Solar Sunflowers Light Up Electric Garden

January 11, 2010 by

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Photo courtesy Harries & Héder

When the city required Austin developers Catellus to mask an unsightly expanse of store-back loading docks in order for a large retail lot to receive a green light, they hired Massachusetts-based public art firm Harries & Héder to create a massive public art installation to accomplish the task.

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Photo by David Newsom

Comprised of 15 flower-shaped photovoltaic solar panels that line a pedestrian and bike path on the greenbelt between a retail lot and highway I-35, SunFlowers was unveiled on July 30, 2009. In such close proximity to a prominent highway, the 30-foot structures are, as Harries & Héder put it,” a highly visible metaphor for the energy-conscious city of Austin.” But because each one is a working solar collector, the art piece is both emblematic and functional.

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The energy that the panels collect during the day is used, come nightfall, to power SunFlowers’ blue LEDs, which illuminate the path below for bike-riders and walkers, generally beautifying the area. An extra 15 kilowatts generated each day is fed back into the grid and used to offset operation and maintenance costs.

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Photo by David Newsom

“One of the nice things about solar panels is that they are perfect shade devices,” says Héder. “To make a working solar panel, you want it facing directly toward the sun, which means they cast a nice shadow.” It also means that SunFlowers are working around the clock for the aesthetic and ecological betterment of the city of Austin.

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To date, this is the largest public art project in the City of Austin. SunFlowers is both an icon for the sustainable, LEED certified Mueller Development and a highly visible metaphor for the energy conscious City of Austin.

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Photo by David Newsom

The custom-made solar collector panels have a blue crystalline surface and appear like a garden of huge flowers facing the northbound traffic on I-35. On the bike path the special transparent blue gel sandwiched into the panels create shade and dappled blue light.

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  • http://bloomingwriter.blogspot.com jodi (bloomingwriter)

    Those are just the coolest things! Amazing what humans can come up with when we put our minds into a project.

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  • http://www.gardenworldreport.com Shirley Bovshow

    I love this! Thanks for posting on these great “double duty” solar panels. I always appreciate landscape features that have more than one function. I see many here,
    shade, light, sculpture. This is awesome!

    Hope all is well.
    Shirley Bovshow

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