Campus News

Students create design concepts for GRoW Home’s next move


Published February 21, 2018

UB’s award-winning GRoW Home will soon need a change-of-address form.

That’s because the 1,100-square-foot, ultra-efficient dwelling will be relocated from its current spot on the South Campus to a more prominent, and permanent, location next to the Solar Strand on the North Campus.

Seven graduate students in Martha Bohm’s fall studio spent the semester developing a vision for the siting of the GRoW Home, which stands for Garden, Relax or Work.

The studio aimed to leverage the efforts of the more than 300 UB students who’ve worked with the GRoW Home project over the previous four years to further raise the sustainability bar for the physical campus of UB through the installation of this boldly aspirational building on a highly visible campus site.

At the end of the semester, Zachary McCabe’s proposal was selected for further development, while two others received special commendations. Each plan sought to open new opportunities to better connect the UB community to the Solar Strand site via the GRoW Home.

Many of the plans also proposed overall enhancements to the Flint Road entrance to the North Campus. That’s where the Solar Strand was installed in 2012. It’s an artistic and functional solar array whose 3,200 photovoltaic panels are laid out in the shape of a DNA fingerprint.

“We now have a chosen direction that will guide decisions made on the GRoW Home going forward,” says Bohm, assistant professor of architecture in the School of Architecture and Planning, who led the studio. She also serves as faculty lead on the GRoW Home, which won second place overall in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Solar Decathlon.

In its newest iteration — construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in fall 2018 — the GRoW Home will no longer be a home. Instead, it will become a clean-energy education center that will be used to educate the public about low-energy living while providing classroom and small event space.

The home produces more energy than it consumes and features nearly three-dozen solar panels and a greenhouse where occupants can grow food year-round.

UB’s performance in the 2015 Solar Decathlon, the university’s debut bid in the international contest, yielded stellar results. In addition to its second-place finish overall, the GRoW Home earned top-five finishes in each of the competition’s 10 contests. The house placed first in three of those contests, all in measures of energy performance.

After the competition, the structure was disassembled and trucked back to Buffalo for storage until it was time for the next phase. A team of students began rebuilding the dwelling near Hayes Hall on the South Campus over the summer. Ken MacKay, clinical associate professor of architecture, has been overseeing the students’ work on this part of the project.

Funding for the permanent move to the North Campus has been provided by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) program.

Bohm’s students worked extensively throughout the semester with project clients — which included representatives from UB’s Office of Sustainability, Capital Planning and Facilities — to better understand how the GRoW Home can serve clean-energy education and engagement through effective siting of the building, as well as development of the surrounding landscape.

Students presented their concepts to these groups in December as part of their final review. UB Facilities has since hired two architecture and planning students as graduate assistants to directly assist with the GRoW Home’s permanent siting on the North Campus.

World-renowned landscape architect Walter Hood, who designed the Solar Strand, joined one of the graduate studio’s critique sessions via Skype to offer his feedback on their proposals.

“He was very supportive of what the students were trying to do,” Bohm says of Hood. “His insight was great to have, and he pushed the students on the rigor of their ideas.”

McCabe was elated to have his plan selected to inform the GRoW Home’s next move.

“All of the submissions to this competition were great design proposals, so to have mine be chosen as the winner is really a good feeling. It’s very fulfilling to have a project you designed to be recognized as something that can improve the existing space,” McCabe says, adding that he sees opportunities for the GRoW Home to serve as a catalyst for positive improvements to a main entrance to campus.

There was more to the studio than simply deciding on where to plunk down a new building.

“The studio started with the GRoW Home, but as the students began fleshing out their ideas, it became more about the issues surrounding the Flint Road entrance to campus,” Bohm explains. “I challenged them to think about how this project could reframe a main entrance to the campus.”

McCabe’s plan converts the land surrounding the Solar Strand into a more park-like environment that will encourage people to learn about sustainable energy, stormwater and food production through the examples of the site, the house and the Solar Strand.

He also incorporated student-run gardens, as well as additional spaces, defined by rock walls, that can be used for gatherings or classroom and seminar space.

Students in the studio offered a range of proposals. Sandra Linton Huezo and Zhicheng Zhang both received special commendations for the proposals they drafted.

Huezo’s project aimed to create a more welcoming entrance to campus. “By altering the site and Flint Road in stages, the entire Flint Entrance has the potential to be transformed into a true university gateway, with the GRoW Home as one of its principle landmarks,” she wrote in her final presentation.

“The form, which took its shape by manipulating three of the rows created by the Solar Strand project, encourages users to stray from the existing circulation paths, references the Solar Strand in its orientation and creates new spaces within the landscape for the Green Energy Center and its users.”

Zhang’s plan deftly integrates the GRoW Home into the Solar Strand site. “The retreat of the mowed boundary forms the site’s space and integrates the project into the environment,” Zhang wrote. “At the same time, the tall plants on site create a hidden park, accessible from the front entrance of UB’s North Campus.”