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Catching Rays: 6 Phenomenal Photovoltaic Façades

Thanks to these innovations and the public’s growing appreciation for clean power, photovoltaic façades are finally having their moment in the sun.

Jon Cornachio Jon Cornachio

In line with our new content direction, each week Architizer is highlighting a different building-product and how to specify it. This week’s topic is photovoltaics. If you’re looking for the perfect photovoltaic panels for your next project, search for it on Architizer’s new network marketplace for building-products. Click here to see if you qualify. It’s free for architects.

Photovoltaics, more commonly known as solar panels, are one of the purest and most reliable methods for producing renewable energy. Each panel is composed of photovoltaic cells, which activate when exposed to the sun, absorbing its rays and converting them into clean electricity. However, while solar panels are becoming increasingly popular, surprisingly few people have actually been face to face with one; even those who live in homes or work in offices powered by photovoltaics may not have encountered them up close. That’s because, for years — even as photovoltaic technology was burgeoning — they were large and unsightly contraptions, intended to be hidden away on rooftops where they could sunbathe in privacy.

Today, all that is changing with the invention of building integrated photovoltaics or BIPVs. This new breed of solar panel is incorporated directly into the building envelope. The sleek panels become an exciting new design element, proudly displayed for all to see. We also now have the technology to construct BIPV curtain walls, composed of transparent or semi-transparent photovoltaic glazing, which not only fill interiors with sunlight but harness it for electricity. Thanks to these innovations and the public’s growing appreciation for clean power, photovoltaic façades are finally having their moment in the sun.


Close up of the “force lines,” photo via Archdaily

WELIOS – OÖ Science Center by Archinauten Dworschak+Mühlbachler Architekten ZT Gmbh, Weliosplatz, Wels, Austria

Photovoltaics by Ertex Solar

WELIOS – OÖ Science Center, Austria’s top science museum, was built as part of larger movement, aiming to transform Wels into a more environmentally-friendly city. Designed around the theme of renewable power, the building was envisioned as a metallic shell, cracked open by the bustling energy within. At the center of the fissured form is a large glass atrium which welcomes visitors. The glazing, produced by Ertex Solar, contains photovoltaic cells that generate over 15,000 kWh of clean energy per year. The rest of the façades are also heavily glazed, though most of the glass is obscured by the perforated metal skin which wraps the building. This mesh acts as a solar screen, allowing daylight into the exhibits while keeping the spaces cool.

The metallic shell is further fractured by “force lines,” colorful strips of light which zigzag across the façades. These strips contain 40,000 low-voltage LEDs and are powered by integrated photovoltaic cells. The LEDs, manufactured by Multivision, can be programmed to glow a multitude of different colors, producing fantastic light shows that transform the architecture itself into a lively exhibit, demonstrating renewable systems and making science fun in the process.


Photovoltaics on the rear of the Science Pyramid, photo via Archello

Science Pyramid by BURKETTDESIGN, Denver, Colo., United States

Photovoltaics by Onyx Solar

Science Pyramid is an interactive learning center located in the Denver Botanic Gardens. The façade, inspired by natural forms, appears fractured, like shifting tectonic plates. The building’s 16 faceted sides are uniformly clad in fiber-cement panels, manufactured by SwissPearl, in a pattern modeled after the structure of beehives. Interspersed among these panels are custom hexagon-shaped skylights which glow amber when backlit, completing the honeycomb effect.

The angle of the façades increased the amount of surface area exposed to direct sunlight. To compensate for this, the architects fit the skylights with special electrochromic glass, which automatically adjusts opacity depending on the strength of the sun. They also used this as an opportunity to integrate photovoltaic panels into the building envelope. These hexagonal solar modules, fabricated for the project by Onyx Solar, were custom-specified to blend in with the fiber-cement cladding. As Barton Harris of Burkett Design explained: “to completely integrate the photovoltaic modules in the aesthetics of the façade, not only was the color of the glass carefully chosen to match the color of the surrounding modules but its surface was coated with a similar sheen.”

Nursery +e in Marburg by opus Architekten BDA, Marburg, Germany

Photovoltaics by Ertex Solar

The Nursery +e was built on a sloping park in a quiet, residential neighborhood in Germany. The architects, wanting to have as little impact on this sensitive site as possible, designed the building as a compact volume, partially-embedded in the hillside. However, despite its discreet proportions, the nursery’s unusual, folded façade gives it a distinct presence in the community.

The folds, which are clad in custom-made photovoltaic panels by Ertex Solar, are angled toward the sun to maximize the production of solar energy. These panels have a mirrored finish, which helps camouflage this extraordinary building in the surrounding greenery. As the architects explain: “the green of the park is reflected on the envelope and, through the facade, where one sees that the shades of green and wood appear in the interior

Green Dot Animo Leadership High School by Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Los Angeles County, Calif., United States

Photovoltaics by SunPower

The design of The Green Dot Animo Leadership High School mitigates Los Angeles’ two extremes: congestion and sunshine. Built parallel to a major roadway, the long and narrow building acts as a buffer, shielding an open-air courtyard from the noise and pollution of traffic. This orientation gave the building an extensive southern exposure, which the architects cladded in 650 Serengeti E13 solar panels by SunPower. These panels provide 75% of the building’s energy needs and are responsible for a whopping three-million-pound reduction in carbon emissions.

The bright blue panels contrast with the white concrete structure, giving the school an appearance that is at once playful and cutting-edge. This theme is continued in the sun shading strategies employed on the other façades: The east-facing openings are shaded by a grid of white, galvanized steel louvers and the west end of the building terminates in a blue veil of undulating steel ribs. These screens help reduce heat gain and glare, while allowing natural light to flood the interior.

EWE & Bursagaz Headquarters by tago architects, Bursa, Turkey

Photovoltaics by Onyx Solar

For the new headquarters of EWE & Bursagaz, tago architects wanted to create an architecturally unique building that promoted a healthier environment, both in and out of the workplace. To achieve this, they teamed up with Onyx Solar to create a double-skinned façade of glazing and photovoltaic glass panels. These semi-transparent panels are able to absorb solar radiation without blocking natural light from entering the offices, leading to a 28% reduction in non-renewable energy use.

In-between the “mosaic” of photovoltaic panels and the inner glass façade are partially-enclosed balconies for the employees to enjoy. For larger gatherings, there is a terrace on the roof of the building, which is also shaded by a photovoltaic canopy. Thanks in part to this marriage of solar technology and open-air spaces, the project is expected to obtain LEED Platinum Certification.

Photos via Archdaily

NEW-Blauhaus by Kadawittfeldarchitektur, Mönchengladbach, Germany

Photovoltaics by Ertex Solar

NEW-Blauhaus, or The New Blue House, is like a brilliant sapphire, set at the center of Niederrhein University’s campus. As the architects explained : “Due to its conception as a solitaire, it is a building without a rear elevation, a building that faces public space in all directions.” The multifaceted building is composed of five façades, each clad in a dynamic checkboard of glass and photovoltaic panels.

The panels are installed at different inclinations, depending on the orientation of the façade, to maximize their exposure to solar radiation. On the north-face of the building, which receives no direct sunlight, the panels have been substituted for enameled glazing, to keep the motif consistent. In-between the panels, set at opposing angles, are panes of blue-tinted glass, which filter daylight into the interior. This alternating, seesaw pattern gives depth to the façade and creates a highly-efficient double envelope, improving the building’s energy performance, acoustic insulation and natural ventilation. These strategies have resulted in a building that is not only eye-catching but also completely carbon neutral.

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