More Than One Way to Skin a Building


Read original article here. (Image by SXC)


Our bodies are covered in skin that helps protect and regulate our internal temperature levels. In a similar fashion, a building’s envelope protects its internal functions and acts as a transitional space from outside. But unlike our skin, which is predetermined for us by Nature, a building’s facade can be changeable and designed to custom specifications. The challenge for architects is: How do we go beyond the perception that building facades are merely two-dimensional surfaces?

Just like our bodies, imagine if buildings had beneficial micro-organisms in their ducts and pipes that could symbiotically, systemically, equilibrate and even heal internal issues and defend from external pathogens. Imagine if the building envelope/facade was “living” and really smart so that, not only could it regulate “monitoring and controlling" functions but it could also “breathe and sweat” like our bodies. We’ve abstracted Nature as “outside” but the fact that we are in bodies, in buildings, breathing, and sharing air as both breath and thoughts, means that Nature is inside as well as outside. Building envelopes and facades also include a unique dimension: “It changes with time.” It opens up numerous opportunities for creative architectural expression.

This year, Kingspan challenges students to express various building skins as an important component in the design of “an urban mid-rise, mixed-use complex with retail, commercial office and residential live-work units” located in Washington, DC in its Facade Systems Design Competition. One needs to ask, how important is a building’s facade in the overall performance of a piece of architecture? Architects constantly try to blur the lines between inside and outside, however, we also need to consider that how much of the outside we bring inside is also largely dependent on how much involvement with these decisions we give to the building’s end-users. Ultimately, this will lead to more ways to skin a building.