The Smithsonian Institution’s new research campus in Panama is located on a sensitive coastal site next to a mangrove swamp. The roof is covered with photovoltaic panels, interspersed with clear glass, allowing light through the semi-transparent ceilings to daylight the interior spaces. The angled roof geometry direct rainwater to collection tanks at a central point.

This project comes close to the ideal of “zero-impact”, despite heavy energy loads from almost constant air-conditioning. The building produces the majority of its own energy, and harvests all of its water from the rain.

The form of the building was guided by passive solar concerns. The conditiones spaces are lifted up above the ground, keeping them above insects and floods, and encouraging natural ventilation. The double room shades interior volumes, reducing solar heat gain.

The building integrated PV roof faces south and has a shallow pitch, an optimal position for maximum electricity generation at this tropical latitude. The PV upper roof, which has an average transparency of less than 5%, becomes more transparent where needed by the insertion of clear glass panels. The lower roof, which is the roof of the conditioned spaces, is an insulated transculent material. The system is designed to allow enough daylight to pass through both layers to provide 100% of the lighting during daylight hours. The building features a dual stage heat pump system with individual units for each space to allow flexibility and efficiency in usage. A separate makeup system provides cooled and dehumified air to all spaces. Ceiling fans are provided in each room to allow occupants to be comfortable at higher temperatures. Measurements have shown that the photovoltaic system providing approximately 30 kW of instantaneous output, at a yearly rate of close to 70,000 kWh. The BIPV roof will supply approximately 75% of the base building energy use. Since the grid power on the island is diesel-generated, a very dirty and unreliable source of source of power, the benefits of the BIPV system are significantly greater than they would be in mainland US.

The project received the 2006 Federal Energy and Water Management Award.