The contest, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a biennial
affair that challenges collegiate teams to design, construct and
operate cost-effective solar dwellings.
The Department of Energy announced on Thursday afternoon that UB
was one of 20 schools selected to participate.
“This invitation is a clear demonstration of the strength
of our faculty leadership and the talent of the student body," said
Robert Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning.
“Together, they have gotten us this far in a highly
competitive, hands-on project focused on collaboration in design,
construction, commercialization and the interdisciplinary teamwork
essential for success.”
In the decathlon, which will take place in Irvine, Calif. in
2015, each entry will be evaluated in 10 contests,
ranging from architecture and engineering to home appliance
performance. Each decathlon draws tens of thousands of visitors
from across the country.
The UB project’s playful title alludes to one of the main
concepts in the home’s design: The house is meant to appeal
to Buffalo’s urban gardening contingent. GRoW stands for
Garden, Relax or Work, and the residence will include a generous
greenhouse and kitchen for growing, processing and storing
The UB team will build GRoW House in Western New York, ship it
to Irvine, Calif. for judging, then bring it back to Buffalo for
Ultimately, organizers hope GRoW House will become a community
resource, open for tours that educate and inspire schoolchildren
and the public about the benefits of sustainable, low-energy
design. Possible permanent locations for the home include the
city’s Fruit Belt neighborhood, the West Side or near the
GRoW House is being developed under the leadership of Martha
Bohm, assistant professor, and Brad Wales, clinical assistant
professor, both of the Department of Architecture, working with
department chair Omar Khan.
“There’s an untapped potential in Buffalo to do
interesting and provocative sustainable design,” says Bohm,
who worked on two Solar Decathlon projects as a Cornell University
faculty member before joining UB. “Sometimes, to get things
moving, you need a project that captures people’s
imaginations — something captivating that people can
experience firsthand. That it performs so well is the icing on the
So far, more than 40 students have taken architecture studios
and seminars devoted to designing GRoW House. Plans call for three
- The Garden Box. This 649-square-foot greenhouse has ample room
for the home gardener to grow vegetables in any weather. Sun will
heat this space in colder months and generate electricity
year-round via translucent solar panels integrated with the glass
- The Relax Box. This small, super-insulated room includes
bedroom and ad hoc office space opening onto a private patio area.
It’s perfect for Buffalo: snug in the winter, but with easy
access to the outdoors — to fresh air and blue sky — in
- The Work Box. Connected to the Garden Box, the Work Box is a
substantial kitchen where home gardeners can wash, can and store
food. This space shares key features with the Relax Box, such as
thick walls and concrete floors, all of which will help moderate
interior temperatures year-round. Rooftop solar panels and a system
for catching and storing rain will provide energy and water.
The project is led by the School of Architecture and Planning,
but students and faculty from across UB will form an integrated
team for the competition. The School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences will lend its expertise to the design and construction
process, and the School of Management will develop marketing and
communications strategies for promoting GRoW House to the
Support from the business community has been pledged by Montante
Solar, Watts Architecture & Engineering, Buffalo Geothermal and
the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the UB team’s primary
partner. Materials and mentorship will come from corporate donors
and the U.S. Department of Energy will supply seed funding. The
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) will
collaborate on the design of the house’s site.
Team members calculate GRoW House will generate electricity in
excess of what residents would need for regular activities. Despite
the long winters, solar makes sense for Buffalo, organizers say: We
actually do get enough sunlight to make solar an effective option
for powering homes.
“I designed a passive solar house in East Aurora that
works very well — not quite net zero, but the design cut
heating costs by 75 percent,” says Wales, a practicing
architect best known for designing Elmwood’s SPoT Coffee and
for working with UB students the past 12 years in the Small Built
Works design-build program, culminating this past fall with The
Front Yard installation at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
“Fossil fuels are expensive and their consumption generally
degrades the environment. Let’s face it, sustainability is
basically about saving the planet for our children.”
In addition to Bohm and Wales, the Solar Decathlon’s
faculty advisers include James Jenson and Pinar Okumus from the
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Debabrata Talukdar from
the School of Management, and Martin Hogue and Jamie Vanucchi from
Students in architecture and planning, engineering and business
who already have participated in the GRoW House project include
Timothy Gargiulo, Nicholas Karl, Edward Schelleng, Alyssa Phelps,
Peter Foti, Colleen Creighton Chen Lin, Steven Parks, Wayne Fung,
Richard Vancuren, Jing Yan Li, Christopher Osterhoudt.
Also, Sung Yong Lim, Andrew Connorton, Maman Hamisso, Cassidy
Edwards, Victoria Liberty, Marissa Pati, Vincent
Schutt, Emily Warren, Louis Rosario, Josh Graham,
Jeffrey Kaufman, Matt Geiger, Michael Floryan, Ramses Gonzalez.
Also, Nate Heckman, Joseph Tuberdyck, Nick LoCicero, Pooja
Bhatt, Franz Heine, Timothy Boll, Marc Gerevics, Vincent Ribeiro,
Leah Kiblin, Chris D’Ambrosia, Peter Byrley, Alanna Olear,
Jacob Jordan, Eric Becker.
And, Aaron Salva, Ryan Dussault, Brian Fentzke, David Heaton,
Hanna Ihrke, Yan Meng, Ryan Sidor and Trenton Van Epps.