by April 10, 2012 at 10:00 am 2,608 3 Comments

"Borderstan" "Rauzia Ally"

Rauzia Ally was recently appointed to the  District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT] You can follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.

For our latest profile on noteworthy local residents, Borderstan had an opportunity to catch up with architect Rauzia Ally. Most will agree, this local resident’s star is on the rise, both locally and nationally. Ally came to the DC area from her native Guyana for school, and then settled with her husband in the Dupont-Logan area, just off 14th Street NW.

Locally, after serving many years on the Dupont Circle Conservancy — the non-profit whose mission is to promote preservation of the historic and architectural character of the Dupont Circle historic districts — Ally was appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray to a term on the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board. She will be the only representative from Ward 2 on the board.

Ally will also serve as director for a team of local college students competing nationally in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon challenges each team to “design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” The competition will take place in October 2013 in Irvine, California.

On top of all these projects, Ally also runs an architecture and design firm with her husband Gregory Rubbo and serves on the faculty of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Catholic University of America.

Borderstan:  Tell us a little bit about your background and why you came to DC.

Ally: My family came to DC because my grandfather’s brother went to Howard’s Dental school here before going back to Guyana to begin his own practice in 1947. Since then all of my mother’s family came and they also studied dentistry. So we all ended up here. I still remember though growing up in Guyana, when family would visit, they would bring back the souvenirs, the Washington Monument or a snow dome of the White House. Those memories of dreaming about what Washington was like upon touching those objects are still very much embedded in me.

Borderstan:  What made you and Gregory choose to live in the Dupont Circle area of Borderstan?

Ally: We love the quality of the row houses and the small streets like Swann, where we live.  The homes are beautiful, and the trees are lovely. It’s a joy to walk around, walk to Georgetown or down 14th Street, know all your neighbors, and be a part of the fabric.

Borderstan: You recently served on the board of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. What is your favorite building in the area?

Ally: Historic would be many but likely the Masonic Temple is very beautiful. The Finnish Embassy is also quite lovely. I love the houses on New Hampshire Avenue too.

Borderstan: What is the biggest challenge in reviewing changes or additions to historic buildings?

Ally: Really trying to forge a relationship between the old and new without copying just the look of the old, a stylized version. So keeping honesty in materials and methods of building while honoring the historic.

Borderstan: There is development along every block of 14th Street in our neighborhood. Do you see that as a threat to the historic fabric of the area?

Ally: No not at all, in fact it helps to upkeep historic properties when once blighted areas are redeveloped. I love seeing the new that is done well right next to the old.  It’s exciting.

Borderstan: Who’s your favorite living architect and who’s your favorite deceased architect?

Ally: Peter Zumpthor for living. He’s a master builder and a master of meaning and beauty as well. Frank Lloyd Wright for deceased as an embodiment of the American Spirit of individualism and zest for life.

Borderstan: How did you become involved with the Solar Decathlon?

Ally: Living in Guyana, where sustainability is not a buzz word but part and parcel of everyday practice, it’s easy to understand the principles. So it was naturally a project I wanted to be a part of and direct. After the BP disaster, I felt we truly have to be serious about alternative energy, and it was around that time we were studying at CUA the viability of the project. I feel that true environmental sustainability cannot rely on technologies, but on culture, society and art and humanities as the backbone. So trying to personify what that means in a project was very important to me. Our Solar Decathlon home exemplifies humanistic, scientific and spiritual ideas and you must have all three for sustainability to mean anything.

Borderstan: How many students are currently involved and what schools do they come from?

Ally: We have had in the past year about 40 from our school and 30 from George Washington University. Currently we have 20 from CUA, another 20 from George Washington University and about 15 from American University. All told, it will be likely about 200 students involved over the course of the project and a large host of professionals as well. Already we have students working in the professional offices like Arup Engineering, so the project is already accomplishing its intentions, to foster those kinds of relationships. You can follow our progress on Facebook, TeamCapitoldc or Twitter @dcharvesthome. Even though DC has hosted the Solar Decathlon since 2002, we’ve never had a team before. Team Capitol dc is the first DC team.

Borderstan: What do you think is the biggest misconception about solar power? How about the biggest misconception about historic preservation?

Ally: Solar power – that it is essentially impractical and that there are dim prospects for it. I don’t think anyone realizes how much energy solar power currently provides. All three universities in Team Capitol dc  are racing to put panels on as many campus buildings as possible. Historic Preservation – that you could care about it and champion it while desiring modern architecture for new buildings at the same time, both in harmony.

Borderstan:  You have a very full schedule. When you do have free time, where do you like to relax or eat out in the neighborhood?

