U.S. Department of Energy

WashU Constructing Net-Zero Occupational Therapy Facility

Project Will Compete in 2023 U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Build Challenge


Washington University in St. Louis broke ground Nov. 11 on an energy-savvy occupational therapy center in the Delmar Maker District. The construction phase of the project, estimated to reach completion by early March 2023, is aiming for a net-zero Dept. of Energy designation, meaning the building will create more energy than it uses. In fewer than three years, the facility’s energy surplus will more than account for its total embodied carbon, the carbon that is released through the construction process.

Washington University in St. Louis architecture students designed SMOOTH (Smart Home for Occupational Therapy Healing) House. It features a combined research, training and clinical space for the School of Medicine’s OT program.

2022-11-11–Members of the Washington University in St. Louis community gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction of a new, student-designed occupational therapy outpatient clinic in the Delmar Maker District. A team of architects, medical professionals and engineers, including students, from Washington University in St. Louis and Chicago-based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill have collaborated for the past year to conceive and design SMOOTH House (Smart Home for Occupational Therapy Healing) as part of the University’s efforts to build a carbon neutral, net-zero building for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2023 Build Challenge.

“SMOOTH House is a net-zero building that will bring new research, education and clinical service opportunities to the Delmar Maker District and to the larger West End neighborhood,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean and professor for collaboration in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “We are incredibly proud of this project.”

In April, SMOOTH House will vie for recognition in the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Build Challenge. Unlike previous years, the 2023 competition will not require the building to be disassembled and brought to a central competition location. This structure will find its permanent home at 5162 Delmar Boulevard.

The university’s occupational therapy staff is expected to occupy the building in Summer 2023. The building will treat and serve recovering OT patients relearn old skills and develop new strategies for completing domestic tasks.

Chicago-based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s research about the intersection of building design and human health through interdisciplinary design studios and seminars formed the basis for this project.

Hongxi Yin, associate professor in advanced building systems and architectural design at Washington University in St. Louis, said every construction project asks a series of questions, such as “What is it? What is it for? How is it made?”

“Maybe the most important question is: What challenges are we attempting to solve?” said Yin. “SMOOTH house addresses two very important challenges: public health and climate change. These are two of the most complex challenges facing the world today.”