Gensler uses solar-panel canopy to shade mass-timber Texas office

Fifth + Tillery Austin, Texas
Published: 21 September 2022

Leading architecture studio Gensler has completed an innovative office building for Fifth + Tillery in Austin, Texas, which uses a canopy of photovoltaic panels to create shade for the plaza and roof terrace.

Located on what was once an industrial site near the Colorado River in the East Austin neighbourhood of the Texas capital, the three-storey mass-timber office complex is defined by a tree-lined central courtyard that extends through the upper levels of the complex.

Described as a “raingarden” designed to resemble the “native ravine microhabitats of Central Texas”, the courtyard can be viewed from many of the interior spaces of the building.

Fifth + Tillery Austin, Texas

To improve airflow and ventilation in the outdoor spaces louvres with integrated fans are placed around the courtyard. An onsite reclaimed water system captures roof runoff, directing it to the raingarden and water feature that runs through the campus.

An important factor in the design was the desire to create a more social and communal building by turning a traditional office building inside out.

This inspired the open-air plaza as the building’s lobby with elevators opening directly to the outdoors, and lining the interior of the courtyard space with covered walkways on all the floors that are connected by a “monumental” staircase.

Fifth + Tillery Austin, Texas

The solar panels are more than simply energy provision for the building, but seem to make up much of the structure itself. Gensler took advantage of the roof’s large surface area to introduce a solar array that almost completely offsets the building’s energy use in the summer while providing shade for the entry plaza and the rooftop terrace.

This canopy and the additional panels arrayed on the building’s rooftop provide 600 kilowatt-hours (kW) of power for the office.

To help manage heat from the powerful Texas sun, the building facades feature punched window openings that help shade the interior. In the courtyard, continuous glass facades were placed beneath shading further improving the thermal performance of the building.

Gensler utilised a simple palette of industrial materials layered onto a timber structure, reducing carbon embodied carbon and waste.

A hybrid approach saw Douglas Fir glued-laminated timber (glulam) sourced from Rosboro reinforced with steel, with excess wood from the construction project used to produce benches for the courtyard.

Fifth + Tillery Austin, Texas

Parts of the foundations, infrastructure and the water retention systems were also re-used by Gensler. And in reference to the industrial heritage of the site, large cisterns were placed near the entry.

Gensler is a global architecture, design, and planning firm with 52 locations across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Founded in 1965, the firm serves more than 3,500 active clients in virtually every industry. Guided by determined optimism, they believe the power of design can spark positive change and create a future that promotes equity, resilience, and wellbeing for everyone.