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The True Power of Architecture?

by George Fergusson
We all remember when Rafael Viñoly’s ‘Walky Talky’ skyscraper first went up in London. People were less impressed by its aesthetics than by its ability to cook your breakfast – or even your car if parked in the right place.
This ‘Walky Talky’ used to feature a fryer. Left © Getty ; right © America Live
Perhaps inspired by this feat, NBBJ architects have managed to use reflected light to eliminate 60% of the shadows created by their optimistically named ‘No Shadow Tower’ through the curvature of its glass. However, it is the Californian energy firm Ubiquitous that have trumped all others with a new technology that would allow buildings to become giant solar cells, with no noticeable change in visible light.

Ubiquitous have taken a novel approach to solar cells, where they have sought to remove all evidence of the components, rather than just minimise them. They have achieved this by designing the cells to absorb only the light we cannot see, being of higher and lower frequencies than our visible spectrum. There is some cost in terms of efficiency – where a normal cell would capture 33% of light’s energy, an Ubiquitous cell only manages 10%. Yet this is more than offset by the sheer quantity of potential applications on the architecture of inner cities, the very spaces with the greatest energy demand and yet (until now) the least space in which to place have solar cells.
© Ubiquitous Energy 
As this techology becomes commercialised and further refined, it is exciting to think about what will be the implications for architectural design. How will architects respond to having such a capability to capture light for energy as opposed to merely illuminating interiors? Certainly, as architect’s design tools progress and adapt to the technology like Ubiquitous has developed, firms such as NBBJ will be there to offer some novel takes on how to generate the power to cook your breakfast!

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