Solar Sunflowers Light Up Electric Garden

January 11, 2010 by

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 firm Harries & Héder to create a massive public art installation to accomplish the task.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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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