Posts tagged with "Pvilion":

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Colin Touhey of Pvilion on the future of facades and flexible solar panels

Colin Touhey is the founder of Pvilion, a New York-based company that designs and manufactures flexible photovoltaic (PV) solar structures and products. He is also wrapping up a fall semester fabrication studio at Columbia University GSAPP titled “Wired Skin.” Touhey will be presenting at the upcoming Facades+AM San Francisco conference on the concluding panel, titled Facades: The Next Generation. The Architect's Newspaper (AN): What’s your office like? Half of our office is a design office, and the other half is a workshop where we get our hands dirty. We are also building what we're designing. We're not a contractor, we're not an engineer, and we're not an architect—we're a little bit of all of those things. We come into a project as scrappy experts. We're talking about how to hoist up a building component early on in the design process. When we sign a contract with someone, we don't know how we're going to solve a problem, but we know that we will be able to figure out a solution. More conservative firms would say, ‘Oh we'll sell this when we know exactly how it's going to get done.’ If we knew exactly how to do a project before we started it, we wouldn't be in business. How does Pvilion balance futuristic tech with commercial work? We see what's 10-years out, and are working on that. But we also have [a] real product today. The two feed off each other. While we [have] a futuristic technology, we're not futurists. We're not sitting around speculating about what's going to happen in 50 years. What are some issues you are working through at Pvilion? We're trying to create building skins that both increase energy performance and reduce fossil fuel consumption. We're also providing a platform in which an architect can create. Rather than working with glass or steel, if you're wrapping a building in a flexible material, you can create interesting forms, and with those forms you can produce electricity. Also, we are thinking a lot about the installation process. Like Christmas lights, 30 to 50 solar panels can arrive on site folded up and pre-wired. When you're paying union labor to hang off the side of a facade with a tower crane, you want an efficient installation process. Due to the modularity of the system, you can replace components as needed without taking the entire system down. What’s next for facades? We're not only coming up with some rendering and saying, ‘Wouldn't this be the city of the future!?’ This is real now. We're not a research lab with kooky ideas about stuff that will never be built. We have real projects, we're really building things, and we have experience. Our work is UL certified, grid-tied, and warranty-able for 25 years. One of the really interesting things we're looking at now is dynamic facade elements. [With] these pieces, you have...south, east, and west facades [that] may all be moving throughout the course of the day, like a solar tracker. When you add the fourth dimension into a building, which is time, you end up with a moving system—your building is changing over the course of a day, and over the course of its lifetime. That's an entirely new concept that is really exciting for us. When your goal is to maximize energy production, dynamic facade elements are very intriguing. For example, consider a fabric membrane that's twisting over the course of the day, so it's opening up the facade when there isn't much light, and it's closing it up where there's more light, and it's simultaneously producing more energy. Can you give us a preview of what we can expect from your studio at Columbia? We are looking at the building facade as an opportunity to provide shade, increase building performance, and provide electricity. The idea of a wired skin—a living breathing organism—is electrical and mechanical and serves many purposes. The skin should protect you from the environment. It is a porous envelope, but also an enclosure. How do you balance the openness of the facade? Do you cut holes in it? Do you open it up? Do you fully enclose it? Do you create heat chimneys so that air flows between the glazing and your skin? Also, what are its thermal properties, and how can you take advantage of shading the building. Those are all the things we're exploring. Since we are not academic professors, we're grounding this course in reality—which is important to us. It's a fabrication studio class, so we're building facade elements. The deliverable at the end of the semester is to build a facade element that moves and works, and then provide a scale model of the building that has hundreds of facade elements on it. We're saying if you can't build it, you shouldn't be designing it.
Touhey takes the stage with Jason Kelly Johnson of Future Cities Lab and Sanjeev Tankha of Walter P. Moore to discuss the next generation of facades. Go to Facades+ AM San Francisco to learn more about the event and the other sessions taking place.
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Pvilion scales up its lightweight flexible photovoltaic fabrics

The Techstyle Haus is an 800 square foot fabric house that uses 90% less energy thanks to a high performance double skin membrane with integrated PV.

