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Vancouver Wind Tower Employs Photovoltaics

Credits: ©2010 Sarah Hall Studio

Twelve thermopane, stained-glass windows designed by Toronto's artist Sarah Hall were installed in a Wind Tower on the University of British Columbia campus, and now illuminate the campus both literally and spiritually. The six-foot by two-foot panes, part of a theological library built for the university's Regent College, feature an Aramaic version of the Lord's Prayer etched into the glass. But while the artist hopes it will inspire spiritual reflection, the glass also serves a more earthly purpose, transferring the light that passes through it into energy that powers the lighting system of the 12-metre tower itself. "It really is a revolutionary thing. I think people are going to think of energy in a whole new way," Ms. Hall said from her west-end Toronto studio last week (2006). "It's going to engage people who perhaps wouldn't just be engaged by the art. You'll find engineers and ecologists and even theologians, who might be inspired by it." Ms. Hall's windows were the first North American project constructed from photovoltaic glass, which can collect and transfer solar power.


UBC Regent Wind Tower Dusk

At the entrance to Regents College at UBC is a multi-purpose sculpture, light source, and solar cell which provides light to the Regent College Library underneath. ©2010 DJ Greer

The tower contains 43.8 square metres of photovoltaic glass that was made in Germany. In Europe, Ms. Hall has seen photovoltaic material integrated into the roofs and facades of buildings, and more recently embraced as an architectural material in its glass form.

Ms. Hall began experimenting with the material in 2004, and received an Ontario Arts Council grant to continue her research.

The UBC tower was her first photovoltaic project and incorporates various layers of glass melding the design's environmental, artistic and spiritual elements.

The outer layer is a clear panel of photovoltaic glass, which is wired to an inverter that will transfer the solar power into a battery and then to the tower's LED lighting system.

Behind that is another pane in which Ms. Hall etched the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, an element inspired by the library's religious manuscripts and the fact that the tower itself is oriented to the North Star. "When I heard that, the phrase 'Our Father, who art in heaven,' just popped into my head," she said.

Behind that is a waterfall of light in blues and greens, colours which Ms. Hall said work well in the West Coast light.

"The light is really different out in Vancouver," she said. "It doesn't take well to the oranges and reds. It's a silvery kind of light, so the blues and greens and turquoises work well."

The 12 panels are 0.6 metres high and 1.8 metres wide, and were shipped to B.C. by boat in the summer.

"They weigh an absolute ton because they're thermal panes," she said. "They're also safety glass -- they meet every code you can possibly imagine. They're basically kind of vandal proof."

The tower itself, which is also made entirely of glass, was constructed in Vancouver, designed by architect Clive Grout.

"The tower is open to the inside of the library, so you get a wonderful flood of colour and light down inside," she said.

Ms. Hall said the tower will be the most visible art project at the university, and she hopes it will inspire other public institutions to explore the possibilities of the magical material.

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

Solar Cells
Photovoltaic art glass merges the ancient art of stained glass with the latest solar technology to produce a window that not only looks magnificent, but also gathers and stores electricity for later use.

Embedded in the tower’s window is an array of solar cells (thin silicon and metal squares that convert light into electricity), and these collect enough energy to illuminate the wind tower’s beautifully coloured LED lighting system, also designed by artist Sarah Hall.

Solar cells are a nearly perfect energy source, as they generate electricity without emitting harmful greenhouse gases. And because they are so durable they can transform nearly any surface into a clean, long-lasting energy source. Moreover, they come in a wide range of colors, allowing an unlimited range of designs.

Radiant Heating and Cooling
The mechanical system of the Regent College Library is based on the concept of a radiant heating and cooling system installed within the concrete structure which forms the ceiling of the library. Tempered fresh air is introduced at low velocities to the library through a series of floor diffusers with natural ventilation exhausting the air through a 40 foot high “wind tower” located on the roof of the library.

Natural ventilation through the windtower is achieved by making use of the natural pressure differences surrounding the building, caused by the wind and stack effect. Air movement within the building will depend on buoyance (thermal forces), stack and wind pressures.

The aerodynamically designed wind tower provides natural ventilation, reduces fan power requirements and increases the energy efficiency of the mechanical systems.

From Cobalt Engineering:

Cobalt provided mechanical engineering services for the design of the Regent College library expansion to increase the size two-and-a-half times. Key design features included locating the high thermal mass building completely underground to take advantage of stable ground temperatures. The existing aquifer system from the neighbouring building, was used to provide free cooling for the library. Once the water has finished cooling the 3-storey building, it is then used to cool the library using a heat exchanger.

This project took the Net-Zero design approach originally intending to use solar panels to produce hot water for the heating system . A radiant heating and cooling slab system was selected to provide optimal thermal comfort. The aquifer provides a source of free cooling, while a high efficiency boiler provides the heating source. To create a healthy learning environment, a displacement ventilation system was installed.

Using 100% fresh outdoor air, this system takes advantage of the natural stack effect using an above ground wind tower equipped with photovoltaics for lighting. Skylights were combined with reflective pools to maximize daylighting. This progressive underground library serves as an excellent example of sustainability in action and educates students, staff, and visitors about the importance of making more sustainable choices.

Artist Sarah Hall
Sarah Hall’s new work, integrated into the wind tower is the first installation of photovoltaic art glass in North America.

Commissioned by Regent College, at UBC, the window combines beauty and function to present a powerful message about art, science, and social responsibility.

Embedded in the tower’s window is an array of solar cells, thin silicon and metal squares that convert light into electricity. These collect enough energy to illuminate the wind tower’s beautifully coloured LED lighting system, also designed by the artist.

Dichroic Glass is created by plating very thin layers of metal oxides onto a layer of glass in a vacuum chamber. The combined thickness of all of these layers is less than five millionths of an inch, but together they transform the glass into a rich and varied visual celebration. They do this by creating a “dielectric interference filter” - a sort of selective colour mirror - that perfectly reflects or transmits specified colours.

Those colours that are reflected are perceived by the viewer on one side of the glass, while all of the rest of the light passes through the glass and presents another colour to the other side of the glass. Here it is used as a striking design element, forming the 12 coloured crosses in the window.

The most well-known prayer in the Western world is without a doubt the one Jesus of Nazareth taught his disciples. “The Lord’s Prayer,” as it has been called for twenty centuries now, was first prayed in Aramaic, the “heart language” of the people of first-century Palestine. It is now prayed in hundreds of languages all over the globe. Whether in the face of suffering, or in moments of victory, the words of the “our Father in heaven” have lifted human hearts upward.

Ms. Hall spent some time with the wider Regent College community to get a flavour for the unique spirit found within its walls and beyond. Reflecting upon her time, she envisioned a waterfall. Out of that vision she created a watercolor painting and incorporated the words to the Lord's Prayer atop of it.

Overlapping all these components, the state-of-the-art True North Wind Tower is sure to be a focal point of attraction for many as they pass through the beautiful park.


  UBC Language of Light Article (139 kb)

  UBC Regent Wind Tower Award (237 kb)

  UBC Wind Tower PVs (125 kb)