Solar Flowers Set to Bloom at BFIT

Two solar flowers are making their way to the side lot of 41 Berkeley St. at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT). Attorney Matt Kiefer came before the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) on July 2 to request approval for these flowers, which will be installed in a partnership with a company called SmartFlower.

Kiefer said these solar flowers, which have a diameter of 16 feet when open, will “demonstrate the possibilities of solar power for the building.” The flowers themselves, just like real flowers, will open their petals when the sun comes out, and close them in the dark. A representative for SmartFlower said that these flowers are “inspired by the heliotropic properties of a sunflower.”

“SmartFlower is a stunning, simple system, but inside it has advanced robots which the students will be learning about,” he said. As soon as the sun comes up, the flower opens its petals and then follows the sun at an optimal angle across the sky, the representative said, adding that there are specially engineered brushes inside the flowers that clean the system every time it opens and closes, so it always opens at peak performance. Over one year, each flower will produce approximately 5,000 kilowatt hours of energy for the school.

Aisha Francis, Chief of Staff at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, said that aside from providing solar power for the school, the flowers will be used for coursework in classes like Intro to Electromechanical Systems. “We train folks manually from the Boston area,” Francis said of BFIT, so these flowers will demonstrate the technology for the students so they can be trained in the way green technology works.

The project, which will be temporary, is proposed to last up to three years.

SELDC Commissioner John Amodeo wondered about public signage for the flowers explaining what they were. He said he believes this would be a good addition because these flowers have “public value beyond what the students can do,” he said. The flowers are visible to the public, he continued, so “it would be mice if the public knew what this curious thing was.” 

Another topic of discussion amongst the commissioners was the proposal to leave these flowers in place for up to three years. “Maybe we review this on an annual basis,” Amodeo said. “This is the first of its kind, unique, we haven’t encountered this before.”

Amodeo said that most public art in the city has an expiration date of one year, and he wanted the option for the commission to be able to review it in a year for renewal. He added that they may want to take into consideration the public reaction after one year as well.

Marcus Springer of Springer Architects said he lives 100 yards away from the installation site, and thinks it is a “fascinating, great addition to the South End.” He said he would love to take his young sons there, who are both “fascinated with renewable energy.”

“This will be a really important addition to that corner,” he said.

“I think this is very cool,” said Commissioner John Freeman. “The Commission highly supports creative things like this.”

The Commission “enthusiastically approved” this proposal as submitted, with the provisos that a sign be installed on the sidewalk that lets the public know that this is a temporary installation and describes what it is, the flowers be a medium/pearl gray, and it must come back before the Commission in one year for a review before it is renewed for a second year.

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