There’s a lot more that goes into solar architecture than just strapping solar panels to the outside of a building. Green architects with an eye for solar also need to think of things like how to maximize exposure to the sun, how best to design a structure that comfortably distributes heat, and how to do it all without sacrificing any of the aesthetics that are so important to design.

More and more, architects are stretching the limits of solar technology, and it’s becoming increasingly important for the homes, buildings, stadiums, skyscrapers and cities of the future to be energy-independent and sustainable. In fact, you might say that solar architecture is on the verge of a golden age; Many of the world’s most spectacular structures in development today utilize solar energy in some way.

Here’s just a small sampling: 8 shining wonders of modern solar architecture.

Solar City

Photo credit: Rolf Disch

Sonnenschiff and the Freiburg Solar City

It’s one thing to build an energy independent home or building, it’s another thing to build an entire settlement that produces more energy than it consumes. That’s exactly what the designers at Rolf Disch have done with the Solar City in Freiburg, Germany.

The rooftops of the settlement’s buildings consist of large photovoltaic panels all pointed in the perfect direction, but they also act as sun shades. So while the sun beats down on their roofs, residents underneath alternatively enjoy cool temperatures.

The solar community is anchored to Sonnenschiff, or the Sun Ship, a commercial building which is another marvel of solar architecture. In fact, Sonnenschiff was the first positive energy commercial building ever built.

Read more and check out the other incredible projects that Rolf Disch has designed at their website here.

Cybertecture Egg

Photo credit: James Law Cybertecture International

Cybertecture Egg

Commissioned for Mumbai, India, the Cybertecture Egg is an impressive feat of sustainable architecture. The concept for the structure was originally inspired “by considering the world as an ecosystem allowing life to evolve,” according to its designers at James Law Cybertecture International.

The eggy shape of the office building isn’t just for show; the design also utilizes passive solar design, which serves to regulate temperatures within the building by decreasing heat gain and lowering energy loads. Gardens are also incorporated throughout the building to provide both shade and a natural aesthetic. This includes an elevated garden at the egg’s upper ‘tip,’ which also assists in cooling the building.

The building is powered using solar panels and rooftop wind turbines, and it can even harvest its own water for garden irrigation.

Vertical Village

Photo credit: Graft Lab

Vertical Village

Dubai is known for its outlandish, futuristic architecture, but the emirate’s latest architectural trend is sustainable design. Few structures exemplify this more than the Vertical Village, designed by the architects at Graft Lab.

The structure’s solar panel arrays sparkle in the scorching Dubai sun, but the real genius of the Vertical Village’s design lies in how everything is positioned to keep the building cool while maximizing solar capture at the same time. Each of the jettisoning ‘walls’ that hang over the structure’s base point their panels at the sun while also being perfectly placed to provide shade.

Check out more about this and Graft Lab’s other projects at their website here.

Chicago Solar Tower

Photo credit: Zoka Zola Architects

Chicago Solar Tower

Solar architecture doesn’t just have to fill the skylines of foreign cities; it could also soon be coming to North America. Check out this design for a Solar Tower in Chicago by Zoka Zola Architects. This skyscraper is almost completely shielded by sun-tracking solar panels which rotate like sunflowers to follow the sun throughout the day.

The panels are carefully positioned to provide shade for the building’s floors but not to obstruct the view. According to its designers, this tower’s “cosmo-bio-logical skin” could have the power to produce “new and intensified experiences and awareness” for the citizens of Chicago.

Photo credit: RAFAA Architecture and Design

Solar City Tower

Designed specially for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, this stunning energy-generating waterfall display will be located on Cotunduba Island and will serve as a beacon to all those arriving to Rio by sea or air. The Solar City Tower will be the iconic symbol of Rio’s efforts to make the 2016 Summer Games the first zero-carbon footprint games in history.

Designed by RAFAA Architecture and Design, the tower’s interplay of renewable energies is impressive. It all begins with the power generated by solar panels, which will produce energy for the Olympic village by day, then pump seawater by night. That seawater will then be released to drive turbines. It can also be pumped over the top of the building to create a breathtaking wall of water.

There will also supposedly be a retractable platform equipped for bungee jumping from the top, which isn’t so much sustainable as it is cool.

Kaohsiung National Stadium

Photo credit: Fu Tsu Construction Co. via Toyo Ito

Kaohsiung National Stadium

Stadiums are almost always massive energy hogs, and usually make for poor examples of sustainable architecture. One exception to the rule, however, is this spectacular, dragon-shaped arena in Taiwan, which generates 100 percent of its electricity from the solar panels lining its exterior.

Designed by Toyo Ito, the energy production of Kaohsiung National Stadium is enough to power 3,300 lights and two jumbo vision screens. Perhaps most impressive, the stadium takes just 6 minutes to power up completely.

Since games aren’t played inside the stadium everyday, the building is transformed into a power plant during its ‘off’ days, capable of meeting almost 80 percent of the neighboring area’s energy requirements.

Photo credit: Himin

Dezhou Solar City

Christened as the largest solar-powered building in the world, this building erected in Dezhou, China was designed to look like a sun dial. The structure also served as the apropos venue for the 4th World Solar City Congress.

The building is also designed to provide 30 percent more energy savings than the national standard by utilizing advanced roof and wall insulation.

Photo credit: Studied Impact/Robert Ferry

Almeisan Tower

Created for Za’abeel Park in Dubai, this stunning tower designed by architect Robert Ferry would not only provide its own energy, but more than enough energy to run the rest of Za’abeel Park too. The design includes 224 large heliostatic polished mirrors, positioned on the tower’s top platform, that rotate to track the sun. The mirrors then reflect brilliant beams of light into a central collector at the tower’s tip. This magnified sunlight would then be used to generate steam to power a turbine.

The tower would also provide the venue for a cultural center. An observation platform near the top would offer fantastic views.

‘Almesian’ is actually the Arabic name for one of the brightest stars in the sky from the Gemini constellation. It’s a fitting name for a tower that would surely be recognizable from great distances thanks to the sunlight beaming at its tip.

Learn more about some of Robert Ferry’s other sustainable designs at Studied Impact.