Engineering students collaborate globally, win building design competition


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An international, collaborative team comprised of architectural engineering students from Penn State and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) recently received first place in ASHRAE’s (formerly American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Integrated Sustainable Building Design (ISBD) competition.

The global-scale collective effort between the two universities began during architectural engineering professor William Bahnfleth’s 2016-17 sabbatical at DTU, during which he worked on projects investigating energy usage and indoor air quality in Danish homes, as well as the impacts of indoor environmental quality standards on energy use.

Bahnfleth has served as the adviser of Penn State’s ASHRAE student branch since 1995 and has advised ASHRAE design competition entries almost every year since 1997. Penn State teams have placed in the top three every year they have entered, resulting in eight first-place awards, nine second-place awards and four third-place awards.

“My host, Professor Bjarne Olesen, who was President of ASHRAE at the time, had a goal of promoting international collaboration among ASHRAE student branches and had recently started a student group at DTU that was being advised by Eleftherios Bourdakis,” Bahnfleth said.

Olesen was the former director of the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy at DTU. He also recently served as the president of ASHRAE from 2017-18.

“Putting together a joint team seemed to be the best way to support Professor Olesen’s initiative and something that would add value to the experience for our Penn State team,” Bahnfleth said.

Bourdakis, a Ph.D. student at DTU at the time who has since graduated, wanted to further facilitate DTU students’ engagement in ASHRAE and encourage active participation.

“We thought that being engaged in a joint team would be more attractive for them. Furthermore, Penn State University has a very strong tradition in engaging its students in ASHRAE that would help DTU student familiarize more easily,” Bourdakis said.

Will McCann, a Penn State 2018 graduate, saw the joint competition team as a new learning experience.

“The unique opportunity to represent Penn State in ASHRAE’s competition in a historic fashion by collaborating with fellow engineering students from The Technical University of Denmark is what gauged my interest,” McCann said. “Penn State’s architectural engineering program has a proud tradition of competing and winning in student design competitions.”

When Bahnfleth noted that the ISBD is a category that lacked representation from the department in the preceding years to the students, McCann knew he had experience needed to do well in the category.

“Before joining the Penn State AE family in the fall of 2017, I spent two months studying for the LEED BD+C examination to earn my credential in green building design,” McCann said. “The ISBD was the perfect opportunity to apply all the LEED fundamentals I learned in my studies to an actual design project.”

Myrto Ananida, a DTU student, found it exciting to embrace the challenge of working on an intercontinental project, as well as collaborate with people with different academic and cultural backgrounds.

“I enjoyed where we would all share our ideas and try to be creative, in order to make the building innovative, functional and sustainable,” Ananida said.

However, students had to overcome numerous challenges throughout the process while learning how the integrated design approach to buildings, which considers the whole building design, can reduce energy consumption and costs for building owners.

“The most difficult challenge was the coalescing of all the great ideas, information and data produced by the team into the one building design and the limited space (35 pages) in the report and maintaining effective communication between teammates as well as between the different sub-disciplines of architecture, mechanical, electrical/lighting and construction management,” McCann said.

Although students were faced with obstacles, Ananida emphasized how great of a learning experience it was because it allowed her to gain additional technical knowledge and cooperate through varying time zones.

“I collaborated with people from different cultures, which affects how they work and express themselves,” Ananida said. “I believe that the diversity was our great advantage and empowered us to come up with innovative ideas. Our example shows the advantage of multicultural teams.”

McCann believes collaborating on a global scale provided a unique element that allowed for trust and relationships to connect through the strong work ethic displayed during the competition.

“Winning ASHRAE’s ISBD competition has cemented the strong bond and friendship we formed with our DTU teammates forever. I hope other future contestants of the ISBD follow our experiment and join forces with other universities, foreign or domestic, to get the true spirit of integrated building design,” McCann said.

Bourdakis also expressed his desire for others to follow suit in global collaboration.

“The willingness of the students to make a successful project overcame all challenges,” he said. “I hope that we set an example for more joint teams from different countries to participate in future ASHRAE student competitions.”

While Bahnfleth views winning as an important aspect of the competition since it brings favorable attention to the programs and gives the team a sense of accomplishment, he believes the learning experience is the most essential takeaway.

“The true value is in what the team members learn in the process of preparing an entry — about the design process, planning a complex project, communication, and teamwork. Those lessons will serve them well throughout their careers,” he said.

Team members shared an award and selected Ananida as their representative to attend the ASHRAE 2019 Winter Conference in Atlanta. Additionally through Penn State’s ASHRAE branch, a majority of Penn State members will be in attendance as well.

Entries were submitted by 16 additional teams from 11 different colleges and universities. The Penn State and DTU team was the only collaborative team in the division. Eight of the entries initially submitted made it to the Society-level judging portion of the competition.


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Darcy Pacheco



Widely acknowledged as one of the top Architectural Engineering programs in the world, the Penn State AE Department is dedicated to providing outstanding academic excellence to all of our students. The AE program is focused on preparing students and conducting research in the design, engineering, and construction of building projects.

Department of Architectural Engineering

104 Engineering Unit A

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-6394