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Installing solar panels on buildings provides clean energy, lowers electricity bills and can reduce the use of fossil fuels as well as carbon dioxide emissions (overlooking the panels production process). Most common solar panels look like large, glossy, dark blue tiles put on top of existing roofs by overlapping their modularity onto the roof’s completely different texture. In my opinion, the visual outcome of that operation is not very successful.

Some completed architectural examples show that photovoltaic materials can be fully integrated into building façades to create identities and stimulate human perception with playful visual effects. I’m thinking of case studies like the GreenPix façade by Simone Giostra and Partners in Beijing, combining LED lights and solar glass in what is effectively a huge, solar-powered electronic display; or the photovoltaic screen designed by James Carpenter, dynamically casting shadows during the day onto the façade of the Austin Convention Center atrium in Austin.

The industrial façade at ThyssenKrupp Steel AG in Duisburg shows an impressive, communicative application of photovoltaic materials: thin film solar panels are integrated into the green steel cladding in a harmonious, wavy pattern evoking the surrounding fields of grass caressed by the wind. Those solar panels are made of nanocrystalline silicon in multiple layers, laminated onto colour-coated steel sheets. The resulting cladding elements are light, robust and stable, requiring no heavy protective glass covers.

The coloured solar glass façade at Schott Iberica in Barcelona was a renovation project that reduced the energy consumption of the office building and partly replaced fossil fuels with a renewable energy source. The semitransparent glass panels with integrated thin film solar cells act as a solar protection with a colourful light and shadow effect inside the building. If the semitransparency can be considered a limitation, researcher from Michigan State University seem to have recently got around it with their transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC).


Palais des Congrès Montréal, Canada. Photo by Jordan Thevenow-Harrison

What if the façade was made of coloured solar glass?

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