SOL Grotto is a contemplative space built with around 1,400 glass rods within the the UC Botanical Gardens at Berkeley. The glass rods came from solar company Solyndra, which were left over after the company filed for bankruptcy. Rather than see them destroyed Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello of Rael San Fratello Architects used some of the rods to create their mesmerizing grotto. The rods act as transmitters for light, sound and cool air into the grotto, which has become a popular space for visitors and bugs alike.
SOL Grotto is part of a larger project called Natural Discourse at UC Botanical Gardens at Berkeley, where artists, architects, scientists and poets have been invited to spend time in the gardens and engage with the space. The contemplative space was designed by Rael San Fratello Architects and built by Matarozzi/Pelsinger Builders. The simple wooden shed was built upon a pre-existing deck in the Californian Area adjacent to waterfall at Strawberry Creek.
The main feature of the grotto is the use of 1,368 glass rods in one of the walls. The rods were part of the stockpile of 24 million glass tubes left behind in San Jose, California after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy. The rods are destined to be destroyed unless artists and architects like Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello use them in new projects. The glass 39-inch rods are inserted into the wall and act as transmitters, pulling in light, the sound of the adjacent waterfall and even cool air via the Venturi effect. The result is an electric blue, cool interior that sounds like you’re inside the waterfall, which is created without the help of any power source. While there has been some controversy regarding the use of the rods from the failed company, the grotto is bringing visitors to the gardens and everyone seems to agree it is a beautiful space.
Images ©Matthew Millman, Kent Wilson, and Michael Friel