Pioneering stained glass windows provide solar energy

September 27, 2007

Mention solar energy and people often think of individual roof-mounted panels. Mention stained glass and people think of traditional windows in churches. Not too many people would think to combine them, but artist Sarah Hall has done this and more, with the first stained glass installation in North America to utilize solar cells.

The stained glass is the central element of a wind tower that will complete a new $10 million, 28,000-square-foot theology library at Regent College on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, Canada. The library officially opens September 29.

Regent's aerodynamic 40-foot wind tower was designed by architect Clive Grout as a natural ventilation system for the underground library building and a functional symbol of the college's commitment to a sustainable environment. The engineering for this tower was both innovative and elegant; Hall's task was to bring further beauty and interest to the tower, while continuing the theme of alternative energy.

At the heart of the glass design, titled "Lux Nova," is a luminous column of light, flowing like a waterfall in silvery blue, violet and white. Included in this column is an array of solar cells that will collect energy during the day and use it for nighttime illumination -- acting as a beacon for the surrounding park. Arranged within the design are 12 dichroic glass crosses, creating an ever-changing rainbow of color. Woven through the flowing waterfall of light is the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic.

"The tower and art glass installation are a perfect expression of our values," said the college's president Rod Wilson. "Regent College, an international graduate school of Christian studies, has a rich history of seeking to integrate faith into all spheres of life. The tower is a poignant symbol of this commitment, an interplay of technological innovation with the ever-changing beauty of wind, light and color and the everlasting words of the Lord's Prayer."

Solar cells are a nearly perfect energy source, as they generate electricity without emitting harmful greenhouse gases. Being durable, they can transform a glass façade into a clean, long-lasting energy source. Inspired by the vast and attractive energy-collecting facades she said she saw in Europe, Hall began to incorporate them into her art glass.

Physicist and activist Ursula M. Franklin, C.C., FRSC, writes: "Sarah Hall's new windows illuminate, but they also create light. Incorporating photovoltaic cells, her installation bestows a double gift: beauty and helpfulness. What more can we wish for?"

Sarah Hall, an Anglican from Toronto, is an architectural glass artist who is renowned for pioneering imaginative projects in Canada, the United States and overseas. The windows incorporate techniques such as fusing, airbrushing, tempering, lamination and sandblasting. These techniques give the windows a light, lyrical quality -- along with breath-taking color.

The windows were created in collaboration with Glasmalerei Peters of Paderborn, Germany, where she works. "Stained glass has a thousand-year history," she says. "Using solar energy is one way of bringing new technology to an art form that most people consider traditional and unchanging. However, tradition is not for keeping the ashes -- but the fire alive. By forging art with a source of energy we create a powerful image of how we can live in this world."

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