Urban Solar Design Doubles as a Greenhouse

A solarium regulates temperatures and allows occupants to grow food in this flexible urban design.
Mar 10, 2016 7:15 AM ET

Participating in the Solar Decathlon for the first time, the University of Buffalo took second place among the 14 teams with its Garden, Relax or Work—or GRoW—Home. Designed for an urban environment, the home features living space that expands and contracts with the growing seasons and centers on what contestants call a “GRoWlarium.” This greenhouse-­like space can be enjoyed as living space in benign weather and used as a greenhouse the rest of the time. It also encloses, buffers and moderates the conditioned space.

The University at Buffalo team considered four themes for their sustainable residential design: “nurture active stewardship, think functional flexibility, live with nature and recognize energy hierarchy.”

The home was designed to flex with Buffalo’s climate, which is characterized by hot summers, cold winters and comfortable swing seasons. A tight thermal envelope encloses 770 square feet of conditioned living space, divided into 489 square feet of “wet module work area”—primarily the kitchen and bathroom—and 281-square-foot dry module relax area. The building envelope is constructed with structural insulated panels (SIPs), two high­-performance sliding glass doors and high­-performance fixed windows. Another 1,440 square feet of shaded exterior deck extend the living space.