While solar panels have become increasingly common, the ones usually found on rooftops and the like can convert at most between 17 and 19 percent of received solar energy to usable electricity. This average yield has plateaued, increasingly only about 3.5 percent since the 2000s. More efficient panels are available, like those used on satellites, but they remain cost prohibitive. Insolight, a Swiss startup from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), claims to have developed a scalable alternative, however. The company's new technology uses the same high-efficiency cells found in orbiting satellites but assembled in such a way that minimizes cost differences. Insolight's Mathieu Ackermann, Laurent Coulot, and Florian Gerlich have constructed arrays of very small versions of these high-efficiency cells, mounted with an optical magnifier that concentrates sunlight around 100 times, resulting in cells that take up less than .5 percent of the panel’s surface area but harvest a much larger percentage of the light hitting the panel. Most concentrator-operated solar systems require constant maneuvering to be tilted towards the sun. In order to maximize efficiency without requiring new mounting technology or complicated tilting mechanics, each of the cells is detailed so that it can make tiny, millimeter-level movements to position itself to track the sun without all the cost, space, and reliability issues found in many already available concentrator systems. Insolight's “microtracking” can reportedly capture 100 percent of the light that hits it, regardless of its angle of incidence. The ultra-thin panels can be mounted similarly to any traditional photovoltaic cell, even in a hybrid array layered with standard panels, which is especially useful for cloudy days. The panels spent a year on the roofs of an EPFL pilot site and worked “without a hitch,” according to the trio. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, Insolight projects that the panels could cut electricity bills by as much as 30 percent, as well as provide a greater return on investment than other commercially-available solar options. The company hopes to bring its first products to the market in 2022. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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Inspired by a military camouflage technique dating back nearly 100 years, DAZZLE is a permanent public artwork commissioned by San Diego County Regional Airport Authority for San Diego International Airport’s Rental Car Center. The project, delivered by art team Ueberall International (Nikolaus Hafermaas, David Delgado, Dan Goods, and Jeano Erforth), was made possible through a public art fund after a highly competitive open artist RFQ selection process. Experimenting with different ways to execute a geometric camouflage pattern, the artists turned to “electronic paper” technology as a facade applique. Individual e-paper tiles are articulated in a parallelogram shape and arranged in algorithmic distances to each other, to create a dynamic visual effect, even when still. The graphic patterns are animated by a library of short loops evoking water ripples, moving traffic, dancing snowflakes, and shifting geometries. The physical components of Ueberall’s installation include 2,100 autonomous tiles approximately 12 by 24 inches, strategically placed wireless transmitters, and a host computer. Each tile is outfitted with a photovoltaic solar cell for power, electronics for operation, and wireless communication for programmed control. The tiles are individually coded with distinct addresses to enable precise programming of visual facade patterns. The host computer stores and coordinates all animations (about 15 to 30) designed by the artists. Information can be transmitted from the host computer through Ethernet wiring to wireless transmitters that face the building. These wireless transmitters then forward the information to clusters of tiles which further forward data to other tiles. The end result is a tile that can transform from solid black to solid white based on the information it receives. In this way, each tile represents one pixel in a field of thousands, which is individually controlled through a pre-programmed “playlist” of synchronized effects. The tiles are lightweight, bendable, and energy efficient, and can be cut as long as a continuous path from end to end exists for electrical current. “E Ink” does not emit light, and has a matte appearance, like paper, utilizing pigments for coloration. Energy usage only occurs when the material “switches,” which means a static pattern does not use electricity. In the case of DAZZLE, the tiles were outfitted with specific coatings to allow the parking garage’s precast concrete facade to be power washed. Interestingly, no penetrations through the existing facade system of the building were required. The tiles were adhered to the precast concrete facade. The manufacturer, E Ink, said the tiles can be installed in numerous ways, dependent on site conditions and project requirement. Other options include track systems, tensile cable structures, and sandwiched assemblies. The tiles at DAZZLE were outfitted with solar cells, helping to offset what amounted to very little operational energy. The overall power consumption, including all support hardware (PC, communication transmitters, etc.) was less than two flat panel TVs. The installation was completed in phases, with the tiles ultimately being installed in under two weeks. Each individual tile was coded, scanned, and GPS-located on the facade for pattern synchronization. This level of scrutiny required careful upfront design consideration. For instance, manufacturers worked to design the tiles with unique addresses and barcodes to track, inventory, and ultimately sort each piece. The e-paper manufacturer, E Ink, is the world’s leading innovator of e-ink technology through products like eReaders, electronic shelf labels, digital signage, and architectural materials. For DAZZLE, E Ink utilized their “Prism” line, which is specifically made for the architectural market. This project represents their first major installation of the product. The material is manufactured in large roll quantities that allows for the capability of very large scale installations. Future possibilities for electronic paper technology could be incorporation in light pollution sensitive environments, where the more natural paint-like look of electronic paper is valued over harsh LED light. E Ink said the material can be easily integrated with traditional materials to produce a more dynamic experiential space. "This is the next greatest thing, but it feels more natural and less futuristic, which in its own way is really cool."
