The typical wind turbine keeps getting bigger. One recent design is more than 700 feet tall and can power over 7,500 homes. The bigger the towers are, the less likely some people want them nearby (like in Cape Cod, where residents have been fighting offshore wind power for years because it affects the view). But what if wind power could be incorporated directly into buildings, in a way that actually made the buildings look better?
There are a couple of catches: It’s hard for smaller generators be as efficient as a giant tower, and wind power usually doesn’t as work well in cities, where surrounding buildings tend to block the breeze. But in certain cases—like buildings located directly on the coast—a new design from TU Delft architecture student Murtada Alkaabi might make a lot of sense.
The design uses panels on a moving facade to capture energy as the wind blows, creating a pattern inspired by waving grass that grows on beaches. It’s not the first concept to consider ways to integrate wind power in buildings. But Alkaabi says most other ideas don’t really focus on aesthetics.
"In recent years, we’ve seen some small conceptual developments by different research centers and universities, but unfortunately the focus stays mainly on the engineering aspect of the design," he explains. "At the same time, there's little interest in wind energy because of the remote location of wind farms and the reputation that they are unsuitable for habitation and recreation. This proposal tries to bring design and engineering to a greater audience, in a seamless way."
In Alkaabi’s design, the panels would be added to a modular building that can be configured in different shapes and used as housing or event space. To make reconfiguration easier, the facade is removable. The design includes other sustainable features, like a green roof that collects rainwater and circulates it through the plumbing in the building. But the wind-generating panels are the main feature.
"Architecture should not only focus on designing buildings, but also focus on combining sustainable energy and habitability," Alkaabi says. "This is exactly what this project aims to achieve—to let people experience the benefits of wind energy in a sustainable living environment, by combining architecture and a new wind energy system. The concept has the potential to become a tourist attraction and an architectural landmark."
The power the facade generates would go back in the grid, helping the building dramatically cut electricity bills. As Alkaabi worked on the design, he calculated how it would compare with an existing Belgian windfarm that covers around three square miles and uses 11 wind turbines. To generate the same amount of power, the new design would use a much smaller footprint.
"If we want to produce seven megawatts of energy, we only need to use 1.3 square miles of surface area," he explains. "That's less than half what's needed for 11 big, expensive, and ugly wind turbines."