Sustainable architecture has been around for much longer than many people would think.
Though the industrial revolution brought new technologies into the mix and buildings for all purposes used materials that increased consumption of fossil fuels, previous architecture was, using a broad definition, generally sustainable.
Most buildings from antiquity were appropriately adapted to the climates in which they were built, and early civilizations proved ahead of their time in designing structures based on complex physical processes and relationships.
Now, however, sustainable architecture or, for the purpose of this post, what I’ll call solar architecture, is becoming mainstream as solar energy continues to demonstrate numerous environmental and economic benefits.
Here I take a look at the present and future of solar architecture: award-winning examples of solar-integrated sustainable architecture, massive monuments to the progress of solar, and futuristic homes and visionary towers that you won’t believe exist. Read on for some solar architecture inspiration.
1. Dragon-Shaped World Games Stadium in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Image Credit: www.completesolar.com
If this solar-roofed stadium looks like an impressive architectural feat to you, it’s probably because the architect who designed it is the latest winner of the industry’s most coveted prize.
Toyo Ito, a 71-year old Japanese architect known for his abstract but beautiful architecture, won the 2013 Pritzker Prize for both his commercial designs as well as his work on communal centers in Japan following the 2011 tsunami.
The main stadium for the 2009 World Games in Taiwan seats 50,000 people and boasts 8,844 solar panels that generate 1.14 million kilowatts of electricity annually. This electricity powers 3,300 lights and two jumbo TV screens while the stadium is being used, and when it’s not, the solar array can power 80 percent of the surrounding neighborhood.
Officially, Ito’s coiling creation is the world’s largest solar-powered stadium, and its roof isn’t the only sustainable aspect of the structure. The building was built with 100 percent reusable materials and fluidly integrates public green spaces, bike paths, and an ecological pond.
If one thing’s for sure, this uniquely shaped stadium is a significant achievement both architecturally and environmentally, and it should have you questioning the limits of what pioneering sustainable architects such as Ito can come up with next.
2. Sanyo Electric Co.’s Solar Ark in Anpachi, Japan
Image Credit: www.inhabitat.com
Inspired by the vision of an ark embarking on a journey into the 21st century, the Solar Ark is located in the geographical center of Japan and is covered with over 5,000 solar panels that generate 630 kW of energy, or approximately 530,000 kWh every year.
So how did such a strangely shaped solar structure come to be? Actually, the Solar Ark was built in part due to a big mistake. Sanyo, the company that built the ark, wanted to mark its 50th anniversary by building the largest PV system in the world (at that time, a 3.4 MW installation).
The company planned to use a hybrid system of crystal silicon and thin-film amorphous silicon cells, but the company faced a scandal over the insufficient output of its new technology and was forced to recall thousands of substandard cells. Sanyo, which was later acquired by Panasonic, decided to instead build a solar monument that would use the recalled technology.
Now, the 3,294 square meter Solar Ark houses a solar museum with multi-media exhibits, a solar lab, and space for hosting environmental and solar events. Though the structure came into being by accident, the Solar Ark is now a prominent landmark for sustainable architecture achievements.
3. FabLab House in Madrid, Spain
Image Credit: www.misosoupdesign.com
You may be wondering whether innovative solar / sustainable architecture has made its way into the residential sector. Though futuristic solar technologies like solar paint and windows are still in early stages of development, solar architecture has long been on display during the annual solar decathloncompetitions around the world.
The FabLab House is a perfect example of how solar architecture is being incorporated into residential design. The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) built this house for the 2010 Solar Decathlon in Europe. Visitors liked the otherworldly design so much it won the People’s Choice Award for the competition.
Introducing the world’s most flexible solar panels, the FabLab House demonstrated an architectural breakthrough for the integration of solar systems. The wooden domicile can be fabricated with local materials found anywhere in the world, and it features PV panels that produce 11.5 kW of clean power–more than twice the amount of energy the house needs to function.
If you’re taken with this one-of-a-kind passive house, a similar model can be yours for only $61,000.
4. Sundial Building in Shandong, China
Image Credit: www.jetsongreen.com
Though Beijing just issued an “orange” smog alert warning on Monday cautioning citizens to stay indoors due to heavy air pollution, the country does have some bright spots on its renewable energy resume, including this structure that, in 2009, was named the “World’s Largest Solar-Powered Office Building.”
The Sundial building, which features a fan-shaped roof that houses 50,000 square feet of solar panels on its exterior, hosted the 4th World Solar Cities Conference in 2010. Located in Dezhou of Shandong Province, the building includes exhibition centers, scientific research facilities, meeting and training facilities, and a hotel.
Designed to symbolize the necessity of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, this feat of sustainable architecture also has an advanced roof and wall insulation that makes it 30 percent more energy efficient than China’s national standard.
5. Solar City Tower in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Image Credit: www.industrytap.com
By now, I imagine you may be impressed with the remarkable achievements of sustainable architecture around the world, but if you’re not, this next project will surely leave you wondering what the future of solar architecture has in store.
The above picture may look like something out of a J.J. Abrams’ movie, but the Solar City Tower is a real project that is currently in development off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The planned unveiling of this solar PV-pumped hydro renewable energy hybrid is the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. The project is intended to provide energy to the city of Rio.
How does it work? The tower consists of a solar power plant that provides energy for the city during the day and uses excess energy to pump seawater to the top of the tower. At night, the water can be released to power turbines that produce energy while the sun isn’t shining.
Image Credit: www.architizer.com
If that isn’t enough, the plan is to turn the iconic urban waterfall into a visitor center and tourist hub, which will include a plaza located at the top of the tower (60 meters above sea level, providing expansive views of Rio’s coastline), an amphitheater, an observation deck, and an urban balcony. Oh, and a glass skywalk allows visitors to step out over the waterfall and even bungee jump if they are so brave.
Now to be clear, this project is still in the proposal stage, and it is currently uncertain whether or not the project will get the go-ahead (much less be completed in time for the 2016 Olympic Games). But the scope of the project and its planned incorporation of both solar power and pumped hydro technology should give any sustainable architecture aficionado reason to be excited.
If this project is any indication of the direction we’re headed in terms of creative renewable energy projects and innovative sustainable architecture, we’ll probably be seeing many more buildings that challenge our current conceptions of industrial and sustainable design.
I’d venture to guess we’ll start seeing more futuristic and sustainable architecture in our everyday lives much sooner than any of us imagined.
Aven Satre-Meloy graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science and environmental studies. He joined Mosaic last summer as a Communications Fellow and has been part of the blog team ever since, writing about clean energy and designing many of the infographics on Mosaic’s blog. Aven is currently teaching English in Turkey, which has a rapidly growing renewable energy program. A Montana native, Aven is especially interested in how renewable energy can create sustainable growth in the developing world.
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