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'It's not the end' of Virginia Tech FutureHAUS, vows professor after fire

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BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) - Blacksburg firefighters returned Monday to the Prices Fork Research Station, an off-campus Virginia Tech research facility destroyed by fire on Sunday night.

It destroyed not only the building, equipment and supplies, but a nationally-recognized project that has been on display at industry shows across the country.

Joe Wheeler returned to look at what was left Monday after the fire quickly tore through the workspace. He vowed, it's not the end.

"If anything this gives me a little more strength to pick up. This is a house of the future, right? So there's more to come in the future," said the project leader, professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research.

Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies students and faculty put three years into building what became the FutureHAUS inside the construction and fabrication shop.

"It is sad. There's a lot of resources and a whole lot of time that has gone into this project," Wheeler said.

The team unveiled the final phase of the prototype, a bedroom and home office, last month. The whole concept focuses on the future of smart, sustainable housing allowing for faster building times and architecture that meets the needs of the future.

"Every new cartridge we did became easier and easier and easier to do because we learned along the way. And that's why I can handle this."

Looking at the debris Monday, it's clear everything in the research facility was destroyed, including the building materials and tools. What is left, is the knowledge that brought it all together.

"A lot of the innovation in these prototypes was figuring out how to make things work," Wheeler explained. "We've got that information. It's documented, it's not that it only existed in these. We're looking at how do we take These and mass-produce them."

Thankfully, no one was in the building when it caught fire. Wheeler says students, future architects, will learn from the destruction.

"They should be aware of fire safety as well when they design buildings," he said.

Virginia Tech stated in a preliminary estimate, the value of the research building, the FutureHAUS project, and equipment and supplies lost in the fire is between $800,000 and $1.3 million.

Team members are already focusing on inventing for the near future. They're working on a home to compete in the Solar Decathlon Dubai in 2018.

"The solar house is going to be he FutureHAUS reincarnated," Wheeler proclaimed. "And it's going to be better than any of this was."