Campus as Lab: Solar Picnic Table Designed in Architecture Course

solar picnic table
Posted on February 10, 2016

Students enrolled in ARC 311 this past fall were enlisted to participate in a new kind of building project. Taught by lecturer and practitioner Nat Oppenheimer with lab assistance from architecture senior technician Bill Tansley, the course is primarily for Architecture majors in their Junior or Senior year. As a part of the course, a final project is constructed based on student designs. Dr. Forrest Meggers, Assistant Professor of Architecture and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, suggested a solar picnic table for the final project.

building solar picnic table Assembling the solar picnic table

The students designed a solar table, and constructed most of it at the end of the semester. Professor Meggers designed a solar system for the roof, and taught the student designers about how to calculate sun angles and determine the placement of the panel.

As a part of the design research for the project, Meggers developed a concept to have a lightweight 100W panel track the sun while simultaneously shading the area for laptop work. In addition, a system for battery storage, charge controlling, and data streaming and web interactivity was included.

professor on picnic table Dr. Forrest Meggers with student

A small prototype solar system was constructed, and the course has been approved for funding from the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund to complete the project.

The initial placement of the solar picnic table will be next to the Architecture building. Subsequently it could be moved to the yard in front of Frist once all the debugging and operational aspects have been vetted – possibly in time for Earth Day. Another possible location could be the Forbes Garden Project where students may need to charge laptops remotely. Meggers is also teaching ENE 202 in the spring, “Designing Sustainable Systems” and the table will be used to teach and potentially leverage student projects for the course. These types of student demonstration projects serve as visible ongoing inspiration for campus as lab efforts.