"Off the Grid" summer studio leverages the geographic diversity of remote study

Published August 27, 2020

Jon Spielman profile photo.

Jon Spielman's summer studio, "Off the Grid," leveraged the geographic dispersal of students, who were invited to select sites in their own backyard to explore zero-energy design and self-reliant living.

Among several studios and seminars offered by the School of Architecture and Planning over the summer was “Off the Grid,” taught by UB adjunct instructor Jon Spielman.

Convening students remotely from across the U.S., the studio explored the history and evolution of off-grid architecture, researching new and old technologies to design houses that take advantage of on-site energy flows. 

Through proposals for a net zero single-family residence, students investigated self-reliant, sustainable architectural design strategies, active and passive heating and cooling, daylighting, energy transfer and generation, and the principles of selecting building materials, components and assemblies based on performance and environmental impact.

Students chose sites for their proposed designs based on their locations over the summer, the result of which was a wide-ranging diversity of landscape and geographies, from Montauk Point, NY, to the Smokey Mountains in the Carolinas, to the Moab Desert in Utah.

Blayne Burnside, a senior in UB's architecture program, sited his off-the-grid architecture proposal in Wellseley Island State Park, in the Thousand Islands Region of upstate New York. 

Architecture student Blayne Burnside's "Granite House" is a propsoal for lodging in Wellseley Island State Park, in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York. The design is rooted in the ecology of the area, drawing energy from the high winds of the St. Lawrence River and employing locally-sourced granite. 

As part of the studio, Spielman, a graduate of UB's architecture program himself, engaged alumni with expertise in residential architecture and energy-efficient design through online critiques and one-on-one consultation with students. Among the visiting critics were Jake Wright (Turkel Design), Kevin Connors (Eco-Logic Studio), and Ramsey Daham (Breakform Design). 

"Granite House," Blayne Burnside's proposal for a lodging house on Wellesley Island, draws upon the winds off the St. Lawrence river to generate energy.

With study abroad programs cancelled, the School organized nearly a dozen remote course offerings at the graduate and undergraduate level covering topics such as environmental design, a historic review of art and architectural movements, portfolio and resume development and the application of creative problem solving and environmental design strategies in addressing grand global challenges like climate change and the refugee crisis.

Blayne Burnside's drawing for Granite House, on Wellsely Island, N.Y.

Spielman's studio focused heavily on architectural drawing. Pictured is Blayne Burnside's drawing for Granite House, on Wellsely Island, N.Y.