Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has unveiled two large-scale water installations at the Château de Versailles in France. Eliasson may be best known for his Weather Project (2003) in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, London and his four large-scale artificial waterfalls that were installed on the shorelines of Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2008. Eight years on, and Eliasson is still working with artificial waterfalls. This time his similarly-sized project in Versailles, along with a series of site-specific works, aim to reflect on the effects of climate change. Using a construction crane, Eliasson allows water to crash down into the basin of the Grand Canal at the Palace of Versailles. The piece is titled Waterfall and the crane is positioned in such a way that on June 21, the cascade of water will obscure the sun, creating a shimmering array of light from certain perspectives. In a more overt not to climate change, the artist's Glacial Rock Flour Garden uses 50 tons of glacial rock flour from Greenland—worn down to dust through erosion— to create a desert-scape in the Palace of Versaille's gardens. Surrounding the statue of Persephone, Greek goddess of spring, Eliasson has described the installation as "very alien." Speaking at at a press preview, Eliasson said that Persephone and the encompassing Colonnade "have been cultivated" adding that the work is about "the loss of nature." Other installations can be found inside the Château de Versailles. The Curious Museum features mirrors located behind windows, intended to reflect the arches of the Hercules Room. A reflective triangle and circle installation, dubbed Your Sense of Unity and located at the end of the Hall of Mirror, creates the illusion of illuminated circles filling the space. Using more mirrors, Solar Compression is a mirror that slowly rotates, reflecting the details of the King’s Guards’ Room wooden floorboards. "Historically, the royal court at Versailles was a place of constant observation—of oneself and of others; the strict social norms of the time were enforced through a web of gazes," said Eliasson in a press release. "I ask myself: how do you, the visitor, view this iconic site? What does it do to you? Have we all become king?" Building on this, Eliasson has created The Gaze of Versailles. An easily missable installation, two balls formed from glass, gold, and brass have been embedded into a window pane in the Lower Gallery. Looking out onto the palace garden's and Eliasson's Waterfall, the installation is meant to resemble the artist's own glasses, thus allowing visitors to view the Waterfall through Eliasson's eyes. Overall, the installations seek to facilitate introspective experiences, with visitors questioning whether they are in Eliasson's words, “consuming or producing the experience.” “The works outdoors and indoors address the need to offer the opportunity for everyone to become an explorer, not just a king or queen,” he added. “With Olafur Eliasson, stars collide, the horizon slips away, and our perception blurs. The man who plays with light will make the contours of the Sun-King’s palace dance,” said Catherine Pegard, President of the Château de Versailles.
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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." 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."
The planners of the AIA New York Chapter 2014 International Architecture and Design Summit have selected a pretty unusual conference venue: the Chateau of Versailles. Given the still sorry state of the economy, the choice left us scratching our head (under our powdered wig). Perhaps Rick Bell will point out the lessons in urban agriculture to be found in the Petit Trianon? Summit participants can display their work on easels in the Galeries Batailles, which will be handy if they want to do a little painting later en plein air. Apres tout, Giverny is less than an hour away by automobile, a bit longer by carriage though. Potential attendees are warned that the Plaza Anthénée will be closed for renovations. Sacrebleu!