Aesthetics is a big part of facade design but not the only consideration. When designing a building facade, key considerations, in addition to visual appeal, also include waterproofing, insulation and now, energy efficiency, which adds another layer of complexity to the process. Thanks to advances in building technology and access to a greater number of materials, facade engineers are able to do more with what they have.
Facade design trends are no longer discussing ‘what's hot’ but more about how design approach has changed with different priorities taking precedence and the immense design possibilities, thanks to new technological developments.
1. Design approach
When one thinks of facades, there are quite a few iconic buildings that come to mind - St Peter's Basilica, the Parthenon, or one of the many striking works by Frank Gehry. Great facade design can leave an impression, oftentimes leading buildings to become iconic, integral parts of their cityscapes that can last for centuries.
Mic Patterson of Facade Tectonics describes the current approach to facade design in commercial architecture as ‘the pursuit of the iconic’. This is an approach that values the unique appearances of the classics, and attempts to create designs that will be remembered.
This is not to say that the aesthetic aspect of a facade is the only consideration. As previously mentioned, waterproofing and insulation are just as important as aesthetic features, but with new technology, facades can make even more meaningful contributions to the buildings they envelop.
Today's design approach is one that balances striking visuals with classic functionality, while incorporating smart new technologies to boost efficiency.
The Parthenon Pavilion at Centennial Medical Center (Junior_Lava)
Technological advances are not only simplifying bulk production of materials but also allowing these materials to be manipulated easily for specific applications. Producing thousands of perforated metal sheets, for example, is far simpler and less time-consuming than it would have been previously.
Woven wire mesh and perforated or expanded metal used in facades (whether for the entire building skin or as individual textural or shading elements in more complex designs) certainly fit the bill when it comes to functionality. Facade materials need to strike a delicate balance between allowing natural light to enter the building and restricting glare from the sun.
This can be achieved using open profiles or screens oriented in such a way to allow the all-important passage of natural light while still offering optimal protection from direct sunlight. Though facade engineers have traditionally used glass to provide natural light to a space, this material isn't always the best option in Australia's climate where the glare from the slow-moving sun can cause problems with vision.
Monash University (Locker Group)
Sustainability is another factor of facade design that is more important and relevant now than ever. Sustainability is all about reducing the footprint using smarter materials, optimising design and layout, and reducing long-term costs.
Materials such as glass and open-profiled metal sheets allow the entry of natural light, thereby reducing the need for indoor lighting. More natural light means less reliance on the electricity grid, which ultimately reduces the energy spend.
Facades are generally oriented so they can respond to the sun’s movement. Depending on the local climate, facades can also prevent heat loss, or maintain cooler temperatures inside the building. Again, this reduces the amount of energy building managers need to use to keep the environment comfortable for occupants.
The ‘vegetated facade’ is another hot trend in facade design wherein a facade is designed and built to support the growth of vegetation. The vegetation then becomes part of the building skin, reinforcing biodiversity and offering shade and amenity spaces for building inhabitants.
Portland, Oregon (Lemon_Architecture)
4. Smart elements
Smart building design is as much about sustainability as it’s about improving lives. Smart elements creatively reimagine what's possible in design, removing limitations, creating spaces where humans can flourish, and adding new functionality.
Utilising smart elements in your facade represents an innovative design approach. For instance, a new hospital built in Mexico City a few years ago, features a facade with ‘smog-eating’ capabilities. The facade material contains titanium dioxide; as exhaust-filled air passes around the facade, it interacts with the material's ‘free radicals’, which cleanse the air of the gases that smog is made up of, such as nitric oxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone.
Another example of smart facade elements is the communications and design building at the University of Southern Denmark, which utilises gorgeous perforated metal panels with a twist. All of the panels are installed on mechanical hinges that are capable of adjusting themselves to regulate the natural light entering the building.
Yet another example of smart facade design comes from material technologists Decker Yeadon, whose homeostatic facade comprises of two sheets of glass sandwiching the newly developed material. This material was created to act like a muscle, expanding or contracting based on the temperature of the outer surface. This in turn, alters the amount of light and heat that can enter the building.
SDU Kolding (Uhandymand)
Maintenance plays a large role in facade design. As the ‘face’ of a building, a facade needs to maintain its appearance for the building's entire lifecycle. When designing a facade, it’s important to carefully consider how the materials will age over time, whether access points for cleaners can be incorporated, and if there is compatibility with new maintenance technology.
When perforated or expanded metal sheets are used, hot dip galvanisation helps them go the distance over time. In terms of access, this can often be achieved by having stairwells and access points between the facade and the building's exterior or otherwise allowing room for a cherry-picker to get close to the building. There are also a few companies currently producing robots for cleaning facades; since they need a place to dock in many cases, incorporating this into building design can also be useful for maintaining the facade in the long haul.
University of Twente
There are a huge number of factors involved in design, and we haven't even touched on compliance, but the possibilities for what can be done are growing every day. If you're ready to talk materials, we'd love to hear from you, so get in touch with the team at Locker Group today.