of damages on the Hudson River-abutting city of Hoboken, which, under the leadership of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, has emerged post-storm as an UN-recognized role model for resilience.

SURE HOUSE, Team Stevens’ 2015 Solar Decathlon entry, is a thoughtful — and beautiful — study in assuredness. The home — “a sustainable and resilient home for the areas at greatest risk due to rising sea-levels and more damaging storms” — is also a brave one, as it doesn’t shy away from potential weather-related peril. Designed to be situated in an area where Sandy hit the hardest, the Jersey Shore, SURE HOUSE faces whatever Mother Nature wants to throw at it head on. Tough on the outside and inviting within, this is one home that doesn’t back down. You couldn’t get more Jersey if you tried.

SURE House, Steven Institute of Technology's competing entry in the 2015 US Solar Decathlon. SURE HOUSE (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

You’d think that a solar-powered abode specifically designed for a coastal area that was obliterated by a hurricane just three years ago might resemble a buttoned-up fortress, lofted on stilts and obscured by protective armor. While encased in a water-proof shell, clad with an innovative storm shutter system and elevated above the ground on a bed of piers, the two-bedroom SURE HOUSE presents itself as a reimagining of a laid-back shore house built circa the mid-1960s with its simple, laid-back floor plan and emphasis on outdoor living. That is to say, the structure comes across as a super-casual coastal cottage, its more citadel-esque features smartly integrated into the overall design.

With a special eye toward engineering, The Stevens team revolved SURE HOUSE around three core principles: to focus, first and foremost, on consuming 90 percent less energy than conventional homes through smart design features including numerous passive strategies; to generate what small amount of electricity that is needed through a rooftop solar system; and to serve, if needed, as a “resilient energy hub” that will help to power the surrounding community in the event of storm-related power outages.

SURE House, Stevens Institute of Technology's competing entry in the 2015 US Solar Decathlon. SURE HOUSE (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

Writes the Stevens team:

The SURE HOUSE is designed for New York and New Jersey coastal cities and towns, especially those which experienced severe damage from Hurricane Sandy during the fall of 2012. The storm surge, high winds and flooding associated with Hurricane Sandy reshaped the landscape along the Atlantic coast and highlighted the vulnerability of shore neighborhoods. In addition to these physical changes, NY and NJ coastal towns have experienced dramatic changes as a result of economic and policy factors. Currently, FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy are driving the rebuilding of these communities, often resulting in costly renovations and, sadly, unsuccessful streetscapes. The SURE HOUSE will fulfill the need in these regions for durable, safe, and resilient sustainable homes. The inclusion of storm and flood resilience to this solar-powered home sets it apart from other homes and fulfills a critical need within the housing stock of this area, serving as a model for future resilient development and construction in storm- vulnerable environments.

With its enticing renderings, easy to navigate and hugely informative (almost overwhelmingly so) website, and non-cowering Jersey ‘tude, SURE HOUSE is looking to be a fierce contender come October.

DURA, New York City College of Technology

DURA, NY City Tech's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon.DURA (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

Whereas Team Stevens’ laid-back but ready-to-rumble next-gen shore house was designed to stand tall before and during extreme weather events, first-time Solar Decathlon contender New York City College of Technology’s DURA is proactive but responds more to the need for post-disaster emergency housing in high-density urban contexts, specifically nodding to a bruised and battered New York City in the days and weeks following Superstorm Sandy.

“An urban approach to resilient, energy-efficient housing that adapts to the needs of the diverse city and its people,” DURA is an acronym that represents Team City Tech’s four, aforementioned core design tenets: Diverse, Urban, Resilient, Adaptable.

DURA, NY City Tech's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon.DURA (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr

Described as a “hybrid of passive solar and passive house design principles, coupled with low energy active systems” with an emphasis on “making the homeowner feel as ease with the use of advanced and integrated technology,” DURA house manages to pack in a whole lot of sustainable bells and whistles (a 6.5 kW solar array mounted onto the south-facing side of the unit, a greywater recycling system, an energy recovery ventilator and much more) into a modest, modular footprint that’s, above all, incredibly versatile, mobile and quick to deploy and assemble. That is, DURA fussy in all the right places but still simple enough to make it a practical mode of post-disaster housing.

The net-zero structure itself is composed of prefabricated wood-framed modules that fit into a standard shipping container for quick deployment. Once it reaches its destination, flexibility rules at DURA: the ADA-compliant home, with its open floor plan and adaptable furnishings, can be arranged to meet the unique requirements of its inhabitants. Designed to blend into the urban fabric on a typical 25-foot-by-100-foot New York City lot, DURA units can also be stacked — as many as four high and two across.

