Not all façades are created equal, as we know from the fact that they do not all perform equally well. But beyond performance, some façades transcend mere enclosure to become something extraordinary. Consider the following four examples of cutting-edge technology in envelope design. We think that if these façades were people, you’d want their autographs.
Madrid’s Medialab-Prado, created in 2008-09 by Langarita–Navarro Arquitectos, features an interactive digital façade composed of a 1550-square-foot LED display. Passersby witness images, animation, and may even find an opportunity to play a video game on the massive display. The architects call it a rare example of non-commercial illuminated architecture, and an alternative to commercial advertising-based displays, like those that dominate in New York’s Times Square. The curators often ask for proposals for the display, which are open to all interested artists, programmers and the like.
L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, designed by architect Jean Nouvel and completed in 1987, demonstrates a pioneering take on the active (dynamic) façade that was well ahead of its time. The building envelope incorporates a striking and unusual brise-soleil composed of 240 motor-controlled apertures. This one-of-a-kind sunscreen creates dramatic shadows and filtered light in the interior spaces. But beyond the aesthetics, the dynamic façade also allows for control of solar heat gain, making the building an excellent energy performer. The building earned the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
One might not expect that a poured concrete enclosure would make this list but the curved, punched façade of O-14, a 23-story building in the Business Bay of Dubai, is memorable for several reasons. Designed in 2007 by Reiser + Umemoto RUR Architecture, the undulating concrete features circular cutouts of various diameters. (Locals refer to it as “the Swiss Cheese.”) The opening measurements are determined by “structural requirements, views, sun exposure, and luminosity,” according to the architects. The award-winning tower seems to flow, like a length of lace. A one-meter space between the perforated exoskeleton and an inner glass skin creates a chimney effect that keeps air flowing and helps cool the building.
The Faculty of Law of the University of Sydney designed by Architects FJMT Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and completed in 2009 is another noteworthy project. The uncompromisingly modern building incorporates significant sustainable innovation including a double-skin ventilated façade with occupant controlled timber louvres to control solar gain and glare, mixed-mode, chilled-beam and displacement air conditioning, precinct storm water collection and an iconic light tower which fills below-grade spaces with an abundance of filtered, natural light.