John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A Roman concept building would eliminate one of the major problems of solar panels – immobility.
Solar panels are fantastic and all, but they still have one major problem: Being immobile, they only catch a portion of the day's direct sunlight.
Some manufacturers have experimented with putting the panels on moveable mounts that obey an astronomical algorithm, so that they track the blazing star across the heavens to maximize efficiency. In Italy, architects Paolo Venturella and Angelo Balducci have gone one step further: They've designed an entire building whose segments bend and stretch in the sun's direction, squeezing out every possible photon from the earth's ultimate energy-giver.
Their whimsical construction, called the Twilt Tower (because it twists and tilts), would rest on the outskirts of Rome looking like Thor hurled a jagged thunderbolt deep into the ground. Its body would incorporate five main slabs that overlap like a line of fallen dominoes. When dawn comes, it would already be facing in the direction of the sunrise. But by noon, the tower would have rearranged its sections to receive the full brunt of the sun's rays, like an immense flower in the ecstasy of photosynthesis.
The architects intended the Twilt Tower to be a criticism of Rome's tallest skyscraper, the controversial Eurosky Tower, which also includes photovoltaic elements. That building is a "boring box" with solar panels stacked on top looking like they were "not designed for the tower itself," they complain. Not so with the Twilt (apologies, this translation is lacking finesse):
The idea of tilting and rotating the panels towards the solar rays, to allow direct sun radiation during the whole day, deforms the building making the idea and the architecture a unique thing. The outcome is a fabulous cutting edge design that demonstrates how a building can express a concept in a contemporary rather futuristic way. Far from academic visions where the new is not accepted, far from wrong interpretation of the history of architecture that made became the city of Rome from the most vanguardist city in the world to the most obsolete, we propose a new revolutionary design to allow the city of Rome to find again its own old splendor, leading it to a new pioneering city as it was in the passed century. Rome was not built in a day, lets make it born again!
This fantastic bit of visionary architecture will probably not get built – not in this century, anyway – but its heart is in the right place. Venturella has actually devised of several of these architectural chimeras, such as a photovoltaic-cell-cladded events venue shaped vaguely like a Möbius strip and a solar-powered mosque that looks like the Fat Man atomic bomb. Some of his non-solar projects, for what it's worth, include a tubelike building that droops like a lazy anaconda into the water and a "global city" that would enshrine the entire planet in a bucky-ball.
Here are a few renderings of the Twilt doing its thing: