Façade design plays a vital role in the field of architecture. In fact, after prudent planning, a façade is the most important thing when it comes to design. Times have seen a major transformation in the way we look at façades. Today an interesting and captivating façade as much contributes to the building being classified as a great piece of architecture, as any other element of the building. Since any space or volume that we talk about gets its definition from the four vertical faces that help in confining that space, the character of those four faces and the fenestrations, etc on them majorly contribute to the overall look and feel of that space.
Balancing Aesthetics and Practicality in Facades and Fenestrations
A very important aspect that we as conscious designers need to look into is the context we are designing the building. It is much easier to ape the West and do dramatic glass façades, but the question is does our kind of climate call for it? It is imperative that we first study the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) or in simple words the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a glazing/window or perhaps a skylight designed, either directly or indirectly absorbed and subsequently transmitted to the volume of space inside the building in the form of heat. Not to forget that this solar heat gain has a direct impact on the total consumption of air-conditioning inside the building thereby adding to our costs.
Hence the right balance of solids and voids on the façade could be a better way to tackle our kind of tropical climate. Of course, aesthetics can very well be achieved even with this kind of approach. Contrary to this is the concept of a second skin, more suited to a west-facing façade, where the solar ingress is minimised through a second skin façade which helps in filtering the heat. At times, the gap between the two skins also acts as an insulation barrier thus creating a micro-climate in that zone which again helps in further reducing the heat inside the building.
New-Age Uses of Facades and Fenestrations
Today the word façade has replaced the age-old word “elevation” in many a way. Right from interactive or kinetic façades which as the name says are more responsive to the passer-by, to façades that use photo-voltaic cells in the glass panels, which help in harnessing solar energy; from hollow clay blocks which again help in creating a micro-climate, to large-sized slim tiles; from aluminium composite panels (ACP) and high-pressure laminates (HPL) to various kinds of cladding woods like Thermoash, Thermo-pine, IPE etc, we have come a long way. The concept of dry cladding has again brought about a revolution in the way we look at the process of execution of any of these kinds of façades.
Zinc and Copper have existed in Europe for ages. Some of the most distinguished architects across the globe have relied on copper and zinc. Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright specified Copper in several of his projects. Frank ‘O Gehry revolutionised the way we look at architecture by using corrugated metals like Titanium which has drawn a fair share of appreciation as well as criticism.
From Minneapolis City Hall, Minnesota constructed in 1888 where sloping copper roofing has aged and turned to its distinctive patina green to modern buildings like Holbrook School in Massachusetts which has used pre-patina copper panels, today we are spoilt with choices when it comes to materials for façades. Creativity sees no boundaries and our modern-day materials in most ways support this. Of course, key concerns remain cost and climatic conditions to which we as architects need to act responsive, rest the façade to us is a canvas… waiting for a splash of colour.
Double Skin Facade for a School
Since the beginning of time, the climate has been the most eminent factor on which our habitat is based. Such was the case during the pre-historic era and stands true to date. Keeping climatology as the core of the design concept, Parag Singal Architects came up with a very playful yet sensible design for a school. Spread over 8 acres, the entire construction is to be executed in a phased manner. Hence, the planning is such that future constructions can undergo smoothly without disturbing the daily routine of the school. The campus has been designed to be a space that is aesthetically appealing, ergonomic, and creates a fun learning environment for the students.
The vehicular movement has been restricted towards the front of the site, keeping the entire campus pedestrian-friendly. There is a peripheral road for fire tender movement and other service utilities. The classroom, being the most visible symbol of educational philosophy, has been strategically placed in a way that it receives maximum daylight and remains undisturbed by outside noise.
Parag Singal Architects kept the orientations in such a way that the playgrounds fall on the North-South axis while reducing the comprehensive solar heat gain of the building as well, keeping the thermal comfort of the occupants in mind. North Face being exposed to the least of the sunlight and most of the daylight keeps the classrooms well-lit without exposing them to unwanted solar heat.
Furthermore, a double skin façade has been designed for the southern face of the building which naturally receives the harshest sun. A self-explanatory name, a double-skin façade consists of two layers wherein the air flows through the intermediate cavity. It reduces the solar heat gain of the building, keeping it cool and reducing energy consumption.
It also enables sufficient daylight into the premises without letting the harsh sun in. The clear glass makes up the inside of the two skins while a perforated screen is on the outside, this allows an uninterrupted visual connection with the exterior without exposing the children to the harsh climate. To summarize, the high-performance façade is a comprehensive system that incorporates sufficient daylight, controls solar heat gain and facilitates ventilation.
Another advantage is the acoustic insulation it provides from the playgrounds outside. The outer skin and the intermediate cavity act as a sound barrier, giving complete freedom to the children in the playground to express themselves without disturbing the ongoing lectures. All in all, the school is set to be a fun learning environment for the students. Enabling them to enjoy and learn in a very comfortable, natural, and healthy environment. The design approach clearly keeps sustainability on the center stage without compromising on aesthetics.
Parag V Singal, Parag Singal Architects
Ar. Parag V Singal has a rich experience of over 20 years and he believes that every project is an opportunity to create something new. All his projects are an amalgamation of innovative design solutions and rich aesthetics. He has worked with some of the leading brands including Mitsubishi Electric India, Merino Industries, Tata, Rimjhim Ispat, Surya World University, Sanofi Pasteur, Gaursons India, Valley Iron & Steel, Groz Engineering Tools, and the political party BJP. An award-winning architect, Parag is well acclaimed for the variety of his projects, his timelines, and the newness he brings about with each of them. Singal obtained his degree from the Institute of Environmental Design, Gujarat, and is a recipient of the Surya Kant Patel gold medal. He has been a visiting faculty with many architecture and interior design institutions.