Innovative ways of facade designing

The building facade is one of the most important exterior elements for building functionality. While the facade is an elegant component that helps to define the unique architectural aesthetics of the building, it also has the critical role related to energy performance and interior function of a building. Designing a building facade is crucial to not only the inhabitants but also to the surroundings. With footprint area restraints and keeping budgets in check, we as Architects tend to stick to the more comfortable design options for facade designing, without exploring much into the unexplored territories.

In the past few years additionally, globalisation has led to a rise in glazed facades, with cloned buildings standing at every nook and corner in the cities. However, in spite of the design restraints, thinking out of the box can lead to innovative solutions for facade designs.

1. Solar panels

In the era of glass facades, utilising solar panels for the building facade may seem like an obvious but not many have thought of it; and very few have been able to pull-it-off stylishly.

A solar facade system converts sun rays into energy and most facades can be used for solar cladding. Ventilated solar facade technology offers many advantages such as electricity production, facade insulation, extra thermal properties, noise reduction, modernisation of old facades.

Photo credits: Andreas Horsky

Project: New Blauhaus, Germany

Architects: Kadawittfeld Architektur

This project is designed to present innovative developments in the energy sector. The facade is built up of oppositely inclined, blue-tinged glass and photovoltaic elements. It is built around the orientation and incidence of solar radiation.

The project, which is a cooperation between the energy and water utility company NEW and Hochschule Niederrhein, is designed to present innovative developments in the energy sector.

2. Graffiti

Graffiti has been used as a medium for voices of social change, protest, or expressions of community desire. Street-writers or graffiti artists seem to want to abolish the idea of property (symbolised by buildings) by using buildings as tools of expression. The struggle against the principle of property is directly associated with the expression of freedom, especially for those graffiti works or phrases that denounce abuses of power and discrimination.

Photo credits:

Project: Swing Girl, Los Angeles

Artist: Banksy

The mysterious artist is in news for hiding a shredder in the frame for his 2006 painting Girl With Red Balloon.  After being sold for a whopping $1.4 million, the painting largely destroyed itself.

In general, Banksy’s satirical street art combines dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stencilling technique. 

Located in a car park on Broadway, Downtown LA, Swing Girl is another example of Banksy making use of what was already there. The ‘ing’ portion of the parking sign has been whitewashed out to form the park and a girl on a swing added to the letter A. It seems clear that it is a comment on how there is a lack of places for kids to play safely in what is a fairly rough area of Los Angeles. 

3. Facade lighting

The facade lighting does not only help to localize buildings and provide security it also plays a key role in the architectural expression. 

Photo credits: Flavorwire

Project: The GreenPix Media Wall, West Beijing

Architects: Simone Giostra & Partners and ARUP

The GreenPix media wall is a groundbreaking concept, integrating sustainable and digital technologies within the curtain wall of Xicui Entertainment Centre in west Beijing.

Featuring the world’s largest colour light-emitting diode (LED), it becomes a major new focus for the digital artist community.

The unique glass curtain wall comprises an approximately 2,000m² ‘interactive skin’ and integrates a photovoltaic system for the first time in China. It performs as a self-sufficient organic system, storing solar energy by day and using it to illuminate the screen after dark.

With customised software, the skin interacts with the building interiors and outside public space, transforming the façade into a responsive environment for entertainment and public engagement.

4. Biomimicry

Nature has evolved systems that can be mimicked to solve design problems and create a more sustainable future. When nature has a problem, evolution weeds out what doesn’t work and selects the most effective adaptations. Humans could also address environmental problems by using biomimicry — examining nature’s solutions and applying them to human designs.

Image source: Pinterest

Project: The Seoul Commune 2026, Seoul, Korea

Architects: Mass Studies

This mass housing design borrows heavily from the beehive. It doesn’t just mimic the shape but also takes into account the self-cleaning and self-sufficient nature of the beehive. 

The private spaces in all towers are composed of individually unique beehive-like cells. The exterior skin of the towers consists of hexagonal lattice structures that derive from the unique spatial structure and create the unique appearance of the towers. The hexagonal openings are filled with various types of glass. The water distribution system also carries up to 30% of the cooling load during the summer and cleans the glass windows of the building in the heavily polluted city of Seoul.

