Adaptive Solar Façade

Adaptive Solar Façade

A revolutionary façade system

There is currently a shift in the building industry towards adaptive, dynamic building envelopes that are able to utilize changing meteorological conditions throughout the day and year. The adaptive control of solar insolation results in reductions in heating/cooling loads, improvements in daylight distribution, and the generation of electricity on site (when equipped with photovoltaic modules).

The Adaptive Solar Façade (ASF), suitable for both new and existing buildings, produces electricity and regulates the generation of light and heat. The lightweight photovoltaic system thus reduces or eliminates the use of fossil fuels for electricity.

““The ASF is an innovative application taking full advantage of Flisom’s flexible lightweight thin film CIGS solar modules. It shows how easily Flisom’s modules can be adapted to different applications especially in the building integrated sector.””
Flisom AG Chief Exectuvive Officer Ulfert Rühle

Adaptation key to user comfort, lower energy consumption

The Adaptive Solar Façade is a modular, dynamic building façade. Each module has a total weight of 800 grams, and they are mounted on a cable network on the building’s façade. The current design is composed of four key elements:

  • Shading panel consisting of an aluminium substrate for the thin-film PV module
  • Soft-pneumatic actuator (solar tracking and building shading control)
  • Cantilevered mount
  • Supporting frame and cable net

The soft robotic actuator, normally used for prosthetics or biomimetic robots, controls each module individually. The modules can thus be rotated on their own or in groups, letting them adapt to changing weather conditions or user behaviour. The modules can control the light and heat inside the building, and produce electricity as well.  Furthermore, they also respond to the user’s desires and can be rotated for more or less privacy. The design ultimately offers architects new possibilities for the aesthetic integration of PV on building surfaces.

A prototype of the Adaptive Solar Façade (without PV panels) was installed in ETH Zurich’s House of Natural Resources. The ASF offers several benefits over existing building shading and photovoltaic systems:

  • Lightweight overall structure allows for easy installation anywhere (windows or roof)
  • Suitable for mass production
  • Unique architectural image and multiple design possibilities
  • Ability to adapt to its external environment to reduce building energy consumption
  • Ability to adapt to user behaviour, maximising user comfort
  • Saves 23kg C02 per square meter of building floor area per year of operation

The role of EIT Climate-KIC

The Adaptive Solar Façade has been developed with support from EIT Climate-KIC BTA and has been tested in the ETH House of Natural Resources, one of the BTA Living Labs. Project lead ETH Zürich is also a core partner of BTA.

Contact details

Professor Dr. Arno Schlueter

Institute of Technology in Architecture

ETH Zürich


Prageeth Jayathissa

ETH Zürich

Institute of Technology in Architecture

Published 19 May 2018

About BTA

Building Technologies Accelerator (BTA) is a programme by EIT Climate-KIC: the EU’s largest public private partnership addressing climate change through innovation to build a zero carbon economy.