Mixing high-tech functionality with traditional good looks

Dark, square solar cells can look good in windows, but it took some research to find out how to make these materials that generate electricity fit into colourful, decorative glazing. Stained glass and other types of ornamental glazing brighten up many buildings. But with increasing concerns about the impact that buildings have on the environment, there’s a need to ensure that every part of the architecture contributes to a building’s energy performance, including the glazing. Putting solar cells into windows to generate electricity seems an obvious step, as adding solar cells to a building is the best way to use architecture to generate electricity. But it is tricky to fit these high-tech materials into glazing designs that also look good and let in some light.

Whilst finishing her PhD at Heriot-Watt University, Dorothy Hardy wrote a paper about her stay at Peters Glass Studios in Paderborn, Germany: a world leader in restoration of stained glass and in fitting solar cells into decorative glass. The paper describes how Dorothy used glass paint to disguise solar cells within decorative glazing designs. The trick was to surround the square cell shapes with dark paint so that when light shines through the windows, the square shapes are then disguised within patterns of paint. Adding reflective, platinum paint onto the glass behind the solar cells gave a way of hiding the backs of the solar cells whilst bouncing light back into the design. The paper is free for anyone to access from the Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning:

http://www.witpress.com/elibrary/sdp-volumes/10/6/1044

The photos here show the basic method of surrounding a solar cell with glass paint to disguise the shape once it is held up to the light, as well as the colourful window that Dorothy designed and made. This contains fluorescent dyes within the sticky, encapsulant material that hold the solar cells in place between two panes of glass.

The challenges of fitting high-tech into traditional continue with Dorothy’s work at Nottingham Trent University. Here, in the Advanced Textile Research Group, there is work on fitting electronics into textiles. This gives many possibilities for making functional devices part of clothing that looks and feels good to wear. One important area of research is to find ways of using textiles to make life easier for those with chronic medical conditions: incorporating electronic devices within clothing, so that medical devices can be disguised within comfortable and fashionable clothing.

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About Nottingham Trent University

Student blogs from the School of Art & Design and the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment.
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