Designing with Photovoltaics

BIPV at Gensler



Photovoltaics (PV) have been utilized in buildings for decades, especially in Europe where legislative support has largely driven the market. With new energy codes pushing net zero buildings, particularly in California, PV is anticipating growth. In Los Angeles, rack-mounted PV panels on rooftops can already be seen throughout the city, however PV integrated into the facade of buildings has not yet become widely utilized. Integrating PV into the facade brings a wide set of different structural and spatial design challenges and considerations that architects are well positioned to address.


Balancing the aesthetics of the PV in terms of the appearance from the exterior and from within the interior, the transition of the PV material into the rest of the facade, and the daily experience of the users of the building.


Considering the appropriate technology and the best fit for the facade design, optimizing the amount of energy that can be generated, and addressing the operational requirements from day one throughout the building’s life.

Last and perhaps the most challenging, Logistics

Getting approval from the local government entity, coordination with engineers, manufacturers and contractors to efficiently and accurately build the PV system, and site inspections to ensure meeting the design intent.

This paper will present three types of PV on three different projects designed and built within the past five years in a case study format. The buildings selected for the case studies highlight different aspects of the design process, as well as the three types of PV installations. The first building, Biola University Lim Center for Science, Technology and Health, integrated the rooftop PV array into a key design feature - unlike many such typical installations, these are visible from the exterior of the building as well as through a skylight inside the building. The second project, C3/Culver City Creative, is a building integrated PV system (BIPV) using thin-film/amorphous PV on its South facade. Particularly noteworthy is that the technology allows vision through the modules, creating a natural lighting effect that creates a unique interior environment. The case study for C3 delves into the technical challenge of coordinating with the contractor the installation of the parts and pieces of the BIPV system. The third building, Epic is also a BIPV system, utilizing polycrystalline PV’s on the East and South facades. For Epic, there was the unique and time-sensitive challenge of getting approval from the local building officials to integrate the BIPV, while coordinating with all relevant parties during construction. All three buildings are contributing to the goal of carbon neutrality and sustainable design by generating energy on their envelope. The thoughtful integration of PV into these buildings, combined with the PV experience from the interiors, also creates a visual story or testament to the buildings’ sustainability.


Photo of Wayne Walker

Wayne Walker

Associate, Project Architect


Photo of Julia Ragragio Ruiz, LEED AP BD+C

Julia Ragragio Ruiz, LEED AP BD+C

Sustainability Strategist


Photo of Sam Crawford

Sam Crawford





The genesis for the desire to write about these projects was the realization that the Epic tower is likely the first large commercial building in the City of Los Angeles

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Case Studies

Biola University Lim Center for Science, Technology and Health

Biola System DescriptionBiola University science and technology building, finished and complete after construction. Monocrystalline solar cells seen on racks suspended above building

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Photovoltaics can be an important aspect of an approach to creating our built environment in a sustainable manner. With these projects we have illustrated aspects of the process to integrate

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The authors would like to thank the following for their assistance and support:

Biola University Lim Center for Science, Technology and Health: Rob Jernigan, David Herjeczki, Nathan Kim, Jamie Vassallo, Sung Ze Yi, Alice Lee, Sepi Salehirad, Heidi Hampton, Brian Phillips.

Culver City Creative (C3): Gene Watanabe, Peter Barsuk, Olivier Sommerhalder, Young Seop Lee, Ryan Wynn, Hayley Wong, Harry Spetnagel, Nambi Garner, Tam Tran, David Saeta.

Epic Tower: Amy Pokawatana, Peter Barsuk, David Herjeczki, Henry Mera, Anton Bakerjian, Wayne Thomas, Edgar Lopez, Huaping Young

The C3 building engineer, the Walters & Wolf company, the Hathaway Dinwiddie construction team, David Beckham from Walters & Wolf.

Rights and Permissions

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