Steven Holl Architects, in collaboration with Rüssli Architekten, has been selected by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) to design the organization’s new Geneva Operational Center. The winning proposal’s playful design was selected unanimously over international proposals from Pool Architekten & Mak Architecture, Sauerbruch Hutton, Emilio Tuñon Arquitectos and Ruckstuhl Architekten, Blue Architects, and Consortium Sou Foujimoto with The New Talent Workshop. Broken up into several distinct cubic volumes and clad in a boldly colored photovoltaic glass curtain-wall facade, the building has been nicknamed “Colors of Humanity.” Much more than a decorative element, the glass is composed of 40-percent-transparent solar cells. By changing the color and permeability of the glass across the Operational Center, the facade can shade, cool and power the building all at once while still allowing operable windows. When combined with the more efficient photovoltaic panels nestled within the roof garden, and the Geneva district Genilac lake water loop, 72 percent of the building’s electricity will be self-produced. Providing workstations, meeting rooms, classrooms, and social spaces for over 250 Doctors Without Borders employees, the design also offers an inherently flexible approach to programming. By overlaying criss-crossing passages throughout the interior with seated alcoves and meeting spaces, the firm set out to spur spontaneous conversation and collaboration among the many different types of staff. “These centers serve as a friendly catalyst for interaction, acting like social condensers within the building,” Steven Holl Architects explained. Providing support for more than 6,300 employees across 23 countries, the Center will house several other international project teams such as the “International Office,” the international secretariat, which includes activities related to the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, and various pilot projects. Keeping the diversity of the organization’s work in mind, the Center’s form and photovoltaic systems were designed with the possibility of expansion in the future. “Steven Holl Architects’ project is the opportunity for MSF to integrate its core values like independence, impartiality, neutrality, altruism and dynamism in a challenging new architecture and project itself in the future," said Mathieu Soupart, Logistics Director for the Geneva Operational Center, in a prepared statement. With an expected start date of spring 2019, the Geneva Operational Center will neighbor the Higher International Studies and Development, designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates, and the Terra and Casa Foundation expatriate housing by Bonnard Woeffray Architectes.
A high-performance building prototype which shares energy with a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle.A cross-disciplinary team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have designed an innovative single-room building module to demonstrate new manufacturing and building technology pathways. The research project, named Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE), leverages rapid innovation through additive manufacturing, commonly known as ‘3d printing,’ to connect a natural-gas-powered hybrid electric vehicle to a high-performance building designed to produce, consume, and store renewable energy. The vehicle and building were developed concurrently as part of the AMIE project. The goal of AMIE was twofold according to Dr. Roderick Jackson, Group Leader of Building Envelope Systems Research and Project Lead for the AMIE project at ORNL: “First, how do we integrate two separate strains of energy: buildings and vehicles; and secondly, how do we use additive manufacturing as a way to create a framework for rapid innovation while not becoming constrained by the resources of today?” Additive manufacturing contributed to formal expression of the building envelope structure and offered efficiencies in material usage while significantly reducing construction waste. Jackson says the design and manufacturing process became embedded into the ‘rapid innovation’ spirit of the project. “The architects at SOM worked hand in hand with the manufacturing process, sharing the building model with the 3d printers in the same way that the vehicle shares power with building. For example, within the course of less than a week, between the manufacturer, the material supplier, the 3d printers, and the architects, we were able to work together to reduce the print time by more than 40%.” In total, the AMIE project – from research, through design, manufacturing, and assembly – took 9 months. The building incorporates low-cost vacuum insulated panels into an additively manufactured shell, printed in 2’ widths in half ring profiles, assembled at Clayton Homes, the nation’s largest manufactured home builder. The vacuum insulated panels consist of Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) with 20% carbon fiber reinforcement, a material which serves as a “starting point” for Jackson and his team: “We wanted to open up the door for people to say ‘what if?’ What if we used a non-traditional material to construct a building? I see this product as a ‘gateway.’ This might not be the final material we’ll end up using to construct buildings in the future. We’ll need to find locally available materials and utilize more cost-saving techniques. But we had to start somewhere. The ABS product will open the door for a conversation.” The project emerged out of fundamental questions concerning access to, and use of energy. Climate change, an increasing demand for renewable energy sources, and uncertainty in the balance of centralized versus distributed energy resources all impact the grid. In addition, more than 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to an electric grid, and for an additional billion people, grid access is unreliable. AMIE will doubly function in the near future as an educational showcase to both the public who will learn of its story, and ORNL researchers who will continue to monitor how energy is generated, used, and stored. Will there be an AMIE 2.0? Jackson responds: “We don’t look at this as a one hit wonder. We really want this research to be the first stone thrown in the water that causes a ripple throughout the disciplines involved. Not only for us, but throughout the world. We want to put this out there so other smart people can look at it and brainstorm. If the end of the next project looks anything like AMIE 1.0, then we’ve missed the boat.”
