New Light

Artist Sarah Hall incorporates photovoltaic cells into glass art for aesthetics and energy use.
24 March 2008
By Beth Kelley

The 40-foot tall wind tower sitting on the campus of Regent College, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, at first seems like a fairly innovative architectural design for ventilating the underground library on campus. But closer inspection reveals solar panels embedded within the stained glass structure, creating a piece of art that also provides power for its LED nighttime display and other electrical needs.

This functional piece of art/architecture was created by glass artist Sarah Hall. The wind tower, titled True North/Lux Nova (Latin for new light), involved "interdisciplinary aspects of photovoltaic engineering and the generation of light," according to Hall. It integrates a variety of techniques in glass art, as well as new techniques for processing solar cells.

Hall says she got the inspiration for this project while working in Germany. "I saw many beautifully designed and vast photovoltaic (energy gathering) facades for buildings. They were using technologies and building ideas we have not seen in North America. The fact that these facades were also glass windows made me think of the idea to integrate the photovoltaic technology with my art glass."

"My project required areas of transparent glass and uses a patented process with a specially formulated resin," explains Hall. "The solar cells are embedded between two panes of glass which have exceptionally high light transmittance and which have been heat-strengthened. However, the solar cells themselves are the same as many others on the market." The solar cells are also colored, truly becoming an integrated part of the artwork.

In 2004 Hall received a Chalmers Arts Fellowship research grant from the Ontario Arts Council to support her initial research into integrating art glass and photovoltaic technology. The tower was completed in Fall of 2007.

Dr. Ingo Hagemann, an architect from Aachen, Germany, and expert in building integrated photovoltaics, was a major resource for Hall during this project. She was also assisted by Dr. Ray Cole at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and architect Tjerk Reijenga in the Netherlands. Christof Erban at Saint Gobain Glass Solar in Aachen, Germany worked with Hall to develop and engineer the special panels needed for True North/Lux Nova. Hall also picked the brains of Josef Ayoub and Dr. Yves Poissant of the CANMET-Energy Technology Centre of Natural Resources Canada throughout her research and development of the piece.

In addition to gathering energy for a building, solar cells can shade and filter strong south, east or west light. This reduces and can even eliminate the need for air conditioning.

"Combined with art glass we can create facades which are exciting and beautiful from both the interior and exterior of a building. This gives the clients both a green image and a very distinct identity," says Hall.

Hall feels True North/Lux Nova is a big step in integrating photovoltaic energy into contemporary architecture in an aesthetic way. "Part of the learning experience wasn't just how to create the art glass and cells, but how to put them together architecturally."

Sarah Hall has done other art projects using photovoltaic cells. Her stained glass window "Northern Light" was included in Canada's entry into the Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., held last year from 12-20 October. The team placed in the top ten designs. In 2008 Hall is beginning work on two new projects with integrated photovoltaic and art glass; one is Camus Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, the other is the Jacob Burns Film Center in Westchester, New York.

For more information about Sarah Hall's work, visit her website at  

More articles about True North/Lux Nova and the intersection of art and optics can be found in the April 2008 issue of SPIE Professional magazine. SPIE Member log-in is required to read the full text of articles in SPIE Professional.

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