Ceramic technologies offer architects unique opportunities to achieve both design aesthetic and pragmatism and new products hold untold possibilities for the future. According to Richard Goldberg’s article “Ceramic Tile on the Forefront of Architecture” (2012), scientists have recently produced and successfully tested applying thin-filmed solar cells to ceramic tiles. With a little fine tuning this stunning achievement could open up an entirely new avenue for living buildings.
Prior to the development of back-ventilated tile cladding systems over the last decade, application of solar cells to ceramics might have seemed quite frivolous. These innovative systems afford space between the building and envelope where connections between cells can be easily made and accessed. Additionally the individually mounted tile units allow solar cells to be individually removed, replaced and/or repaired. Although the solar cells being tested with ceramics are not as advanced or developed as those already being applied to roof shingles and other building materials, interconnection and maintenance of these solar cells is difficult. Applied to ceramics, solar cells have the potential to be much more easily and feasibly maintained than in existing building material applications.
Furthermore, the inherent durability and color/texture variety of ceramics (continually enhanced with the development of new manufacturing technologies) provides an aesthetic pallet with unmatched variety. Making solar cell technology available with the aesthetic range offered by ceramics will give architects untold potential to design beautiful and sustainable architecture. Who knows, with the proper investment in research and testing there may even come a time in the not-so-distant future when solar-energy capturing technology can be fired directly into the tiles themselves, thus imbuing notoriously fragile solar cells with the low-maintenance, highly weather resistant qualities of ceramics.