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SDSU Passive House project continues to garner attention

Department of Architecture’s Passive House project
The South Dakota State University Department of Architecture’s Passive House project was recently featured in Dezeen and received three awards in late 2019. The department started plans on a second house in fall 2018 semester classes. It hopes to do a renovation project for the second house. Photo courtesy of Pete Vondelinde.

When the South Dakota State University Department of Architecture’s Passive House project was completed in fall 2018, the uniqueness of the student-designed project received awards and attention.

Nearly two years later, it still does. The Passive House was recently featured in Dezeen, which was named in 2016 as the world's most popular and influential architecture and design magazine and had an average number of 3 million monthly visitors to its website. An article on the house was published on and other entities have contacted the department about publishing articles.

The house’s collection of awards has grown after adding two—an honor award and a president’s award—from American Institute of Architecture South Dakota in fall 2019 as well as the Best Project by a Young Professional from the Passive House Institute U.S., a national award, in December.

“The recent attention has been encouraging,” said Robert Arlt, an instructor in SDSU’s Department of Architecture and one of the faculty leaders of the project. “For everyone who worked on the project, it kind of seems like it just finished. I’m happy and thankful the house is making the rounds for recognition.”

Dezeen contacted Arlt, a certified passive house consultant, after seeing the Passive House on his personal website and Instagram account.

“I told them about the background of the project, which touches a lot of buttons for them,” he said. “The fact it was student designed, how its design operates on numerous scales and responds to its site, community walkability, urban infill … those items were all part of the project’s aspirations … and the chance to have faculty and students showcase their craft in their hometown, so to speak. A former professor of mine would say, we tried to implement a broader Rolodex than Brookings would typically see with this project. While it took an ever-expanding village to get this house done, it was worth it.”

That village included faculty members from SDSU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. They helped with the solar panels.

A call from then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard and a grant from the Governor's Office of Economic Development in 2015 got the first house started. The department started plans on a second house in fall 2018 semester classes and is seeking partners and clients for new projects and is hoping to do a renovation project.

“From attending the annual North American Passive House Conference, it’s supposed to get easier after the first one because you don’t have to teach everyone about the concepts,” Arlt said.

He said the students were able to pick up from where the first house ended, particularly in terms of energy modeling. The placement of a large, south-facing window impacted the energy model by 10 to 15%.

“Seeing their reactions on how one design change could move efficiency that much and take us beyond certification criteria was a magical moment,” Arlt said.