DURA, NY City Tech's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon.DURA (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

While DURA can accommodate anyone in need of housing, Team City Tech did design the home, which also would appear to sport a lush interior living wall judging by the renderings, with young families in mind:

Our home is geared to best accommodate young, urban families who are passionate about energy conservation and who believe that one’s home is an important factor in the richness and overall quality of one’s life. Our home was designed with light in mind. DURAhome has ample natural sunlight, reflective materials and exterior and interior wood finishes. If one is constantly surrounded by good energy flow and a pleasant environment, they can expect greater work productivity as well as flexibility to entertain friends and loved ones in their amiable home. The multifunctional qualities of a home are intrinsic to a compact modular space allowing the user to quickly and easily interface between private work areas and flexible living spaces.

Following the Solar Decathlon, the DURA model home, which was constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, will actually remain in California and be donated to a disabled veteran, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

ShelteR3, Crowder College and Drury University

ShelteR3, Crowder/Drury's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar DecathlonShelteR3 (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

Crowder College, a community college which had a formidable presence in early Solar Decathlons and first-timer Drury University are two Missouri schools located within an hour-or-so drive of Joplin, a mid-size city largely flattened by a deadly EF-5 tornado in 2011. Killing over 160 people and causing $2.8 billion in damages, the tornado proved to be the costliest twister in U.S. history.

While devastated, Joplin emerged from the disaster determined to rebuild — and rebuild green. In the years since, Joplin civic leaders, both inspired and aided by the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, have strived to transform their city into a model community for sustainable recovery efforts.

ShelteR3, Crowder/Drury's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar DecathlonShelteR3 (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

Team Crowder/Drury has taken Joplin’s disaster recovery efforts to heart in the creation of a solar-powered home that's driven by the simple question: “How do we make sure it’s never this bad again?”

Dubbed ShelteR3, the team’s entry revolves, obviously, around a trio of “R” words: Respond, Recover and Resist. In terms of response, the modular structure can be transported, via semi-truck, and assembled to a disaster site in a rapid fashion. Capable of operating off-grid in scenarios in which power and water is temporarily unavailable, the home can double as a hub for disaster response operations. When it comes to recovery, the team acknowledges that the most effective way to assist displaced storm victims is to provide shelter that isn’t just a primitive pop-up shelter … but a fully functional home. The team describes ShelteR3 as offering “a beautiful, modern design that provides an enjoyable and invigorating living space, while functioning as a storm shelter and producer of energy.”

Last but not least, ShelteR3 offers a reassuring layer of protection. Armed with innovative cladding constructed using a special layering technique, the flat-roofed/eaves-free home is resistant to destructive projectiles produced during tornadic storms. Additionally, the exterior of the home was engineered so that any architectural elements don’t come loose and detach. “This prevents the shelter home from becoming a hazard to other homes, and reduces impact on the debris field after the storm,” explains the team.

ShelteR3, Crowder/Drury's competing entry in the 2015 U.S. Solar DecathlonShelteR3 (Rendering: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/flickr)

Elaborates Team Crowder/Drury:

Unlike a temporary refuge for tornado victims, ShelteR3 is designed to pave the way for recovery by providing the option of expansion into a long-term residence. Conventional disaster relief centers provide only a short-term solution. Once the affected region is rebuilt, the temporary structures end up in landfill sites which is a less than optimal solution for our environment. The permanence of ShelteR3 eliminates this disposal problem. Once the area is cleared, the modules of ShelteR3 can be slid apart with a comfortable living room placed in the center to form a durable house. The roof-top solar panels can then serve as a reliable and independent power source. Built with every aspect of sustainability in mind, ShelteR3 will be ready to serve as a permanent home.

It’s worth noting that Crowder College and Drury University aren’t the only Midwestern schools participating in the 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon — nor are they the only Missourian schools: Having previously participated in five (!) past competitions (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013) the Missouri University of Science and Technology is back this year for round numero six. May the best Missourians win!

As in years past, I'll continue to keep you posted on the latest Solar Decathlon news. I'll also be previewing select Decathlon homes (you can view the complete line-up here) as the big day, Oct. 8, draws nearer. Do you have any early favorites?

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

3 Solar Decathlon homes designed to withstand the next Katrina
Resilient design is showcased in competing homes hailing from New York, New Jersey and Missouri.