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Landmarks Project Spotlight: Solar flower at the Benjamin Franklin Institute

Boston, including its historic districts, is working hard to address environmental issues. 

Historic districts citywide are making decisions based on new environmental standards. For example, the Fort Point Channel Landmark District Commission (FPCLDC) approved a flood barrier system on a building where storm flooding occurs. Elsewhere, the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) approved a creative solar panel installation.


BFI Smart Flower
The Smart Flower as seen from Berkeley Street. Photo Courtesy of The Benjamin Franklin Institute.

The two Solar Flowers currently set up at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (41 Berkeley Street) are part art installation and part educational solar energy system. These systems consist of a base and petal-shaped solar panels. The "petals" open and close depending on the time of day, and move with the direction of the sun, much like those of a flower. The design differs from that of typical roof-top solar panels; the form makes a statement. The installation is in partnership with solar energy company Smartflower.

Smart Flower
The Solar Flower in its varying stages of "bloom", according to the position of the sun in the sky. Photo courtesy of Smart Flower.

Besides their environmental value, the Solar Flowers also contribute to public education. The installation teaches and promotes the use of sustainable energy in the school. Students are in part responsible for the maintenance of the Solar Flowers. Additionally, the engineering aspects of the installations provides valuable hands-on learning experience. The SELDC was enthusiastic about the proposal. The Commissioners requested that the school install an interpretive sign for public benefit.

This installation helps show that sustainable energy has a place in historic preservation. Creative interpretations of renewable energy technology can help enhance historic neighborhoods. In this case, a visual art form enlivens a vacant corner while serving the public benefit. It also shows that the structural forms of these technologies are flexible. They can be changed to better blend with their surroundings, or formed to make a visual statement. Combating climate change means that historic districts need to incorporate innovative technologies. We look forward to seeing similar creative solutions employed in the future.

Environment South End
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