The sun -- the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man -- burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory.
Solarpunk is the name given to the genre of humanist and optimistic art, literature, and architecture, especially speculative fiction works and "green architecture," which depicts or aspires toward a future technological and ecological utopia where fossil fuels are obsolete and pollution and other environmental damage has been minimised or eliminated. Solarpunk prioritises ideas of sustainable design, renewable energy, and eradication of the social inequality brought about by poverty and climate migration.
For the etymology of solarpunk, cf. the writeup for the closely-related optimist genre called hopepunk, which addresses the "-punk" suffix overall. The "solar" portion refers to solar power and a generally "sunshine-oriented" aesthetic exhibited in solarpunk art and architecture, favouring designs which optimise natural light over artificial light (and the contingent light pollution) and fresh air from the outdoors rather than air conditioning (a key feature of passive solar design in architecture, dating back to ancient residential design, such as the Roman domus).
It should be noted that solarpunk in narrative specifically refers to urban technological utopia; an utopia featuring magic (or "magitechnology") would more often be classified as aetherpunk. An utopia which is not urban in nature, instead preferring smaller decentralised communes, would be classified as greenpunk, and when greenpunk ideas are applied in a context of rugged individualism or familial homesteading, rather than as part of a civic infrastructure, the accompanying aesthetic is known as cottagecore.
Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.
Context and Coinage
The earliest mention of solarpunk by name was 27 May 2008, in the article "From Steampunk to Solarpunk" on the wordpress blog Republic of the Bees.
The author explains:
I think the best way to explain solarpunk is by contrasting it to the science fiction and fantasy genre called steampunk, from which the idea of solarpunk derives. Steampunk stories describe alternative futures or worlds in which steam technology (and Victorian technologies in general) were not pushed aside by oil-based technologies.... Obviously, a major difference between solarpunk and steampunk is that solarpunk ideas, and solarpunk technologies, need not remain imaginary, and I indulge a hope of someday living in a solarpunk world.
On 4 September 2014, Hieroglyph author Adam Flynn wrote Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto, in response to a tumblr blog post by user Miss Olivia Louise. Flynn wrote (emphasis the author's own):
... with the failure of the existing political order to deal with the existential-but-not-yet-urgent threat of climate change. Many of us feel it’s unethical to bring children into a world like ours. We have grown up under a shadow, and if we sometimes resemble fungus it should be taken as a credit to our adaptability. We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.... Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have (instead of 20th century “destroy it all and build something completely different” modernism). Our futurism is not nihilistic like cyberpunk and it avoids steampunk’s potentially quasi-reactionary tendencies: it is about ingenuity, generativity, independence, and community.
On 26 February 2017, Jay Springett wrote Solarpunk: A Reference Guide for Medium, compiling information and discussion from Solarpunks.net, a tumblr blog which aggregates solarpunk content from tumblr and accepts user submissions on the topic.
In October 2019, the organisation Regenerative Design wrote A Solarpunk Manifesto based on Flynn's and Springett's work, stating among their points that:
Solarpunk recognizes science fiction as not just entertainment but as a form of activism. Solarpunk wants to counter the scenarios of a dying earth, an insuperable gap between rich and poor, and a society controlled by corporations. Not in hundreds of years, but within reach. Solarpunk is about youth maker culture, local solutions, local energy grids, ways of creating autonomous functioning systems. It is about loving the world. Solarpunk culture includes all cultures, religions, abilities, sexes, genders and sexual identities. Solarpunk is the idea of humanity achieving a social evolution that embraces not just mere tolerance, but a more expansive compassion and acceptance.
The manifesto concludes,
- is diverse
- has room for spirituality and science to coexist
- is beautiful
- can happen. Now.
and is signed, The Solarpunk Community.
The Sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers strength and courage as the day gets on.
Examples in Literature and Screen Media
This list is non-exhaustive, and readers are encouraged to send suggested additions.
- The wholesome, bright worlds depicted in Hayao Miyazaki's works for Studio Ghibli, especially Nausiccaä of the Valley of the Wind
- The 2002 Disney film Treasure Planet presents a solarpunk alien world in a state of gradual economic decay, but the design of the world is still unmistakably solarpunk, just solarpunk which has been inhabited long enough to show wear and tear.
