Solar panels: a burgeoning design concept
Solar panels are increasing in popularity at a significant rate in the UK, driven in part by the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme, which pays a fee for surplus renewable energy provided to the National Grid by private individuals and small firms. It has led to a wave of environmentally minded cost-conscious individuals contacting specialist solar panel installation firms such as Evoenergy in the UK, in order to retrofit their properties with photovoltaic cells. Even historic buildings can benefit – August saw Bradford Cathedral become the first in the UK to fit solar panels to its roof.
However, the use of solar panels as an architectural feature is still a developing idea. According to Henk Kaan of ECN, the independent research institute for renewable energy, architects’ primary focus is creating attractive buildings, but this does not mean they are not interested in solar panels. Instead, it is simply a case of architects coming round to the idea of solar panels being useable design material. Yet there are strong examples out there of solar panels being used as an integral aspect of the design.
In the heart of south London is Vauxhall Bus Station, the second busiest bus terminal in the capital. The site opened in 2004, and the striking design is dominated by two large cantilever arms angled upwards like ski slopes. Designed by Arup, these arms utilise a total of 167 solar panels that provide a third of the energy required for the operation of the terminal. The arms are an integral part of the architectural design, providing cover for passenger waiting areas and the control rooms for the terminal staff. Arup describes the Vauxhall Cross project as seen as “an exemplary pilot-project for future infrastructure projects”.
Perhaps where the use of solar panels is best displayed in design is with modern stadia, however. Often built – at least in part – with public funds, the responsibility to make these buildings sustainable is stronger. The best example comes from Taiwan, in the shape of the striking World Games Stadium. Not only is Toyo Ito’s dragon design one of the most attractive and inventive used for a stadium, use of solar panels creates the effect of the creature’s scales. A total of 8,844 panels combine to provide 100 per cent of the energy required to illuminate the 50,000-seater stadium.
Following this lead, Foster and Partners developed a unique design for a stadium in Lusail, Qatar, which will host part of the 2022 World Cup. Here, the solar panels will be placed not on the stadium itself, but on the huge parking canopies that surround the structure. This web of solar cells will not only power the stadium, but also provide electricity for neighbouring buildings, showing how solar panels in architecture can be used as part of a wider community concept.
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