Atop the glass is a geo-textile that allows for the growth of vines and other flora that provide additional cooling and environmental advantages to the building and surrounding site.

5. Green facade

A green facade is created by growing climbing plants up and across the facade of a building, either from plants grown in garden beds at its base or by container planting installed at different levels across the building.

Green facades can create a cooler microclimate immediately adjacent to a building, primarily through direct shading of the building facade, but also from cooling from plant foliage (transpiration of water through the leaves), and evaporative loss of water from the growing medium.

Image courtesy:

Project:, Babylon Hotel, Vietnam

Architects: Vo Trong Nghia

The Babylon Hotel is located at the coastal Naman Retreat Resort among villas and bungalows. Created for relaxation of the body and mind, the hotel accommodates guests within a natural, lush environment. It is wrapped in greenery that hangs and creeps up through a system of precast concrete louvres with a wooden texture.

Its luscious skin not only adds beauty but reduces direct sunlight, creates oxygen, allows the breeze to flow and keeps the interiors private. Arranged in an L-shape that embraces the swimming pool, the three-story building provides a discreet atmosphere immersed in wonderful nature.

6. Dynamic facade

Dynamic Façades are also known as responsive façades. They exhibit an ability to comprehend and learn from their surroundings, adjusting their behaviour accordingly.   The building skin is not inert but transforms dynamically to regulate the internal environment, reducing its power demands. Ideally, they include methods for generating energy. 

Image courtesy:

Project: Eskenazi Hospital, Indianapolis

Architects: Urbana Architecture

The installation on the facade of the hospital is made of a total of 7,000 angled metal panels with colours that change depending on the orientation. As one walks or drives along the hospital, the colours change and the facade shifts in colour. The panels change colour from yellow to charcoal or vice versa, modifying the design of the facade at the same time.

7. Daylight control

Daylight can be used to counterbalance the use of electrical lighting and ensure a positive effect on not only the productivity of the occupants but also their mood. According to studies, in the absence of proper solar control, occupants tend to draw blinds when visual or thermal comfort thresholds are exceeded. These blinds are likely to remain closed for some time, negating the potential benefits of having the window in the first place.

Photo credits: MaxPPP
Image courtesy: Archdaily

Project: Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris

Architects: Jean Nouvel, Architecture-Studio, Pierre Soria and Gilbert Lezenes

At the Institut du Monde Arabe (1987) or The Arab World Institute (AWI), Paris, French architect, Jean Nouvel has realised a dynamic redesign of the vernacular Arabic screen. The amount of daylight entering the building is controlled by 27,000 light- sensitive diaphragms. The metallic brise-soleil on the south facade, with intricate and clear-cut details, quite similar to those of the traditional mashrabiya, is visible from a distance.

Apart from the above stated innovative ways of facade design, there are few more ways such as

• Double skin facade

The double-skin facade is a system where a building consists of two skins, or facades, placed in such a way that air flows in the intermediate cavity. The ventilation of the cavity can be natural, fan-supported or mechanical.

• Buffer system of facade design

This uses two layers of single glazing, spaced 250 to 900 mm apart, sealed and allowing fresh air into the building through additional controlled means, that is, either a separate HVAC system or box type windows cutting through the overall double skin.

• Twin-face system

This system consists of a conventional curtain wall or thermal mass wall system within a single glazed building skin. The outer glazing may be a safety or laminated glass or insulating glass.

• The hybrid system of facade design

This is a class that accommodates all the building systems that do not fit into a precise category. It can also be a combination of various ways of facade design.

The facade of the building you design can make or break the identity at both, macro and micro level. Facade design has a huge role to play beyond just aesthetics. Macro-level being the identity of the society at the urban planning level, which also affects the psychology of the occupant who stays inside the building. The facade forms a part and parcel of your culture and hence, as Architects it is our moral responsibility to be thoughtful about the designs we choose, and to give our building a lasting identity.

About the author:

Tejashri Deshpande, an Architect by profession and an animal lover by obsession, has her own design practice in Pune by the name of Design Doobki.

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