Published  12/03/2002

Groves of technology

The UK-based Stanton Williams architectural practice is redeveloping Place Cornavin in Geneva: a tarmac desert in need of an oasis. The solution, Geneva-born project architect Patrick Richard has discovered, is to let high technology form the shade. Such a gateway to Geneva has the highest design profile: but a rapid solution is required, one which a slow-growing clump of plane trees might not achieve in less than a generation. So, a 12 metre high by 19 metre long roof surface will comprise glass sheets which contain photovoltaic cells in a sandwich. Light will filter through, yet solar energy will still be captured.

Over 160,000 such cells of vaguely blue tincture will act like veritable leaves, each 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres. Carbon dioxide will be consumed, and oxygen will be released. Photosynthetically, the cells will convert solar energy into electricity, feeding enough power into the city grid to fuel nearly 200 homes per year. Monsieur Hulot might be bemused, poking the ‘trees’ with his umbrella, but the trees will do away with leaf-sweeping and bagging: The city is enthusiastic, and soon every public building might sprout such ‘trees’. Geneva might just become interesting.

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