The times when solar cells and modules were plain, dark-blue, rigid, and difficult to customize are long gone. In the last couple of years, the solar – or photovoltaic (PV) – field has experienced, thanks to scientific advancement and the introduction of new materials, both a technical and creative revitalization. Today, a variety of solar modules with unique colours, shapes, and patterns are available. Taking solar design one step further, it is possible to create new compositions by working with a manifold of solar material combinations that make solar modules adaptable, even foldable, and provide them with elegant matte, shiny, or see-through finishes. Architecture benefits from this as possibilities to enhance the aesthetic qualities of buildings’ facades increase while at the same time they can benefit from generating local renewable energy.
Photovoltaic modules are typically produced using a thermo-chemical lamination process. The solar cells and the conductive elements are encapsulated in an EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) layer. They are protected from humidity and mechanical influences by a front glass and a back sheet foil. Each layer can be adapted for design purposes: The front glass layer can be replaced with textured, printed, or coated glass or foils of different colours and transparency. This way, it is possible to alter or completely hide the solar cells’ otherwise rather technical appearance. Furthermore, as shown in this exhibition, PV cells today exist in multiple colours and shapes and can be cut depending on individual needs and requirements. Their placement and the density within the module represent an additional design possibility.
The context of this exhibition is the Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) Workshop, organized by our chair at ETH Zurich, in March 2021. The hands-on exploratory workshop for Bachelor and Master students focused on using photovoltaics to create solar building materials, utilizing the new arising degrees of design freedom. After input lectures by leading researchers, practitioners, and industry, each participant became familiar with the material components of a photovoltaic module and simple tools to test and evaluate its performance. Additionally, in teams of two, participants built their prototypes, scaled up their design modules graphically, and applied them to existing building volumes.