r own Solar Hero:
Iowa Architect Bringing Sustainable Vision to Life
TOM HURD | mason city, iowa
tornado-proof boardroom that Hurd believes to be the first
Fema-rated, solar- and wind-powered tornado shelter in
the united States. the entire project — completed in 2004
— cost just $105 per square foot to build.
don’t believe it? Hurd is happy to show you. He con-
ducts monthly tours of the office complex, demonstrating
the renewable energy systems for anyone who’s interested.
and, for the last five years, he’s hosted biofest on the office
grounds. a stop on the american Solar energy Society’s
National Solar tour ( nationalsolartour.org), the day-long
event includes tours of the office, educational programs,
speakers, renewable energy vendor demonstrations, door
prizes, entertainment, a silent auction and even free hot
dogs. It regularly draws 200 to 300 people. this year’s fest
will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 16.
the event is just one of Hurd’s efforts to spread the word
about solar and sustainable living, in Iowa as well as through-
out the world. He’s traveled to conferences in turkmenistan
and egypt to promote solar and hosted international scien-
tists studying renewables in his home state.
“It’s just about trying to show people that they can be
environmentally friendly without hurting their budget,” he
says. “even now, there are a lot of people who don’t under-
stand. they think it’s too expensive, but they’re not looking
at the long-term picture.”
promoting the cause in Iowa hasn’t been particularly
easy, Hurd admits. “It’s a lot more popular now,” he says.
“but before, it was like, ‘Solar? In Iowa?’ most people would
say, ‘you’re nuts!’” many people don’t realize that Iowa has a
potent combination of wind and solar resources, Hurd says.
the possibility that renewables could take up valuable
farmland is a common concern among residents in a state
where agriculture is the dominant industry, but Hurd doesn’t
see that as a problem. “We’ve got plenty of empty roofs,” he
says. “We can put solar carports over our parking lots. there’s
plenty of area; we don’t need to take more land.”
It’s just one of many solutions he’ll be able to demon-
strate with the biovillage project. Hurd’s firm and other
project partners are busy looking at ways to integrate tradi-
tional renewable technologies as well as dreaming up new
uses for them. “We’re developing it with totally out-of-the-
box thinking,” he says. “We want to do things like generate
hydrogen and ammonia with solar power and then sell it
back to the biofuel station.”
and, so far at least, the biovillage planners won’t have
to worry about whether people will come. “people who
have seen the plans are really excited about it,” he says.
“We already have people asking, ‘When can you take our
money?’”Hurd has come a long way from “you’re nuts!”
— CORE Y DAHL
Tom Hurd shows-and-tells about the virtues of renewable energy.
If seeing is believing, Iowa’s renewable energy skeptics might be on the road to conversion, thanks to tom Hurd.
the mason city, Iowa, architect, along with his firm,
Spatial designs ( spatialdesigns.com), is working on a $30
million project called biovillage, Iowa. the 30- to 40-acre
town will be built with all the features of an average ameri-
can hamlet — homes, stores, hotels, parks, an ice skating
rink, an amphitheater. but it’s the not-so-average features
that will make the town stand out — solar arrays, wind
turbines, biofuel stations. Slated for first-phase completion
in 2012 and full build-out by 2015, biovillage will serve as a
concrete vision for a more sustainable america.
“It’ll be something people can walk up and touch and
experience,” Hurd says. “they’ll get to see for themselves
that these technologies work.”
Now 59, Hurd founded Spatial designs in 1983. the
architectural and consulting firm specializes in renewable
energy design for everything from banks to grocery stores
to farms. Hurd has even built solar-powered electric scoot-
ers and solar pumping stations for his clients.
One of Hurd’s most visible projects is his own office.
the 3,055-square-foot (about 284-square-meter) building
is a monument to sustainable technologies. almost 100
percent of the building’s electricity and about 50 percent of
its heating needs come from a 5.6-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system and two 1.3-kilowatt wind turbines. there’s also
a grass roof and a rainwater retention pond that’s used for
irrigation. Inside, the office has efficient Led lighting and a
Tom Hurd stands in front of
his Mason City, Iowa, office
building. The facility draws
most of its energy from
two wind turbines and a
5.6-kilowatt solar array
— systems Hurd plans to
show off at his fifth annual
Biofest on Oct. 16.
14 September/October 2010 SOLAR TODA Y solartoday.org
corey dahl (cdahl@solar
today.org) is managing
editor of SOLAR TODAY.