Co-founded by Colin Touhey, Todd Dalland, and Robert Lerner, Pvilion is pioneering the design, engineering, fabrication, and installation of flexible solar solutions. For their 2014 Solar Decathlon project—a collaboration between RISD, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences Erfurt (Germany)—Pvilion provided engineering consulting services on the structural design and membrane roof system. The project team questioned if a membrane roof house could be designed to meet strict passive house energy codes. The answer was a resounding yes—what came to be known as the Techstyle Haus is currently the only fabric structure that meets passive house standards, producing 50% more energy than it consumes. The house was originally constructed in Providence and then disassembled, placed in crates, and shipped to France for relatively easy re-assembly at Versailles. Currently, the Techstyle Haus resides at Domaine de Boisbuchet, the site of an annual art and design workshop, where it serves as a living laboratory and teaching tool as well as student housing. An in-depth video of the design can be viewed here. Colin Touhey, co-founder of Pvilion, said this project is a proof of concept for their flexible, scalable solar solutions. “Given the curvature of the form, the building produces more energy than flat or angled solar arrays.” Techstyle Haus was designed in concept to embrace a double skin tectonic. It’s PV modules are encapsulated in a thin sheet of plastic allowing for a lightweight assembly of shallow curves and folded surfaces. PV’s are typically very labor intensive as each 3’x5’ panel has to be individually wired. Touhey says by eliminating a significant amount of the “stuff” that goes into a traditional solar array can offer design flexibility along with cost savings: "the more that can be integrated into the off-site fabrication process, the cheaper and more effective the system will be. Also, we have found if you eliminate the frames from a PV, if you eliminate the glass from the PV, and if you laminate the PV into a light material, you can ship more of it in one container. All of these variables add up on a very large scale."
  • Facade Manufacturer St. Gobain (inner skin); Pvilion (outer skin)
  • Architects RISD/Brown/Ehrfurt
  • Facade Installer Birdair (primary facade); Pvilion (solar facade installer)
  • Facade Consultants Pvilion
  • Location Providence, RI / Versailles, France / Lessac, France
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • System flexible fiberglass membrane with PV fabric on steel frame
  • Products Pvilion PV Fabric, Sheerfill II Architectural Membrane, with EverClean Photocatalytic Topcoat
Building Integrated Photovolatics (BIPV) have become an increasingly significant topic within the advanced building systems design and construction community. Rather than treating PV as an additive system requiring a separate metal support structure superimposed on a building’s roof, BIPV is an evolving practice of incorporating custom solar technology into the constructional logic of a structure. Often, BIPV projects see cost savings through the replacement of roofing tiles or other building elements with photovoltaic panels. The 2014 solar decathlon was held in Versailles, France, and included 20 prototype structures from 16 different countries. From these projects, 11 prominently utilized BIPV strategies. In addition to Pvilion’s flexible solar fabric, other approaches included cantilevered lightweight shading elements, solar-integrated glazing, a colorful lightweight PV roof, and numerous roof-mounted configurations. In a statistical analysis conducted by a team of researchers at Jaume I University (Castillo, Spain), and published by Advanced Building Skins GmbH, the Techstyle Haus was rated as one of the “most pleasurable BIPV solutions.” Robert Lerner, a co-founder of Pvilion, explains the value of lightweight solar fabric for large commercial applications: “we developed a way to put photovoltaic sheets as a secondary membrane onto a primary membrane. the primary roof skin will almost always be a costly, durable product. Consider a 50 year Teflon-coated glass fabric under very high pre-stress for long spans. Our lightweight membrane can be replaced in 20 years if necessary without affecting the roof below it." Half of Pvilion’s projects are facade-related while half are completely unrelated lightweight temporary and permanent structures—from outdoor clothing apparel to parking canopies and infrastructural projects. Touhey says their goal is to take the Techstyle Haus’ system—an interior skin, exterior membrane, insulation, PV, and wiring – and scale it up to a significantly larger context. Upcoming projects include the Artist for Humanity Headquarters in Boston—a renovation and expansion of and existing building into a structure 5 times as large as the original. Once complete, it will be the first net energy positive large commercial project on the East Coast. The building will feature a solar wrapper that doubly functions as a passive shading element integrated with flexible monocrystalline photovoltaic cells. Other applications include flexible installations on perforated aluminum and warped steel panels, both with free-form perimeters and curved surfaces. Lerner says this is where flexible solar technology shines, “This indicates the freedom of design that is possible while incorporating conventional facade materials."