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The solar park in Konya, a province in central Türkiye, stretches farther than the eye can see. Lined in photovoltaic arrays that together comprise 3.26 million panels and span 20 square kilometres, it’s the kind of manmade industrial landscape that you might come across in an Edward Burtynsky documentary. In fact, the desert-cum-factory is becoming a more and more prevalent condition. Generating 1.35 GW at peak capacity, Karapinar is the most productive solar park serving the continental European power grid — though far from the largest in the world. That would be Bhadla Park in India, which boasts 2.25 GW capacity and spans 56 square kilometres. In India, China and even the deserts of the U.S., these vast techno-deserts are powering the growing solar economy.

Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building seen from aerial view, the solar farm stretching out around it

What made this part of Türkiye a prime location for this particular green-energy park, which is owned by the local solar panel manufacturer Kalyon Energy (and heavily subsidized by the national government), was its inexorable mutation into an arid landscape due to the effects of climate change. The irony is a bit on the nose: What used to be a fertile agricultural plain, now too parched to support crops, finds new life as a solar farm – one that produces enough clean electricity to power 600,000 houses. And complaints from farmers and environmentalists who often oppose such mega projects taking over massive swathes of land are neutralized.

Interior of the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building, showing its facade and gathering space

The park’s inauguration, in spring of 2023, coincided with the completion of the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building, a marvellous shimmering structure that seems to have alit in the middle of the desert – as much land art as utility. The rectilinear one-storey form is wrapped in a double facade of glass (on the outside) and steel panels (on the inside) that captures with the changing light conditions of its surroundings. Designed by Istanbul’s Bilgin Architects, it makes connections to the ground (which it barely touches) and the sky. The architects describe the 2,800-square-metre Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building as both infrastructure and interface: “in the challenging geography of a desert, an interface representing new energy technologies in a flat topography extending to the horizon.”

A view from the inside out to the courtyard of Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building

The building is located 40 metres away from the solar farm, so as not to cast shadows on the panels, and is accessed by a gently tiered terracotta-hued ramp. In deference to the solar farm’s elevation of 1.50 metres above ground, it is perched (with the support of 86 friction piles and four-metre consoles) two metres above the ground, which also reduced the amount of excavation required. “The state of being detached from the ground emphasizes the novelty and foreignness of the structure on the desert,” the architects note.

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The outside view of the courtyard at Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building

This higher positioning also allowed the architects to tuck all mechanical rooms in the “basement,” opening up the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building’s perimeter to create a cafeteria and multipurpose hall that can host various events. “Concrete cores, an extension of reinforced concrete construction found at the four corners of the structure, are functionalized with infrastructure spaces and vertical circulations serving the basement,” the architects explain. “The structural steel elements that support the entire building envelope work in conjunction with these concrete blocks, allowing for increased transparency on the ground floor.”

The courtyard and rooftop merge at Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building

Most important, all of this engineering heft allowed the firm to carve out the centre of the building for a magnificent courtyard. In essence, what they achieved is a building that seems like a highly rational form on its exterior, but that internally morphs into an ethereal, light-filled space with an undulating curtain wall that wraps around the lush central garden (planted with irrigation-light desert-proof species bolstered by collected and stored rainwater).

The Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building in its desert solar farm context

The courtyard is the main organizational device at the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building: it determines all circulation and spatial hierarchies in the building and separates its private and common areas. As a passive climate control tool, it also provides a cool respite for employees and for the structure itself. “Trees that create large shading areas in the summer prevent the heat from entering from the transparent courtyard facade as much as possible, contributing to the warming of the structure after shedding their leaves in the winter.” What makes the courtyard even more impressive – and what gives the building its ultimate sense of porosity – is its connection to the roof. A set of stairs rises from to the green-roof terrace and its 360-degree panorama of the surreal surroundings.

Closeup of facade system at Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building

From aerial views that display the cavernous structure and its accessible roof, the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building appears like an oasis wrapped in hard metal. But closer up, the facade is “gentle,” resembling a lightweight, checkered metal curtain rather than an impenetrable barrier. The building’s inner face of 7,200 stainless steel panels at four different transparency levels not only prevents the outer facade from overheating but also contributes a non-repeating, reflective appearance to an otherwise monolithic form. “On cloudy days,” the architects explain, “the boundaries of the facade become blurred. It becomes not only a part of the building but also a part of the sky.”

At night the facade of Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building shimmers
Bilgin Architects’ Powerhouse in the Turkish Desert

Servicing a massive solar farm, the Kalyon Karapinar Central Control Building is a dazzling feat of beauty and engineering.

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