The best architects continually try new things, rather than getting stuck and pigeon-holed in a box. That's true of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban -- best known for his earlier experiments with innovative materials like cardboard and recently, for winning the Priztker, architecture's top prize, for his dedication to humanitarian work.
Yet, he's not just the "cardboard tube architect"; he's also done tall projects out of timber, and recently completed this new theatre building in Paris, France that features a mobile 'sail' of solar panels that follows the sun throughout the day.
Done in collaboration with French architect Jean de Gastines, the solar-powered Seine Musicale is a round music venue located in Paris’ western suburbs, on the Île Seguin. It is a multi-purpose concert hall with enough seating for 5,500 in two separate main areas, as well as five recording studios and practice rooms, and a huge rooftop garden with over a dozen different tree species.
But probably the most prominent element is the 200-ton, 45-metre (147-foot) mobile solar 'sail', a heliotropic surface that automatically tracks the sun's path at a rate of 5 metres (16 feet) per minute, maximizing solar power generation, while also providing extra shading to the interior spaces behind. The idea of this "great ship" was to reinforce the city's sustainable image, says Ban:
This environmentally friendly sail will ultimately become a new identity for the complex. It is expected to become a new symbol as the western gate into Paris.
Inside, we see the massive timber structure that supports the glass skin.
Further in, the ceiling of 1,150-seat classical music auditorium is made out of hexagonal, acoustical elements that builds upon Ban's previous experiments in cardboard. As Ban explains:
Inside, we have adopted a more angular geometry than the egg-shaped exterior in order to answer the acoustic questions we faced. We’ve developed a ceiling made of an assembly of tubes of small sections of wood, cardboard and paper, and weaved wooden slats cover the walls. These materials were used because we were looking for a warm atmosphere. The suspended ceiling will generate a set of shadows in the room in response to the lighting – so before each concert spectators can appreciate the room during the moments of waiting for the music to begin.
This project is an impressive feat of design and engineering that took four years to complete. We're probably more used to the idea of solar sails on spacecraft, but as the technology for photovoltaics and sensors improves and becomes cheaper, we may see these cutting-edge solar tech strategies increasingly incorporated into more ordinary buildings. To see more, visit Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines.