Solar Apposite

Southern California is essentially heliotropic: its reputation, lifestyle and “dream” have always followed the sun. Recently, its sun-inspired destiny received a boost from lawmakers when the California Energy Commission adopted standards that require solar power systems for new housing starting in 2020 – an unprecedented decision that will evolve architecture and design here, and thereby influence the nation.

The Commission’s reference to solar systems recognizes the array of solutions that are in development for the residential market. The days of merely attaching rectangular panels to an existing structure are behind us (although Tesla and IKEA both produce such traditional hardware). Below are a just a few pioneering solar designs that have the potential to create an exciting, new – and at times, kinetic – architectural language for contemporary homes as well as to maintain the aesthetic integrity of some of the Southland’s most beloved styles.

Gilles Paire / Shutterstock

For La Seine Musicale, a performing arts center in Paris’ western suburbs, architects Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines designed a glass, ovoid auditorium partially enveloped by a massive triangular sail sheathed in solar cells. Mounted on rails, the sail follows the path of the sun, fully capturing the day’s light while also shading the performance hall’s interior. On a residential scale, a similar system could be incorporated into a sleek mountain-top lair, desert compound or multi-home development.

Image courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez.
Lumen by Jenny Sabin Studio for the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1’s Young Architect’s Program 2017.

“Lumen,” an immersive, interactive structure designed by Jenny Sabin Studio, weaves an intricate canopy with pendant tubular forms made of photo-luminescent textiles. These delicate, knitted “fabric stalactites” harvest solar energy to produce light as well as host a misting system to cool the air – just what Angelenos need to soften the arid Santa Ana winds.

Image courtesy of Caventou. Photo by Wai Ming Ng.

Inventor Marjan van Aubel’s company, Caventou, has developed colored pieces of glass that generate electricity from daylight. These translucent dye-sensitized solar cells can power appliances inside the home. Imagine these materials seamlessly used for craftsman- inspired stained-glass windows or as decorative tiles gracing a Spanish Mission-style home.

With these and other inspiring solutions on the horizon, we are in the dawn of a new solar era in residential architecture.