In April 2022, pharmaceutical giant Novartis opened its latest addition to its campus on the banks of the Rhine: an exhibition space that presents the wonders of science and medicine to the general public.
The Milan-based firm AMDL CIRCLE and Italian designer Michele De Lucchi were responsible for the project, conceiving a sustainable, futuristic building, both in terms of design and construction. What makes this building truly unique is its zero-energy light-up façade, which transforms the Pavilion into a digital art show every day at sunset.
An intelligent solar energy solution
iart, a Swiss media architecture studio, was in charge of the design, development and implementation of the entire façade. They were assisted by Asca, a French manufacturer that produces organic photovoltaic (OPV) film. Their solar solution — the product of years’ worth of R&D — makes any surface energetically active, regardless of its shape or material. In short, photoactive cells, which are composed of polymers derived from organic chemistry, are printed on flexible PET films. The individual layers of the film are continuously coated using a high-speed roll-to-roll coating process that combines coating and laser structuring steps. These are then encapsulated in a barrier film. In this way, Asca produces flexible, ultra-lightweight solar modules that are tailored to specific individual requirements.
For the Novartis project, Asca developed and produced over 10,000 diamond and triangle-shaped modules in 10 different sizes. Embedded in polycarbonate, they’re designed to fit the 1,333 m² round structure seamlessly.
A second skin with multiple dimensions
The solar mesh powers over 30,000 LEDs that broadcast content created by artists who are inspired by science and innovation. The light from the LEDs is reflected on the metallic shell of the façade, which mirrors the light rays towards the ASCA® modules. The transparent ASCA® modules allow the light to shine outwards, and it’s this play of light that brings the art to life. The custom-designed modules are extremely light-sensitive and generate energy from light coming from all directions, even in low-light conditions. This maximises production across a full day, from sunrise to sunset.
“This media façade is a great example of how we can integrate renewable energy into buildings without compromising on architecture. By reinventing architecture, we’re convinced that our tailor-made technology is the present and future of the solar façade,” says Hermann Issa, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Project Management at Asca.
Additive manufacturing and innovative materials for a safe building
To prevent electrical hazards and cable compression issues, 16,000 custom-made “cable guides” were manufactured using 3D printing and integrated into the OPV modules’ electrical protection covers. The parts were made of the 3D filament Kimya PETG-S, a polymer in the saturated polyester family, which was selected for its resistance to high temperatures and water-repellent qualities — these characteristics make it perfectly suited for the weather conditions a building façade will experience.