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Charged: Solaire Generation

The New York firm transforms parking structures into solar power plants

by David Graver
on 10 March 2014

Depending on where you live, parking lots can either feel like a terrific waste of space or woefully inadequate for city needs. Still, they are everywhere, not to mention a critical component of urban planning. Since 2008, Solaire Generation has been busy reimagining parking structures in an innovative, powerful way. The firm, founded by architect Laurence Mackler, has developed a series of renewable energy products which are installed within and atop parking structures around the globe, essentially transforming parking lots into power plants. From initial design and engineering to fabrication and installation, Solaire is a full-service shop when it comes to sustainable energy solutions.

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Mackler went into architecture wanting to make an impact on society and, particularly, the environment. It wasn't long before he realized he could make a far greater impact by focusing his efforts on the energy realm. "Parking lots were not on the energy market at the time, but I saw a potential for the elegance of architecture to join with the production of power," he explains to CH. He notes that "architecture is always a blend of engineering, ingenuity and functionality—where form meets aesthetics." For Mackler, the final element was economics. "It's often a complaint, and sometimes a mystery to architects," he shares before emphasizing that Solaire's work directly impacts the longterm economics of the locations they work with.

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The numbers to date are impressive: 4,600 homes have been powered with energy Solaire's driven from the sun. There are 23,100 Solaire parking spaces across the US, comprising more than 14 miles of photovoltaic (PV) canopy. Earlier this month, Solaire notched Best Solar Project honors at the Solar Power Generation conference in San Diego for their designs for the recently opened Whole Foods Market in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus. Solaire's solar canopies alone were able to generate roughly 25% of the store's energy needs. The store's parking lot, featuring six of Solaire's canopies, is the largest solar parking system in all of New York City.

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Their boldest project yet, the firm has designed an all-encompassing new model for transportation and power called the Solaire Power Park. Employing integrated PV as well as carport and roof-top paneling, the design also delivers both geothermal and solar energy. Beyond providing energy security, there are battery storage elements and grid resilience. And on top of it all, it's a well designed transportation center with eco pavement that limits wastewater runoff into storm drains, prevents erosion and utilizes recycled materials. Electric vehicle charging is also integrated, rounding out a green architectural vision of the near future.

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To create such designs, Mackler instructs his employees to delve deep into the mundane and ordinary, and leave with something extraordinary. "If you have an imagination, you'll ultimately have to be informed on how to execute it," he says. "But if you begin with all the information, you don't necessarily have the ability to search your imagination."

Images courtesy of Solaire Generation

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