Thursday, May 25, 2017

Solar Powered Sustainable Architecture

How to incorporate solar panels is only one facet of an integrated design approach to sustainable architecture. I'm hoping technology will solve some of the current problems with solar panels, increasing their design features and lowering costs. But there are many qualities of the sun's power to consider in design. The quality of interior daylight connects to higher productivity levels and better employee health. This is why the quality of interior daylight is considered a factor in several sustainability certification programs, LEED being the best known.  

Soon the Apple headquarters mothership will be landing in Cupertino and it reminded me I wanted to find out more about this building as their stated goal was to build the best office building ever. The project has seen Apple make a significant statement about sustainable architecture but how was this achieved? The design's 850,000 sq. ft. of solar panels almost cover the entire electrical operating costs of the 12000 employees. Furthermore, the very shape of the building is well adapted to maximizing the area of the interior where quality daylight is possible. The designers have gone further and modeled exterior louvers to match the site's orientation toward the sun throughout the season. An earlier example of Foster + Partners experience with advanced solar modeling is the London city hall, whose form is highly optimized toward the sun giving the building its distinctive oval shape. It's expected the quality of interior daylight will be excellent in Apple's Infinity Loop project and other features of the project, like giant 4-storey doors that mechanically open to the outside on nice days, will make this an excellent place to work. 

ARUP's Jaguar Land Rover plant in the West Midlands of England has a design feature on its roof I've been advocating for years. I actually noticed a similar approach at LACMA in Los Angeles on their exhibition pavilion. Returning to the Jaguar plant, the sloped roof plays a large role in increasing the quality of interior daylight. The client was quite happy to support the performance and health benefits such an architectural program provided. North facing windows bathe the interior in diffused sunlight while a continuous strip of glazing wraps the bottom of the building to encourage transparency. 21,000 solar panels face south and provide 30% of the building's power. 

The 10-storey Elithis Tower in Dijon, France has some interesting numbers to report to readers. With 330 solar panels on top it provides 70% of its own power but part of this rests on the excellent interior daylight quality which makes it comfortable to work inside with limited need for electric lights. The eye-catching solar shield on the front eliminates the building's need for air conditioning which contributes significantly to the building's high performance. Hopefully potential developers will see these examples and want their buildings to have strong solar strategies as well but it will be hard to reproduce the success of Elithis Tower because some of the design work was done by the client themselves, Elithis Engineering. The French firm of Arte Charpentier Architects also contributed their talents to the project. Renewable wood and recycled insulation was utilized throughout but total costs were kept to around $10 million (in 2009) which supports the idea high-performance architecture is coming down in price. 

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