Why Kinetic Architecture Is More Than A Spectacle

Moving building facades are more about interior desirability than exterior choreography.

Anyone who has attended a tennis match at Wimbledon’s Centre Court in recent years appreciates the stadium roof, especially when rain is in the forecast. Unlike most football stadiums where there is little protection from the elements, the Centre Court roof can close in less than 10 minutes, providing a comfortable atmosphere for tennis spectators and players.

Retractable stadium roofs are becoming more common, so much so that we are used to them. Think of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Toronto’s Rogers Centre or Toyota Stadium in Japan. If the roofs of buildings can move, what about their facades?

We’re familiar with interior partitions sliding into place, dividing large spaces into intimate smaller ones, but not so much with kinetic exterior facades that twist, slide or even fold. As with the stadiums, it all has to do with comfort.

FLARE (rendering) - Berlin-Buch by Staab Architects3

FLARE (rendering) – Berlin-Buch by Staab Architects3

In 2008, Berlin-based design studio WHITEvoid presented their first prototype of FLARE – a kinetic ambient reflection membrane – that would allow a building to have a living skin. Suitable for any building or wall surface, it was meant as a facade that could breathe and communicate with its environment. The FLARE system consists of stainless steel flakes that are tilted by pneumatic cylinders, reflecting natural light away from the building thereby keeping the interior cool during the summer. WHITEvoid even created a video animation portraying how the FLARE system could be implemented on the Berlin-Buch Laboratory Building for medical genome research. 

FLARE

FLARE

FLARE

FLARE

The Theme Pavillion EXPO in Yeosu, South Korea, designed by Vienna-based soma, is a building that breathes. Built for Expo 2012, interior light is controlled by 108 kinetic lamellas made from glass fibre reinforced polymer (GFRP), which make them elastic and able to deform without breaking. Though it looks like a beached shark trying to oxygenate, the kinetic facade aids with the reduction of energy consumption. Synchronised actuators move the lamellas which are powered by solar panels, revealing the facade’s biomimicry.

One Ocean Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 - soma

One Ocean Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 - soma

One Ocean Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 - soma

One Ocean Thematic Pavilion EXPO 2012 - soma

For the University of Southern Denmark’s communications and design building, the kinetic facade was designed to be climate-responsive. The facade of the project by Henning Larsen Architectsconsists of 1,600 triangular motor-powered, movable panels, which are connected to heat and light sensors. Each panel opens to create shading and optimal daylight. The kinetic facade is part of an overall passive design strategy, which includes the solar orientation of the building, exposed concrete slabs, LED lighting, photovoltaics and solar-heating panels. All this reduces the energy demand by 50% relative to a comparable building. The role of the kinetic facade is to reduce the requirements of cooling and ventilation as a result of heat gain. More than an architectural expression, the kinetic facade regulates the indoor climate of the building.

University_of_Southern_Denmark_SDU_Kolding_Campus

Kolding Campus, University of Southern Denmark

Kolding Campus, University of Southern Denmark

Kolding Campus, University of Southern Denmark

A similar example of kinetic facades can be found at the Kiefer Technic Showroom by Ernst Giselbrecht in Bad Gleichenberg, Austria,  where a system of aluminium shades folds open and close by the hour based on sunlight 

Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade

Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade

Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade

Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade

Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade

In Abu Dhabi, the Al Bahr Towers designed by Aedas Architects, has a responsive facade inspired by a traditional Islamic lattice known as mashrabiya and origami. The massive fibreglass-coated mashrabiya is supported by an individual frame about 6-feet from the curtain wall. All 2,098 kinetic elements are programmed to reduce solar gain and glare, which is very problematic for buildings in the UAE. At sunrise, the mashrabiya stays close on the east elevation, but stays open on the west. At sunset, the reverse happens. At 25-storeys tall, the Al Bahr Towers have the world’s largest computerised responsive facade. 

Al Bahar Towers Responsive Facade - Aedas5

Al Bahar Towers Responsive Facade - Aedas6

Al Bahar Towers Responsive Facade - Aedas4

Al Bahar Towers Responsive Facade - Aedas1

Not only can kinetic facades reduce heat gain, they can also allow fresh air into the building. This can be seen at the CH2 in Melbourne by DesignInc. The recycled timber slats on the west elevation pivot open to block the afternoon sun and stay open at night to cool the interiors with 100% fresh air.  As with most of these projects, CH2’s kinetic facade is just one part of a larger sustainable strategy, which includes rainwater harvesting, wind turbines, solar heated water, and photovoltaics. 

Council House 2 – Melbourne_ Australia. Detail of west façade-shown open © Russell Fortmeyer. Image Courtesy of Images Publishing

CH2 Melbourne City Council House 2- DesignInc-Photo by_Diane Snape2

CH2 Melbourne City Council House 2- DesignInc-Photo by_Diane Snape3

If you think that all of the kinetic facades that we have looked at so far are mere superficial devices attached to curtain walls, then you might be impressed with the Sharifi-ha House in Tehran by Next Office. Whole rooms move from the exterior to the interior in one swivel on motorised turntables, just like a set at a theatre. Typically, traditional Iranian houses have two living rooms: one for the summer and one for the winter. The house consists of three protruding spaces, or pods, that can be rotated outwards for the summer, and back for the winter.

The residents dictate the configuration that they want. On the first floor, is the breakfast room; the guest room is on the second floor; and a home office is on the third floor. Each pod has two doors. One to access the terrace when rotated outwards, and one to access the interior when rotated inwards 

What all of these kinetic, dynamic and responsive facades have in common is the regulation of energy as part of overarching sustainable strategies. A moving facade becomes another device to alter the interior environment of a building and make occupants feel more comfortable.  The technology exists for building facades to move, giving all of these projects a theatrical quality that one might find emotive. However, beyond the mere choreography, what really matters is what’s happening inside, to surfaces, spaces and people.

Words: Phil Roberts


2 Responses to “Why Kinetic Architecture Is More Than A Spectacle”

  1. Glenn E Hill says:

    Do you have a video, powerpoint or slide presentation I could show my class about kinetic shading facades.
    Thanks,
    Glenn

    • Phil Roberts says:

      Thanks for your comment Glenn E Hill.

      I think the videos in this article are quite good, especially the Kiefer Technic Showroom’s Dynamic Facade.

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