The Annex starting point and background is the success story of the Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon (SD) is an international student competition based on an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) started in 2001. Thirteen competitions have been conducted up to the end of 2017 with three of these took place in Europe (Solar Decathlon Europe, SDE). In this competition, universities from all over the world are challenged to design, build and operate solar powered houses. It is the only student competition worldwide addressing the realization and performance assessment of buildings and not the design only. During the competition’s final phase, each interdisciplinary team assembles its house in a common Solar Village. The final phase includes a public exhibition, monitoring and 10 contests, the reason why the competition was named a "Decathlon".
Many of the competition houses are used as “living labs” when transferred back to the home university. Living labs are characterized by a user-centered testing, research and innovation approach. This format intensively stimulates research and education by supplying valuable experience, monitoring data and user feedback. The interdisciplinary student projects support and stimulate an integrative design approach crossing disciplines and faculties. Besides strengthening the worldwide competition platform, networking the living labs may create further advantages in sharing and improving experiences.
Annex 74 is the IEA EBC-based platform mapping and linking the competition and living lab experiences worldwide and working towards further improving existing as well as developing new formats. Annex 74 intends to stimulate the technological knowledge, the scientific level and the architectural quality within future competitions and living labs based on the development of a systematic knowledge platform as well as the link to know-how from previous and current IEA activities. On the other hand competitions and living labs introduce new formats for the row of dissemination activities in IEA TCPs. The Annex is intended to be a think-tank with a focus on the education of the next generation of architects and engineers through the use of university-based competitions and living labs.