What will Façades of the Future look like?
This is a regularly asked question and the usual response involves the latest technology available or reference to the increase in computing power – allowing schemes of greater and greater complexity to be realised. I would like to offer an alternative view in response to this question – a human-centred response.
What do we want or need our façades to do?
At the most basic level, they let stuff in, let stuff out, keep stuff in and keep stuff out! As designers, we try to improve these characteristics.
So, a high-performance façade is one which does these things well, right?
Yes of course, but our measurement of performance is rooted in theory and calculation – and this cannot change as we need specifications and performance data against which to work. But, there must also be another measure – the people that use our façades. For example, some of today’s façades are beautiful and magnificent but have moved away from efficiency and user-friendliness.
They no doubt use the highest ‘performance’ materials but are they working for the user? Look at examples of façades in our global cities which use full-height, beautifully clear glass letting in huge amounts of natural light, allowing great views out and in. These façades look incredible until the sun shines directly on to the glass making the glare and comfort levels in the spaces beyond unbearable requiring the internal blinds to come down blocking out the light and the views!
What about technology?
Looking at what advancements we expect ‘tomorrow’, technology cannot be discounted. There is tremendous work being done in the development of products such as adaptive façades, photochromic glass, nano-coatings, super-insulated vacuum glass, and biotechnology. Some of these innovations will solve the problem mentioned above and create more liveable, comfortable spaces but, sadly, a lot of this technology is still cost-prohibitive. As societal demands increase and legislation forces the use of ‘better’ technology these products will no doubt find their way to the mass market and become a part of the everyday-life in façades.
What about the future of façades?
Well, I often look to history to see what might happen next. For example:
• Great shading always works – but is too often designed in then value-engineered out.
• North-lights give us pure unfiltered light without direct glare.
• Glass-to-solid ratios are a much-researched but too-little-used factor in our designs.
Facades of the future – at least our immediate future – will draw upon the experience of façades of the past.