Ally: I like to sit with my husband and while awayat Meridian Hill Park or go to the garden of the Smithsonian Castle or the Botanic Gardens. Living in Bordestan it’s easy to get to those venues. But I also love just sitting in my front stoop area and talking to neighbors on a Sunday morning. To eat, I love Plume at the Jefferson Hotel but Posto’s outside area on a balmy day is also nice.

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by September 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm 1,577 0

University of Maryland Watershed House, Solar Decathlon, Troy Urman, Borderstan

Visitors wait in line last Saturday for the University of Maryland Watershed house at the Solar Decathlon. (Troy Urman)

From Troy Urman. Email him at [email protected].

Despite threatening clouds, crowds and mushy ground this weekend, I spent Saturday afternoon in West Potomac Park checking out a ‘green’ village. Really it was a collection of envelope-pushing, energy efficient houses that college students from around the globe have erected for the Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon.

Saving the planet, one single-family home at a time. The 2011 DOE Solar Decathlon is happening right in our backyard.

This is the fifth incarnation of the event, first launched in 2002, designed to foster competition between collegiate teams to “design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.” At root, this is an effort to bring ‘green’ to the masses. One fantastic by-product of this competition is the grooming of a generation of college students with hands-on experience in the green building industry and construction coordination.

Meet the Green Neighbors

Twenty small houses populate the grounds, arranged in a loose ‘neighborhood’ where visitors can walk amongst the diverse buildings and queue up at houses they want to tour. Some visitors wait for an hour or more just to see a favorite house — the University of Maryland’s Watershed is particularly popular, and is the competition front-runner (at the writing of this piece.)

Vote for your favorite house, check out all the houses, and stay up to date on competition score at

Each house competes on 10 separate criteria (this is a ‘decathlon’ remember), from Energy Balance to Market Appeal. Points are awarded in each category either subjectively or objectively — half are juried (i.e. Market Appeal) and half from hard data (i.e., net electricity production/consumption.) This year brought in an important new category: Affordability.

Many of the houses have ‘green’ written all over them — prominent solar panel arrays, butterfly wing roof lines and wood slats galore. Others are ultra modern in appearance (SCI-Arch/CalTech’s CHIP) or bordering on the mundane (Purdue’s INhome). Whatever the style, the variety itself proves an important point — there’s no such thing as a ‘green style.’ What makes a home Earth-friendly has little to do with its look, but everything to do with performance.

Due to the logistical challenges of a tight 10-day construction period and the distances many houses must travel to compete, nearly all of the houses arrived in large, pre-assembled parts on flatbeds and were quickly erected and finished on site — basically pre-fab construction.

Features such as elaborate glazing and mechanical systems were often fabricated off-site in controlled conditions, to avoid complications during construction. Some of the teams have the benefit of previous experience, and in my view, the competition as a whole has brought out increasingly better end results with each bi-annual competition. Fewer houses this year exhibited that shoddy, slapped together look I remember from many previous competitions. Some even look ready for move-in.

The Future of Sustainable Design

While touring the Team Florida FLEX House, I spent a few minutes chatting on the porch with a student lead for his team’s Market Appeal contest. Answering my annoying questions with ease, Chris Zalapi was knowledgeable about each aspect of the home’s efficiency features and vernacular architectural cues. Bringing his experience as an licensed engineer and green building consultant, he participated on the team while earning his MBA at University of South Florida.

Counter to what one might expect, Chris said the multi-University teams such as Team Florida (made up of four different Florida universities), did not necessarily benefit from their size when it came to fundraising. In fact, the management of so many designers and managers working together was a lesson in coordination throughout the project. These were just some of the challenges faced by the student teams, in addition to the difficulties of design by committee, procurement of materials and the physical labor of constructing a house!

Location, Location, Location

Temporarily overtaking the softball fields on Ohio Drive, adjacent to the Tidal Basin, the FDR Memorial and the shiny new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, these low slung houses and the buzz that surrounds them are well worth the walk. While there is shuttle available from the Smithsonian Metro Station, the wait was as long as the hike, so my buddy and I preferred to hoof it. Not a bad view and a quick stop at MLK, it was very worth the sweat.

Personally, I think the DOE did a disservice to all involved by hosting their pet PR venture this far off the beaten path. In fact, some teams dropped out due to the unexpected change in location. All previous events were hosted on the National Mall, giving the impressive hard work and innovation of the competing teams the spotlight they so deserved. Each time around, attendance has grown, with the most recent (2009) Solar Decathlon drawing some 300,000 visits through the houses.

I hope this year’s remote location doesn’t hinder popularity and public exposure. And in the future, they’d be wise to bring it back to the Mall. But don’t let that stop you. Take a long walk or short bike ride down from Borderstan and choose your own favorite house. Tell us what you think. Or better yet, find something you can do in your own home to make a difference. Hurry though, before this exciting event wraps up this Sunday!


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