Functional Facades

Veronica R

A building's facade is often the most important aspect of design. The facade is the first thing that people see, and in recent years, innovative facade designs and systems have created some of the world's most interesting facades. Today, facades also provide function and are not merely meant to look interesting or beautiful but aim to enhance a building's performance. Architects have also taken into consideration how environmental factors, such as light and temperature, can determine the facade of a building.

Energy Efficiency

Office buildings with glass facades are some of the biggest energy consumers as they take a lot of energy to cool and heat. However, some facades, such as the El Blok Hotel's in Puerto Rico, can control the amount of light that enters the building through a series of perforated concrete panels. Wood louvers on building walls are another type of facade used to regulate not only the heat from the sun that enters a building, but the wind as well. The facade of one of the buildings in a university in Kolding, Denmark, was designed with perforated metal panels that shift from open to half-open to fully open in response to changing heat and light.

Building facades can also be built for optimum ventilation for different climates. Double-skin facades, for example, can allow natural or mechanical ventilation for optimized ventilation in different seasons or climates. An example of a double skin facade is London's Gherkin building, wherein windows open on the outer facade according to the weather allowing more or less air to flow through the building. Furthermore, the Breathing Skins Project aims at creating a responsive facade using a technology that can control the amount of light, views and air passing through a building.


Facades may also be designed to protect the contents of a building. In New Haven, Connecticut, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, which houses one of the few original, remaining Gutenberg Bibles, uses translucent "windows" of 1.25 inches thick marble to protect its contents. The Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington, features a facade of movable hand-wheel operated sliding sun screens that protect its art collection from natural light. The Dominus Winery in California's Napa Valley has walls made from stone-filled gabions to keep the winery perfectly insulated and illuminated.

Not only are facades designed for new buildings, but to protect historic ones as well. The Uhlan Barracks in Dusseldorf were built in 1890 and were preserved and made usable through a new facade that enveloped the buildings in polished natural aluminum. This addition, which also has a noise-protection function, melds the old and new to create a harmonious design.

Can you think of other factors that determine a building's facade?

Functional Facades

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