Handre de la Rey and Inge de Beer of DG international Architects (Franschhoek branch) and 20eight Design were honoured as recipients of the grand prize for architecture and innovation for the sea as well as the special LAB award for their project Solar Cell by the prestigious Jacques Rougerie Foundation international competition in architecture 2023 held at the academie des beaux arts in Paris.
It is simply impossible for human beings to understand the concept of time in relation to the existence of stone/-hill/-mountain/-cliff/-sea/-earth- and the history of the universe. The proposed architectural intervention revolves around finding a mutual harmony between all elements whilst envisioning a state-of-the-art aesthetic that can primarily promote the integration of sea eco-design. Solar Cell explores two key connectors of marine environments and the vast possibilities of energy or natural resources saving properties they possess: Salt & Sun. It will serve as a model for alternative resource supply with core focus on preserving and studying its direct environment.
Solar cell is based on the implementation of an autonomous system founded on the immense availability of the gloriously saline rich depths of the ocean. By converting sunlight to heat and storing it in molten salt it can supply, and store electricity and make it available on demand any time—day or night. This form of energy creation is inexpensive, available for commercial-scale needs and most importantly it is non–fossil fuel driven and has a very low impact on the environment.
The vessel, stabilised by the hydrostatic performance of a system of ballast tanks, has a central needle mimicking the formation of DNA systems (since water is life) stimulating the dynamic flow that eases throughout both X and Y axis, carrying salt up from the ocean to its respective locations. Atop the structure is a multifunctional shell that serves as a solar canvas this solar system then heats up an immense tank full of sodium and potassium nitrates that are pumped up to the top of the tower. When electricity is needed, the hot salt is used to boil water and produce high-temperature, high-pressure steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. The benefit of using molten salt as both the energy collector that creates steam and the energy storage mechanism, however, is that it eliminates the need for expensive heat exchangers to go between different fluids.
The fortunate by product of this system is fresh water, since water is life the water then becomes the literal core of the cell as a large freshwater waterfall. The waterfall creates a freshwater pool around which various essential crops and other nutrient rich landscaping beds are planted. Around this self-sustaining central environment canvas skinned pods rest serving as but not limited to shelter, storage, and research facilities to the user. The model can serve large ships or smaller research vessels in the open or deep ocean where they can restock on said quintessential resources, as well as serve as a long stay base well equipped with the fundamentals to those dedicated to discovering, documenting, and exploring marine environments. On coastlines it can become a pod that supplies fresh water, crops and electricity to neighbouring coastal towns as well as a vessel that can accommodate inhabitants or researchers.
Along with its futuristic architectural aesthetic, innovative sustainable energy creation and self-sufficiency, the Solar Cell’s application possibilities are endless.