Given the technological advancements of today, and the overall environmental context we are all facing, architecture has to be reconsidered. Some may argue that technologies become a way to present in the built environment and this may result in losing out of sight the important matters.
Indeed, technology advances way too rapidly and it cannot be fully understood and incorporated into the design processes. New methods and materials appear overnight, and dealing with them every single day tend to be frustrating, yet one has to consider the end goal. It is important for architecture to be adapted to answer current burning issues so that the built environment complies with both the needs and expectations of nowadays’ society. Among the technologies preferred by the construction industry to make use of renewable energy resources are photovoltaic cell panels.

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Perovskite solar cells_©

They represent one of the most reliable ways to manage renewable energy and by simply installing an array of solar panels, one can easily catch sunlight and turn it into electricity. Even so, they are only highly effective when a few key factors are considered. 

For instance, one has to determine both the size of the system and its position with respect to the building. These systems are versatile but even so, they come with certain constraints that are linked to the building’s orientation and its sun exposure. However, before incorporating solar panels into a design, one has to ask for an expert’s opinion to ensure their optimization.

For a quick glimpse on how such panels can be handled in the field of architecture, below are listed five projects that put to excellent use the technology of photovoltaic cells.

Uses in Architecture | Photovoltaic cells

1. Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability 

If one has to think of a project related to solar panels, for sure, Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability, designed by SOM, will be among the first ones to come to mind. Even though it resembles more an industrial warehouse rather than a school, the construction is, in fact, the first net-zero energy school in New York City

Together, both its roof and southern façade -covered in photovoltaic panels- succeed in harvesting enough renewable energy to supply the building with all year round. Of course, to achieve this, both the building’s orientation and its overall volume had to be carefully considered.

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Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability_©SOM

2. J. Craig Venter Institute

Completed in December 2013, J. Craig Venter Instituteor, as it is simply referred to, La Jollais one of the greenest buildings in the United States. From the very beginning, the 4,144 m2 construction was designed to have a net-zero energy footprint, a feature that was later proved by the LEED Platinum certification as well. 

Actually, the architects complied with the client’s requirements and elaborated a project that generates more energy than it consumesall the surplus being redirected back to the grid. The photovoltaic surface of the building measures about 2,427 m2, and alongside its 50,000-gallon thermal energy storage system, the project answers both energy performance and water conservation goals. 

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J. Craig Venter Institute La Jolla_©Nick Merrick

3. Denver Botanic Gardens’ Science Pyramid | Photovoltaic cells

Denver Botanic Gardens’ Science Pyramid is the perfect example to prove the adaptability of using photovoltaic cells as an integrated part of the architectural design as a whole. The 488 m2 pavilion-like structure makes itself noticed by the irregular shape in plan and the pyramid-ish volumetry. 

Being positioned in a natural setting, where the accent is put on the surrounding rather than on the built instances, the project tries to be as subtle as possible. The outer skin of the pyramid is divided into hexagonal tiles that serve different functions. Most of the honeycomb cladding elements are mere tiles, whereas some others serve as skylights or even photovoltaic cells aimed to harvest energy from the sun.

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Denver Botanic Gardens’ Science Pyramid, by BURKETTDESIGN_©

4. Nursery +E

Designed by Opus Architekten studio, in Darmstadt, the +e children’s nursery provides another valuable example of how integrating such solar energy harvesting devices can help shape the entire volume of a building. In this case, photovoltaic panels were mounted not only on the M-shaped roof of the construction but on its façade as well. 

In order to maximize their efficiency in terms of solar gain, the western façade received a jagged look. This also proves that using such technological features does not have to result in plain, monotonous volumes, rather the opposite. Solar panels come with their design constraints, and architects have to make the most out of their use. 

Nursery +E, by Opus Architekten_©Eibe Sönnecken

5. Endesa Pavilion | Photovoltaic cells

Using the parametric design, the possibilities of integrating solar panels in architectural projects become almost endless. Photovoltaic surfaces come, indeed, with specific requirements that are directly translated in the way the building looks or even how it is positioned on the plot. However, restrictions like these may be overcome if one turns to parametric design methods. 

Endesa Pavilion is one such example, where the exterior aspect of the project came as a direct result of a parametric computation. Designed by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, the sharp-cornered envelope responds to the need of maximizing panels’ sun exposure, hence their performance. 

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All in all, today’s buildings have to comply with the general environmental context surrounding each and every one of us. Architecture should no longer be about the object in itself, but about the way in which it responds to the ambiance around so as to create the most for the users inside. 

This, however, does not imply architecture and its aesthetic qualities come second in the equation, but they all have to be considered holistically as an integrated part of the entire. Therefore, architects have to be aware of the impact their creations have on the environment and consider minimizing the negative repercussions for a better tomorrow.



Ștefan is a resourceful and professional young architect. Thirsty for innovation and knowledge, he is always willing to share his passions with the ones around. He finds himself intrigued by the tinniest of wonders and considers words just another material to build up with endless, brand-new possibilities.