PV outside, PV inside

The aesthetics of successful BIPV may be hard to define and judgements are inevitably subjective – yet most of us know instinctively when a solar building feels right for its setting and context. In this section we consider a number of examples to illustrate the wide range of recent international BIPV. Since a picture ‘ is worth a thousand words ’ in the field of visual impressions our focus is on photographs accompanied by short explanatory captions.

All PV installations are ‘outside’ in the sense that they must receive sun­light. Building facades and sloping roofs are often highly visible to the public; flat roofs are more likely to be hidden. Any PV array on public display should appeal to passers – by and bystanders as well as users and owners of a building. Its environmental statement is offered to the world at large.

Although many PV installations are visible only from the outside, some are also ‘inside’ in the sense that people within the buildings are highly aware of them, and if well designed they can both inspire and delight. Modules may be interspersed with glass windows or arranged as louvres to provide internal shade and ventilation. Some crystalline silicon modules have glass at front and back, allowing light to enter through the gaps between wafers. Thin-film modules can be semitransparent, producing partial shade and generating electricity at the same time. Modules on rooftops that are invis­ible from the outside may be highly visible on the inside – indeed, this is usually the architect’s intention. The advent of tinted and flexible thin-film products means that architects can be increasingly bold and imaginative about incorporating PV into their designs.

It is clear that aesthetic judgements should depend to a considerable extent on whether PV is on the ‘outside’ or ‘inside’. Outside, it interacts with the neighbouring buildings and the local landscape and affects a great many people, some of whom are probably sceptics. Inside, it is more self- contained and speaks only to the users of the building who, in most cases, are enthusiastic supporters of renewable energy. It may be helpful to bear these points in mind when assessing the following photographs. They are arranged in two groups labelled PV outside and PV inside. The selection is designed to show a good international range of solar buildings with differ­ent personalities, acknowledging the efforts that many architects are making to enhance the built environment by incorporating PV imaginatively into their designs.

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