The advancement in computational technology and alternative materials is changing the way architects are thinking about the façade of the building. There has been a drastic shift from traditional buildings with thick walls, small windows, and huge eaves to contemporary buildings with grand glass and aluminum facades. With a growing interest in alternative materials and energy-efficient buildings, architects are now experimenting with innovative façade design technologies. Façade technology is mainly driven by solar control wherein the idea is to maximize natural daylight without glare and excessive heat gain. Following are 10 examples of creative and lesser-known technologies used in façade design

1) Kinetic façade –

Kinetic façade
Thermo bio-metal by Doris Kim Sung ©Doris Kim Sung

The kinetic façade is dynamic and is either programmed or can automatically respond to climatic factors. An interesting example is the work of architect Doris Kim Sung who proposes that the building’s skin should be similar to human skin. She experiments with smart thermal bio-metal that responds dynamically to temperature change. It is a lamination of two different metals together with different coefficients of expansion. When heated one side expands faster than the other and hence results in a curling action. The type of surface pattern and form will determine how the metal moves, curls, shades, and ventilates.      

2) Smog neutralizing façade –

Smog neutralizing façade
A smog-eating façade – prosolve370e ©Elegant Embellishments

Berlin-based start-up Elegant Embellishments have developed an innovative and decorative façade module called ‘prosolve370e’ made up of steel and plastic that effectively reduces air pollution (NOx, VOCs, SO2). These modules are coated with a very thin layer of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a technology that converts fine dust into other chemical compounds and is activated by daylight. A 2,500 square meter façade is installed on the outer wall of a hospital named ‘Manuel Gea Gonzales’ in Mexico City. Along with building facades, it can also be installed near traffic ways and car parks.

3) Homeostatic façade system –

Homeostatic façade system
Homeostatic façade system by Decker Yeadon  ©Decker Yeadon LLC

A self-regulating façade system developed by a New York-based firm Decker Yeadon controls the building’s climate by automatically responding to the environmental condition. The maze-like façade is made up of dielectric material which is coated with silver electrodes. This silver layer reflects light and distributes an electric charge across the material causing it to bend which in turn controls solar heat gain. An advantage of this system is that it consumes very little power to deform.

4) ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) –

ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene)
ETFE for Water Cube, Beijing ©ARUP

ETFE as a material first caught people’s attention when it was used for the façade of the Water Cube for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since then it has been widely used in many architectural projects. ETFE is as thermally efficient as double-glazing and its low friction coefficient prevents dust particles from settling on the surface, reducing the need for maintenance. Unlike PVC, it is easily recyclable, long-lasting, and can perform well during natural disasters and in extreme climatic conditions.

5) Water flow glazing system –

Water flow glazing system
Demonstrational pavilion for the InDeWaG project ©InDeWaG

The InDeWaG project employs the water flow glazing (WFG) technology and has constructed a demonstrational pavilion with facades consisting of WFG elements. It is a 7.24m by 7.24m glass box with WFG modules on the east, west, and south façade, while the roof, floor, and north façade are opaque and well insulated. It uses circulating water in the chamber between the glass panes to capture the radiation and transport the generated heat through a pipe system for purposes like heating, preheating, domestic hot water, storage, or dissipation of excess heat.

6) Fiber-reinforced material –

Fiber-reinforced material
GFRP and GFRC for Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku by Zaha Hadid Architects ©Iwan Baan

Advances in technology and manufacturing techniques have increased the possibility and availability of new types of materials for architects. Glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) and glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) are now increasingly used as a lightweight cladding material for many buildings. Its ability to be made in any size, shape, and profile with good durability and fire resistance makes it an ideal material. One such classic example is Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku by Zaha Hadid Architects.

7) Bionic façade –

Bionic façade
Solar Ivy – Building-integrated and modular photovoltaic system ©S.M.I.T. (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology)

Green walls have proven to create a significant impact on temperature and airflow by creating a microclimate layer. A more promising and energy-efficient approach is the use of bionic facades. It consists of bionic leaves which are made up of photovoltaic cells and evaporative matrices which helps in decreasing the air temperature in the microclimatic layer and thus increasing its efficiency. Two systems for energy generation and shading have been developed so far based on the bionic principle – ‘Flectofin’ and ‘Solar Ivy’.

8) Façade lighting –

Façade lighting
GreenBiz – Zero Energy Media Wall by Simone Giostra & Partners and ARUP ©Simone Giostra & Partners and ARUP

Façade lighting plays a key role in providing security and means for architectural expression. The GreenPix – Zero Energy Media Wall is an innovative example of sustainability and digital media technology. This curtain wall of Xicui Entertainment Complex with its LED display has an integrated photovoltaic system that harvests solar energy during the day and illuminates the screen at night.  

9) Corten steel –

Corten steel
Museum of Troy by Yalin Architectural Design ©Murat Germen

Corten steel’s strength, color, durability, and low maintenance together make it an effective and aesthetically appealing material for either cladding or as external skin. It is a group of steel alloys that forms a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years hence eliminating the need for painting.

10) Green façade –

Green façade
Citicape House is Europe’s largest green wall by Sheppard Robson ©Sheppard Robson

The green façade and living wall system have already been widely explored and implemented as a sustainable way of approaching façade design. Many are still experimenting with ways in which it can be integrated with the working of the building along with the lifestyle of the inhabitants.   

Author

Khushboo Patel is an Architect by profession who is now trying to unlearn and reflect on everything she learned in college. She is an avid reader, writer, and traveler who believes that ideas and words can change the world. She says that every place and person has a story that is worth telling and it needs to be told.

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