It is obvious that we designers have more freedom to think about formal and functional aspects of facades since the beginning of the 20th century when the “free plan” has become the dominating concept in civic and commercial architecture which allows for a building structure being supported by columns so that the outer wall can take any form and configuration. This has made the 20th century a time of maximized transparency, thin layered and even experimental constructions and free form shells. Nevertheless, the facade has always been more than ‘a shell’ that simply separates interior from exterior. This was in particular the case with vernacular facade designs that consequently reflected on local climate conditions and materials as a low-tech approach. The facade was and is a major building component to secure
the comfort conditions for the users of the building. This also includes sustainability principles to maintain and even improve the environmental, economic and societal values the buildings bear.
Today, at the beginning of 21st century we can see increasing and interesting combinations of traditional climate adapted concepts with high-tech components and technologies: digital fabrication allows for new design solutions and constructions, sensors and automation allow for more individual adaptability and circular economy allows for a new materiality and aesthetics. While these approaches are still in development they will probably be interrelated in the near future and require a holistic approach with systems thinking. They will be able to fulfil several functional aspects in facade design on the level of management and organization, design and aesthetic and sustainability and resource-efficiency.
sustainable facade design
To be sustainable in every aspect, all stages of the facade life cycle should be taken into consideration and be planned in the beginning, as opposed to the general conception in today’s architectural and fabricator’s practice, which usually focuses on the first fabrication and installation and does not take into account later stages of maintenance, repair or replacement. While today the use of an ecological or a ‘green’ certified material is considered to be sustainable, the sustainable facade is the one which really responds to its users and can be maintained for an extended lifetime by simple and less costly maintenance procedures such as repairs or exchanges. Still, each material on the facade assembly ages and comes to an end of use-life. This service life estimation should be done, and end-of-life scenarios should be developed in planning and design phases of the project.
Based on the material and material assembly characteristics, strategies should be developed on which part can be reused / redistributed, refurbished / remanufactured, or recycled. The main point is to close the loop of the materials’ lifetime by closing the loop in architectural project process but also including renovation and disassembly or demolition, such as some research and demonstration projects already do. As this involves many uncertainties such as occupant behaviour, future economic viability, future accessibility to goods and services, it is not an easy task. Therefore, this should be handled from a broader perspective than sole architectural. Business models must be developed so that the uncertainties can be tackled.
This question is of huge interest for us as scientist and educators. To get more detailed information we have launched an online survey in 2016 with more than 200 participants in the USA and in Europe, organised in the context of the European Facade Network (EFN) together with the Facade Tectonics Institute (FTI). The survey was aiming to gain a more detailed knowledge of the requirements for facade education within the facade and building construction communities but gives of course insight into the what the facade industry considers as relevant and crucial. Specific knowledge and competences of current and future staff
in facade design and technology can be categorized in three major groups:
Design: visual design / appearance, corporate design / public impact, high quality and branded products
Technology: innovative / new materials, sun control, weather resistance / durability, commissioning / maintenance
Sustainability: natural ventilation, sustainable materials, energy modelling / performance.
It was also interesting that facade companies and fabricators are seen as the primary resource for information about facades and that teamwork is an important trait for the facade designer and manufacturer. Another important outcome for a facade program is the inclusion of simulation tools and the increase of competency in technology.
Developing or new technologies already have and will further have a huge impact to the facade industry that has a close link to building physics, mechanical and building services engineering. ICT-solutions have already been implemented to further develop a digital workflow or BIM based software tools and to evaluate how the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data can be used to optimise design, logistics and fabrication, maintenance and circularity. To my opinion facades and facade industry is one of the most advanced and suitable areas in the building sector to make use of developing technologies. This has also been confirmed in our facade survey when it comes to competences and education. Within the European Facade Network (EFN),
we are currently tailoring our educational programs to these requirements and needs. And it is obvious when looking to the themes of recent and upcoming conferences: ICAE2018 ‘Envelope 4.0’ referred to Industry 4.0, FACADE2018 will focus on new materials, systems and applications for adaptive facades and Powerskin2019 is addressing digital processes as one focus. We already can see impressing examples applying complex shapes and functions in facades and robotics in fabrication.
The Palais Kursaal by Rafael Moneo San Sebastian, Spain, is playing with the translucent glass elements in the interior and exterior by creating an abstract
dispersion of the daylight inside and of artificial lighting to the outside at night and which uses the glass elements in a structural and aesthetic sense.
The facade of the art museum ‘The Broad’ in Los Angeles by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York) in collaboration with Gensler Architects (San Francisco) is designed as a ‘veil’ that surrounds the ‘vault’. The rhomboidal shapes out of white glass fibre reinforced concrete build a perforated envelope with an exact north orientation to optimise daylight infiltration.
The Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zürich, Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) is covered by a sequential roof that is the result of an integrated digital planning process connecting the design and structural analysis of the free-form roof structure with the generation of fabrication data and a robot-based assembly. This digital implementation is applying timber as a traditional local and sustainable building material. The roof was planned by Arch_Tec_Lab AG and manufactured by ERNE AG Holzbau.