Solar Heron (SHU-II)

Major cities like New York are the growth drivers of our global economy, yet their infrastructure is often based on obsolete technologies from a previous industrial age.  Such cities remain incompatible for a sustainable energy grid and events such as Superstorm Sandy in 2013, which exposed the vulnerability of American cities.  This fact ultimately poses an immediate threat as technology continues to advance at a burgeoning pace and leaves obsolete buildings standing as relics of a bygone era.  Exacerbating this issue is the continual rise in global population along with coastal erosion across the world which will increasingly threaten the survival of large cities. 

With our obsolete energy grid, mercurial changes in weather and the concentration of most of the world’s populations in large cities, we need cities with buildings that can adapt to the constant changes in technology, advances in alternative energy systems and overall material sustainability.  By creating such types of cities, and buildings, architects will lead the way to ensure the safety of public and ultimately, civilization itself.   To that end, OpDes Architecture is dedicated to developing new approaches of New Urbanism. One of our key systems for the densely populated urban environment is Solar Heron (SHU-II), a new alternative wherein urban mixed-use housing intersects with ultra-building design and sustainability.  Solar Heron is designed to provide high density flexible housing, retail and commercial capabilities to revitalize a once thriving district nestled within New York City.

Moreover, the most feasible solution to the problem of obsolete energy grid is developing buildings that are energy independent with the ability to provide water and support agricultural processes.  However, the concept of designing buildings that cannot support their own energy needs along with the needs of their occupants must evolve with the changing world, or we as architects will be at fault for failing to design a survivable future.  Solar Heron provides a highly visible area for retail spaces from the streetscape whilst promoting social activity into a housing platform. This mixed typology is strategically harnessed to accentuate vibrancy through living and working in order to stimulate an otherwise abandoned part of an urban landscape. The plaza integrated pedestrian level provides dedicated spaces for pop-up so as to facilitate the initiatives of local entrepreneurs and multi-level commercial spaces to provide specialized services to the area.

The residential spaces encompass multi storied apartment units that provide balconies and a rooftop common spaces and amenities.  Solar Heron also includes a large multi-level community greenhouse for its residents which provide annual access for growing and harvesting alongside hydroponic systems and other traditional soil-based technologies. Solar Heron’s sustainable technologies are indicated in the name sake.  Fully integrated solar panels are formed into the pitched curvature of the roof which is angled to maximize access to solar radiation.  The entire roof structure performs multiple functions - from the generation of electricity, to the heating of water in its storage pods.  In addition, the roof functions as a natural convection generator that works harmoniously with the subterranean aquifer.

Its configuration is designed to facilitate a highly adaptive mix of housing types ranging from extended families to artists.  The housing units are designed to be fully configurable to become multi-level duplexes by designing the floor plates as cells as opposed to a single cast pour.  Depending on the programming requirements, these cells can be removed to vertically expand the interior spaces. This level of flexibility allows Solar Heron to accommodate expanding families and forms the edifice of synthesizing key elements of community with that of shopping into a compacted program.

The high-level research and design in this effort has resulted in Solar Heron, a self-contained, independent and sustainable architectural system that can potentially be entirely energy independent.  Moreover, its closed-loop technologies are designed to reduce the dependence on external utilities. Furthermore, the impending crisis of our obsolete infrastructure will be significantly diminished through these technologies.

Ultimately, the design intent of Solar Heron was accomplished by providing solutions to the following:

  1. Development of materials that enhance sustainability and adaptability

  2. Development of Closed-Loop technologies providing energy independence

  3. Facilitate configuration and integration of evolving technologies

  4. Provide for agricultural production in a self-contained envelope


Estimated Product Cost:

  • $80 MILLION



  • New York City, USA



  • Mixed Use: Residential+Business


Systems and Technologies:

  • Proprietary



  • Height - 89 ft

  • Floors - 5

  • Green Gross Area - 128,236 ft^2

  • Business Gross Area - 87,314 ft^2

  • Residential Gross Area - 777,094 ft^2

  • Retail and Assembly Gross Area - 463,771 ft^2


Active Systems:

  • Night Purge Ventilation

  • Electric Light Motion Control

  • Chemical Emergency Lighting System

  • Fiber Optic Data Network

  • Natural Gas Emergency Power Supply

  • Automated Daylight Reflection System

  • HVAC

  • Proprietary


Passive Systems:

  • Airflow induced natural ventilation

  • Solar Chimney Air Convection

  • Chemically Active Humidity Control

  • Photosynthesis CO2 reduction

  • Convection Air Circulation

  • Solar Radiation Water Heating System

  • Proprietary

© 2020 by OpDes Architecture, P.C.

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