UB North is embarking upon another green initiative, which is as it should be. The campus was built upon several hundred acres of environmentally sensitive land in the town of Amherst, instead of the University remaining in the city, where it should have invested all along. The best thing that could happen to the North Campus, in this day and age, is to transform the campus into a massive environmental learning lab, where everything that is designed, built, and improved upon is done so with the origins of the land in mind.
One of the greatest green accomplishments that has taken place on the UB North Campus was the Solar Strand in 2012 – a collection of 3,200 photovoltaic panels designed by world-renowned landscape architect Walter Hood.
Now, another earth-friendly achievement will join the Solar Strand, as a symbol of UB’s commitment to the environment moving forward. Back in 2014, a group of UB students set out to design and construct a 1,100-square-foot solar-powered home as finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s elite Solar Decathlon competition. The project was called GRoW House – a place to Garden, Relax or Work (GRoW). The structure was planned to show people that the built environment could be environmentally sensitive, with areas to grow food, that can then be cooked, canned/preserved, and shared.
Originally, permanent locations for the home included the city’s Fruit Belt, West Side or waterfront neighborhoods. It turns out that the location of the Solar Strand was the lynchpin for deciding where to permanently place GRoW House. The environmental grouping will help to create a learning lab that will point to the future – hopefully the future of the North Campus as a place that can contribute to the ecology of the region, rather than scarring it as it has done in the past.
Over the past four years, 300 UB students have contributed to bringing GRoW House to fruition. Ultimately it was Zachary McCabe’s submission that was chosen to mesh with the Solar Strand, by creating a green parkscape where visitors can interact with the grounds, including GRoW House and the Solar Strand (the solar panels were laid out in the shape of a DNA fingerprint).
“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 said, adding that he sees opportunities for the GRoW Home to serve as a catalyst for positive improvements to a main entrance to campus.
“We now have a chosen direction that will guide decisions made on the GRoW Home going forward,” said Martha Bohm, assistant professor of architecture in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, who led the siting studio. One of the decisions that is now clear is that the GRoW Home will no longer be a “home”. Instead it will be a low-energy living learning lab that will include a classroom and a 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.
After coming away with multiple awards via the 2015 Solar Decathlon for which it was built, GRoW Home was then deconstructed and shipped back to Buffalo from Irvine, California. This past summer, students, under the guidance of Ken MacKay, clinical associate professor of architecture, began to reconstruct GRoW Home at UB’s South Campus. Moving forward, the project will be relocated to the North Campus, thanks to funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) program. In order to see the project to completion, UB has hired two architecture and planning students as graduate assistants. Walter Hood (creator of Solar Strand) gave instructive insight into the project via Skype.
“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 said. “I challenged them to think about how this project could reframe a main entrance to the campus.”
Hopefully, the greening of UB will one day extend from the gateway to the university, to the entire campus. In return, it would behoove UB to continue invest in the city’s built environment, by extending its campus from UB South to the Medical Campus, and to the waterfront, along a natural transportation spine (Main Street). There are plenty of opportunities to redirect all future growth to an extended urban campus, while dedicating the North Campus to environmental pursuits.
Lead image: GRoW rendering | Zachary McCabe’s Parallel Park
Thanks to David J. Hill, News Content Manager (Public Health, Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning) for providing the quotes for this article.