- Gallifrey, homeworld of the Doctor in BBC's Doctor Who, is often depicted with alien solarpunk aesthetics.
- Lothlorien is depicted in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with an elaborate Art Nouveau aesthetic intertwining with colossal living trees, visually implying solarpunk or greenpunk infrastructure.
- The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Crucible of Time by John Brunner
- Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável, edited by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, is the very first anthology of fiction claiming to be solarpunk specifically. It was released in Brazil in 2012; the English translation, Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, was released in 2018.
- Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summer by Sarena Ulibarri
- Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
- Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson
- Suncatcher: Seven Days in the Sky by Alia Gee
- Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, a short story collection by Wagner Phoebe & Brontë Christopher Wieland
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.
Examples in Architecture
Most obvious examples of solarpunk are works of architectural design, not all of which have actually been built.
- Ville Radieuse, "Radiant City" by French architect Le Corbusier
- Hualien Residences by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels
- The Old Man River's City project by American futurist R. Buckminster Fuller
- Zaha Hadid's design for the 2017 World Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan, along with many other design proposals submitted for the Expo, most of which showcased solar and wind power
- Bosco Verticale, "Vertical Forest" in Milan, Italy, featuring full size adult trees which improve the city's air quality
- Emilio Ambasz and Associates' ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Fukuoka, Japan, has an entire city park of adult trees on its roof, in response to the objection of Fukuoka residents when it was announced that a building would be replacing the city's last public green space. Its fifteen garden terraces support local wildlife and moderate the building's temperature.
- The Pixel Building by deciBel Architecture, in Melbourne, Australia
- One Central Park in Sycney, Australia, by Ateliers Jean Nouvel
- Santiago Calatrava's works, including the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which uses fin-shaped solar panels and pumps water from nearby Guanabara Bay to use in its air conditioning system
- Vancouver Convention Centre West by LMN Architects, an especially exemplary design with double LEED platinum designations, for actively supporting the local wildlife ecology: four beehives inhabit its living roof (the largest in Canada, and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America) and pollinate native wildflowers there, which reduces heat accumulation on the roof in summer, as well as structural piles in Vancouver Harbour which provide a habitat for native fish and shellfish.
All of the following design principles, social philosophies, and technologies are included under the solarpunk umbrella:
- Solar power, wind power, geothermal energy, and energy from biomass (such as converting garbage and manure into heat for homes)
- Biodegradable textiles and packaging, recyclable materials for all resources not meant to be in permanent continuous use, and low-energy and zero-energy houses (especially through the use of effective insulation in extreme climates)
- Permaculture, food forests, green roofs, urban agriculture such as community gardens, and vertical garden urban residences, as well as widespread elementary education in subsistence farming and native plant habitat cultivation
- All manner of both passive solar design, such as bioclimatic buildings and atria, and active solar design, such as solar water heaters
- Urban planning aligned with New Urbanism, which prioritises pedestrians over cars and encourages abundant air flow and sunlight, without allowing buildings to cast each other in shadow. Solarpunk considers "muscle power" (such as used by bicyclists and pedestrians) to be the most sustainable and renewable energy of all, after sunlight, and aims to reduce the use of internal combustion powered vehicles of all forms, by making cities so accessible to muscle-powered transit that cars are seen as a prohibitive inconvenience.
- Streetcars, airships, canal gondolas, sailboats, and other forms of public and long-distance transit not reliant on fossil fuels
- Ornate, beauty-oriented design employing organic shapes, abundant colour, and varied texture, especially through the use of stained glass and elaborate woodworking and cast brass furnishings, as well as handcrafted appointments (especially lamps and banisters), such as can be found in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement
- Modular prefabricated building components which allow a variety of forms with coherent features, but without the suburban plague of "little boxes made of ticky-tacky"
- User-serviceable goods, especially electronics, and widespread education in computer science at an elementary level
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy.
Iron Noder 2020, 19/30
The quoted text throughout this writeup is taken from various works by Charles Dickens.