May 16, 2018 - 5min read
As the price of solar energy falls, the number of building projects that incorporate solar panels into the design stage is increasing dramatically.
Just recently, California became the first state to make solar panels on all new homes obligatory, and this seems certain to drive innovation in making solar panels more of an aesthetic feature than a highly valuable afterthought.
Some architects have already taken giant leaps forward in designing buildings that seamlessly incorporate solar panels in ways that both optimise their energy generation and showcase their inherent beauty. Here are some of the most exciting examples.
This Parisian concert hall is designed by award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The glass-encased auditorium at its centre is shielded by a sail-shaped, 800 square meter shield of solar panels that can rotate around the exterior to follow the path of the sun, generating solar power throughout the day while also shading the interior.
The Blauhaus is a zero emissions building covered from top to bottom in 337 blue-tinted solar panels that tilt depending on the angle of the sun for optimal solar power generation, and the structure is airtight in order to maximise energy efficiency. The photovoltaic cells supply all of the building’s electricity, saving 110 tonnes of CO2 per year. But the design is as much of an aesthetic statement as it is a practical one; the gently angular seesawing of the solar panels results in a visually striking exterior.
As electric vehicles increase in popularity, a question remains over how quickly the necessary infrastructure to support their widespread use can be deployed. Danish architects COBE seek to answer this question with their design for modular charging stations that can be assembled with relative ease, incorporating solar panels into the canopy to refuel cars with renewable energy, and trees into the spaces in between to create a relaxing space for drivers to wait while they recharge their batteries.
Carlo Ratti Associati architects are extremely innovative in their incorporation of sustainable technology into city spaces, an excellent example being their Sun&Shade system. A canopy made up of a number of mirrors mounted on a double-axis, they track the movement of the sun in order to reflect its rays onto an array of photovoltaic cells some distance away - cooling the area underneath and casting an intricately tessellated pattern of shadows onto the ground, all while generating solar power.
The Copenhagen International School designed by C.F. Møller architects is covered in 12,000 electric-blue coloured solar panels, each individually angled to create a mosaic-like facade that has the dual effect of being able to absorb the sun’s energy from a variety of positions. The 6,048 square meters of solar panels generates more than half of the school’s annual electricity consumption.
This octagonal house from Italian architect Roberto Rossi is balanced on a central pillar that allows it to rotate a full 360 degrees, providing an ever-changing panorama through the living room window as it points the solar panels on the roof at the sun throughout the day. Constructed by contractor ProTek, the house generates all of its own energy through the solar panels working in conjunction with a solar thermal system and a heat pump.
The odd one out, but no less beautiful for it, Gloucester Cathedral is the only building on this list not to be designed with solar panels in mind - hardly surprising given that it was built 1000 years ago. Now, thanks to Mypower solar installers, Gloucester Cathedral is the oldest building in the world to have been fitted with solar panels - 120 of them - and is emphatic proof that you can cut your electricity bill (by 25%, in the case of Gloucester Cathedral) without blighting your architecture. The Dean of Gloucester is happy with the installation too, and can be seen above, literally giving it his blessing.