Adaptive Solar Facade (ASF)

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ASF prototype mounted on the facade of the House of Natural Resources at ETH Zurich
Category Building
Duration 2011 – ongoing
Funding Own funds & EU Climate KIC (since 2014)
A/S Team A. Schlueter, Z. Nagy, B. Svetozarevic, P. Jayathissa, G. Lydon, M. Begle, J. Hofer, D. Rossi

The building facade greatly impacts how much heat has to be added or removed in order to retain a comfortable indoor climate. Given that these processes vary throughout the year, the A/S Research Team has developed an adaptive solar facade. The project combines recent developments in architecture, energy technology and robotics. It is the largest object showcasing soft robotics in architecture.

The delicate, movable photovoltaic modules can be mounted onto a lightweight structure on the building envelope. Thus, they are suited for both restoration and new construction projects. Their reduced weight also allows them to be installed in places not suited for conventional solar systems. However, the modules are not only lightweight and flexible, they are rather multifunctional. Aside from energy production, they offer shading and daylight control for the interior as well as individual adjustments to the view by the occupant. The facade is also equipped to store energy: In the case of excess energy, the excess is transformed into pressurised air, which can be stored and used to adjust the movable modules at a later stage, for example in bad weather when no energy is generated. The facade features a varied, dynamic appearance with modules continuously reacting to changes in their environment.

ASF module detail  
Detail of the ASF module
Detail of the SoRo Track actuator  
Detail of the SoRo Track actuator

ASF is not considered as an isolated element, but rather as an integral part of the overall building system. The efficiency of the system depends on the interplay of the facade with other components of the building technologies such as lighting, heating, and ventilation. Solar radiation, for example, can be used to pre-heat the interior space or the facade can offer partial shading while some modules still allow indirect light to enter the room and be reflected from the ceiling thus reducing the need for artificial lighting.

In order to study the adaptive facade under real-life conditions, a first prototype was implemented on the south-facing facade of the HoNR (House of Natural Resources) on the ETH Zurich campus. With the research project focusing on both energy optimization and user comfort, the evaluation of the prototype relies not only on sensors in the interior space (temperature, air humidity, light) but also on regular surveys to assess user satisfaction.

A second prototype is currently being implemented as part of NEST – the future living and working lab on the Empa-Eawag campus in Dübendorf, Switzerland. Additional information is provided under NEST HiLo.

Selected Publications

  • Svetozarevic, Bratislav, Zoltan Nagy, Johannes Hofer, Dominic Jacob, Moritz Begle, Eleni Chratzi, and Schlueter Arno. "SoRo-Track: A Two-Axis Soft Robotic Platform for Solar Tracking and Building-Integrated Photovoltaic Applications," in: Conference Proceedings 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Stockholm, Sweden (2016): 4945 - 4950.  DOI   E-Citations
  • Jayathissa, Prageeth, Michiel Jansen, Niko Heeren, Zoltán Nagy, and Arno Schlueter. "Life Cycle Assessment of Dynamic Building Integrated Photovoltaics," in: Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells 156 (2016): 75-82.  DOI  E-Citations
  • Nagy, Zoltán, Bratislav Svetozarevic, Prageeth Jayathissa, Moritz Begle, Johannes Hofer, Gearoid Lydon, Anja Willmann, and Arno Schlueter. "The Adaptive Solar Facade: From concept to prototypes," in: Frontiers of Architectural Research 5 (2016): 143-156.  DOI
  • Hofer, Johannes, Bratislav Svetozarevic, Zoltán Nagy, and Arno Schlueter. "DC Building Network and Storage for BIPV Integration," Paper presented at the CISBAT 2015, Lausanne, Switzerland, 9.-11. September 2015.  E-Citations
  • Jayathissa, Prageeth, Zoltán Nagy, N. Offeddu, and Arno Schlueter. "Numerical Simulation of Energy Performance, and Construction of the Adaptive Solar Façade," Paper presented at the Advanced Building Skins, Graz, Austria, April 2015.  E-Citations
  • Rossi, Dino, Zoltán Nagy, and Arno Schlueter. "Soft Robotics for Architects: Integrating Soft Robotics Education in an Architectural Context," in: Soft robotics 1.2 (2014): 147-153.  DOI  E-Citations
  • Rossi, Dino, Zoltán Nagy, and Arno Schlueter. "Adaptive Distributed Robotics for Environmental Performance, Occupant Comfort and Architectural Expression," in: International Journal of Architectural Computing 10.3 (2012): 341-360.  DOI  E-Citations

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