Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Now For Something Controversial

We’ve been looking at a lot of net zero, near net zero, and Passive House buildings over the past year or so to learn lessons and get inspired for the One Planet Reno. One thing you cannot help but notice on many of these projects is the predominant PV and solar thermal panels often times extending past the building envelope. New building projects often feature oversized roofs or even (heaven forbid) monster garages to give the owners sufficient roof space to meet their loads. As committed greenies and green power advocates the sight of a prominent solar panel is always a welcome sight, but we certainly recognize that this is far from being a universally appealing aesthetic. We have also questioned whether this is going to quickly look dated as new thin film technology and building integrated systems come in the market making solar sleeker, less obvious, and more aesthetically flexible. Is today’s solar panel going to look like the equivalent of a Commodore 64 plopped on the roof as the defining architectural feature in a decade?
We need to be additionally sensitive to this issue as the One Planet Reno is located in an existing heritage neighbourhood where there are some resident sensitivities about maintaining the heritage character of the neighbourhood. Something about a large PV array that doesn’t quite scream heritage to us. We’re not slavish to heritage-based design, and will end up with a modern looking house with heritage elements, but we are looking for ways to be appealing to our new neighbours and recognize their concerns.
So our answer to this issue is to load the panels primarily up on the back half of the roof (effectively the 4th story). From our side of the street the panels will not be readily visible, and from the other side of the street they certainly will not be the predominant visual feature. We’re hoping there will still be some significant green cues that draw attention to our sustainability aspirations, while crafting a design that will have lasting resonance.
For an illustration of solar with some questionable aesthetics see below.

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