Glass surfaces that double as solar collectors are potentially transformative materials for architects and designers, and research in the area is coming along in leaps and bounds. A new building going up in Geneva will make full use of recent advances to wrap an office space in colored photovoltaic glass, providing shading and generating a portion of the building's energy at the same time.

Researchers have been experimenting with transparent solar cells for a few years now. The end game here is to develop solar panels that can double as windows, greatly expanding the exterior surfacing of a building that can be used to generate energy (in addition to rooftop arrays). Back in 2012, for example, UCLA scientists made a promising breakthrough in this area by developing a solar cell that was nearly 70 percent transparent to the naked eye.

The colored photovoltaics to be used on the new "Colors of Humanity" building for international NGO Doctors Without Borders aren't quite at that level, but do boast a transparency of 40 percent. There's no word on the efficiency of the solar cells, but they will work with a rooftop array and geothermal systems to supply the building with 72 percent of its electricity.

And because the solar cells can be produced in different colors with varying degrees of permeability, the facade will give the facility a distinctly colorful feel and allow for shading where appropriate.

Inside are criss-crossing passages flanked by seating alcoves and small gathering places, along with workstations, meeting rooms and classrooms. The building will house 250 staff in all and is designed to promote interaction across Doctors Without Borders' multi-cultural programs. The building also features a cubic geometry intended to make it easier to extend down the track.

The Colors of Humanity building is the handiwork of Steven Holl Architects, a New York-based firm that is no stranger to edgy designs. Its other works include a pair of mixed-use buildings joined by a bridge in Copenhagen and a future-proofed energy center for the Toronto Waterfront.

It teamed up with Switzerland's Rüssli Architekten to design the Colors of Humanity building, and is moving ahead with the project after the pair won an international design competition for their efforts. Construction is planned for the (Northern Hemisphere) spring of 2019.

"Doctors Without Borders, MSF, is an inspiring organization," says Steven Holl. "It is an honor to realize architecture for their Geneva home."

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