Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Shape of Sunlight's Heavy Lifting

I had the pleasure last week of helping my CASE colleagues prepare and transfer a prototype of the Integrated Concentrated (IC) Solar Facade system to the Syracuse Center of Excellence which officially opened on Friday. The machine is aesthetically and scientifically striking. Solar radiation is focused through a tracking Fresnel lens onto a PV cell, combined with a water flow heat sink. The energy effect is the generation of accessible electricity and hot water; the visual effect is both a focusing and a diffusing of sunlight combined with a pattern of dissolved inverted imagery through the lensed pyramids alternating with a simple view through the window. 

IC Solar is envisioned as an integrated building component. As such the value judgements about energy use are worn boldly in view. Cultural statements about our relationship with fuel combined with workable approaches will be part of our generation's architectural heritage. As we use technology in attempts to deal with environmental problems created by technology, the visual element will be a constructive tool in stoking the polemic.

Sunlight feels so clean but concentrating it is still a grimy business. For me, the heavy lifting was a welcome change from sitting in front of a computer every day, and the afternoons spent wielding solder guns and screw drivers were satisfying. It was amusing after my recent amateur electronics kick to be handed an LED display to put together, and driving a 20 foot Ryder truck through winding mountain roads in the middle of the night with precious cargo is a thrill despite the exhaustion and discomfort. This project has been many years in the making and I can only claim three days of wrapping up loose ends on the current version, but it's inspiring to see something so complex take real shape.

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