Rotterdam Centraal Station's relationship to the existing urban fabric called for different treatments of its north and south facades.To call the commission for a new central railway station in Rotterdam complicated would be an understatement. The project had multiple clients, including the city council and the railway company ProRail. The program was complex, encompassing the north and south station halls, train platforms, concourse, commercial space, offices, outdoor public space, and more. Finally, there was the station’s relationship to Rotterdam itself: while city leaders envisioned the south entrance as a monumental gateway to the city, the proximity of an historic neighborhood to the north necessitated a more temperate approach. Team CS, a collaboration among Benthem Crouwel Architekten, MVSA Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten, and West 8, achieved a balancing act with a multipart facade conceived over the project’s decade-long gestation. On the south, Rotterdam Centraal Station trumpets its presence with a swooping triangular stainless steel and glass entryway, while to the north a delicate glass-house exterior defers to the surrounding urban fabric. Team CS, which formed in response to the 2003 competition to design the station, began with a practical question: how should they cover the railroad tracks? Rotterdam Centraal Station serves Dutch Railways, the European High Speed Train network, and RandstadRail, the regional light rail system. Team CS wanted to enclose all of the tracks within a single structure, but they came up against two problems. First, the client team had budgeted for multiple freestanding shelters rather than a full roof. Second, this part of the project was designated a design-construct tender in which the winning contractor would have a high degree of control over the final design. To work around both issues, Team CS turned to an unusual source: agricultural buildings. “We started to come up with a project built from catalog materials, so efficient and so simple that any contractor would maybe think, ‘I’m going to build what they draw because then I can do a competition on being cheap, and then I don’t need to [reinvent] the wheel,’” explained West 8’s Geuze. For the spans, they chose prelaminated wood beams meant for barns and similar structures from GLC. They designed the five-acre roof as an oversized Venlo greenhouse. It comprises 30,000 laminated glass panels manufactured by Scheuten. Integrated solar cells, also provided by Scheuten, produce about one-third of the energy required to run Rotterdam Centraal Station’s escalators. The north facade of the station continues the glass house theme. “We [took] the roof and we pull[ed] it over to the facade and made the entire elevation out of that,” explained Geuze. “What is on the roof becomes vertically the same. In plan you see a zigzag sort of meandering facade.” By day, the glass reflects the nineteenth-century brick architecture characteristic of the Provenierswijk neighborhood in which the station is located. At night, the relatively modest entrance seems almost to fade into the sky, except for a slice of white LED lettering over the passenger portal. Rotterdam Centraal Station’s south facade, by contrast, is self consciously extroverted. The entryway, which spans 300 feet over the subway station, was given a “very sculptural identity,” said Geuze, with a triangular mouth framed by stainless steel panels. ME Construct welded the 30-foot-long panels one to another to create a non-permeable surface. Within the steel surround are horizontal glass panels (Scheuten) through which the vertical interior structural beams are visible. “This plays beautifully with the station because the roof makes a triangle. The horizontal and vertical lines are a beautiful composition within,” said Geuze. Two reminders of the 1957 central station, demolished to make way for the new iteration, make an appearance on the south facade. The first is the old station clock. The second is the historic sign, restored in LED. “They are in a beautiful font, blue neon letters,” said Geuze. “We put them very low on the facade, the letters. The font became a part of the identity.” While its preponderance of glass and stainless steel marks it as a contemporary creation, Rotterdam Centraal Station was inspired by historic precedents, like Los Angeles’ Union Station and the European railway stations of the 1800s. Geuze spoke of the interior’s warm material palette, including a rough wood ceiling by Verwol that bleeds onto the building’s south facade. “We thought we could learn a lot [from history] instead of making what is totally the [norm] today with granite from China,” he said. “We have to make a station which is part of this tradition of cathedrals, where the use and aging is relevant and interesting.”
Ando's Silence. According to Dezeen, UK developer Grosvenor has partnered with the Westminster City Council on a project to open public space in Mayfair, London. The project aims to reduce unnecessary visual elements like signage and expand pedestrian areas. Architect Tadao Ando collaborated with firm Blair Associates to design Silence, an installation that intermittently produces fiber-optically illuminated vapor rising from the bases of trees. Power Plant Printer. MIT News has revealed an exciting new technology: printable solar cells. According to MIT: "The basic process is essentially the same as the one used to make the silvery lining in your bag of potato chips: a vapor-deposition process that can be carried out inexpensively on a vast commercial scale." So, not quite as easy as, say, printing out a power station on your inkjet, but still able to revolutionize the future of solar installations. Building for Birds. The City of San Francisco is making an example of a new California Academy of Science building. It's design for the birds. The San Francisco Chronicle notes the building's innovative fabric screen deterring bird-on-building collisions could be applied to other structures in the city. "Bird-safe design" is a growing part of the conversation, but the question remains: will altering the transparency of urban glass structures detract from the design intent? Déjà vu Design. Does that new building look strangely familiar? A new website called Post Post bills itself as the "comparative architecture index." By juxtaposing projects of similar design languages or forms, the site hopes to "to illuminate the interwoven and complex relationships of congruous trajectories within contemporary architectural practice." Have a look!