Silicon Landscape

The University at Buffalo (UB) and New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced Walter Hood, ASLA, a leading landscape architect, won a public art competition to design a 1.1 megawatt (MW) solar array, which will be constructed on the university’s campus by NYPA. Fast Company says the installation is designed to “make solar energy beautiful.” According to UB, the 5,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels in the installation will generate solar energy for 735 student apartments and help reduce the university’s CO2 emissions by 500 metric tons per year.  

Hood calls his concept “The Solar Strand,” a reference to linear landscape formation and the way pairs of molecules entwine to form a DNA strand. Hood said: “Like a DNA fingerprint, solar panels would be codified and arranged to show how much power is captured/generated and where it is used.”

The solar array, which will line UB’s Flint Road entrance, is designed to integrate art and engineering innovation, and environmental sustainability. UB President John B. Simpson said: “The university sees the project as more than an energy-producing facility — we envision this as a significant land art installation that will complement the Buffalo Niagara region’s already significant reputation as a destination for world-class art and architecture.” The university will also include the new landscape in its research and academic programs on sustainability and green technologies. 

Hood said his design creates a new “patch ecology” that will merge with existing creeks and campus woodlands. The university writes: “Oaks, maples, redbuds and ground covers would be planted along with ornamental species like linden and malus (small deciduous trees or shrubs of the crabapple family) to provide microclimate and display.” Hood will also use low-maintenance sustainable grasses like bent grass and red fescue in “strands or striations to recall the site’s agricultural past.” Hood adds: “the landscape development reinforces the campus as a whole by connecting the tree canopy and the larger hydrological morphology.” 

Fast Company thinks the installation will also facilitate social interaction.”Nestled among them will be three ‘social rooms’–outdoor spaces defined by hillocks and ponds with added seating that blends into the land.” The university writes that each social room will feature “retention/detention swales and ponds adjacent to the towering panels, and seating, lighting and other furnishings will facilitate outdoor use.” Additionally, the recreational and educational spaces will be connected via trails and paths to a visitor center, and other facilities.

The campus solar project is a part of NYPA’s $21 million renewable energy program. Under the program, the university received a $7.5 million grant. The university says the project will be the largest solar installation on a “college or university campus in New York State and one of the largest on a college or university campus in the United States.”

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