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Showing a New Side to Facades

12 March 2024

Facades provide a protective layer and also have an aesthetic appeal but in the coming years what will prevail in terms of priorities is sustainability as the architecture and design community increasingly feels a strong obligation to play its part in tackling climate change. Our new series of articles in 2024 presents the potential of facades to be truly cutting edge in this area.



2023 was the hottest year ever. At least that's what over 200 years of records say, in which a new static amplitude now stands out. A record that should not only give us food for thought, but should also be incentive enough to take matters into our own hands. In 2024, we want to turn our attention in our articles to the topic of "façades", an increasingly important topic in the construction industry, because with well thought-out, indeed intelligent building envelopes it is possible - often underestimated - to make a valuable and particularly important contribution to the climate debate.


Wood and its exceptional qualities are the focus at Team 7, and these corporate values are expressed in the façade in particular.
© Kurt Hörbst


Our first example takes us to Upper Austria, where Austrian organic furniture pioneer Team 7 opened its new headquarters, the 6,100 square meter Team 7 World, in autumn 2023. As naturalness and regional value creation with its own forest are part of the company's DNA, it is not surprising that the skills of a local architecture firm were used, as well as a building language that communicates the company's values to the outside world. However, the idea of sustainability in this project is not only to be found in the façade, but also in its conceptual origins. The basic idea was to create an ecological building with the highest design standards, which was to be a timber construction. Instead of moving to a greenfield site, TEAM 7 decided to stay at the inner-city location and densify it. In addition to core themes such as photovoltaics and green roofs, the focus was on a four-storey timber frame construction made of glulam columns, with an elaborate post-and-beam construction framing the generous glass surfaces.


In this project, 5,500 solid cubic meters of logs were used for beams, trusses, ceilings and exterior walls, with 1,000 solid cubic meters coming from the company's own forest and the rest from regional sources. © Kurt Hörbst


The structural and aesthetic emphasis on wood as a building material refers to the high-quality solid wood furniture products for which Team 7 is known worldwide. The timber frame walls in the inner courtyard are clad with standing oak formwork. On the street side, an aluminum standing seam façade forms the structural wood protection. The dark metal façade is the backdrop for the oak slats and forms a stark contrast to the lightly glazed timber construction visible through the glazing on the inside. One of the special features of this building is that it manages entirely without air conditioning. On the one hand, the maintenance balconies and the suspended oak slats provide a significant proportion of the sun protection. On the other hand, there is an ingenious mix of natural shading through canopies, sun protection screens and self-made sun protection slats. Intelligent window ventilation on the office floors enables night-time cooling during the warmer seasons. This ensures a pleasant indoor climate all year round without having to resort to energy sources.


The Team 7 world manages entirely without air conditioning. This is made possible by the possibility of ventilation through openings in the façade, which allow the cool night air to flow in.
© Kurt Hörbst


In future, façades will not only have the task of significantly reducing energy requirements, but also of improving the quality of life both inside and outside the building. So on the one hand it's less, but on the other hand it's more. A good example of how this can be achieved is the Nordø project by Henning Larsen Architects A/S, which was built as part of the urban expansion in Copenhagen's Nordhavn district. The four-storey building, which provides space for residential and commercial areas, has a multifunctional and flexible design and its red-brown façade is inspired by the industrial past of the location and the classic block construction in Østerbro. This is where beauty and biodiversity meet.


Nordø by Henning Larsen Architects A/S is part of a great urban expansion project in Copenhagen, which was co-planned by city architect Camilla van Deurs. The aim is to make Copenhagen climate-neutral - it is already 86 percent so today. 
© R. Hjortshöj


Before the building's completion in 2023, the green façade had already been installed. Nordø will be the first place in Denmark to use a completely new façade solution, designed by Henning Larsen and developed in collaboration with BG Byggros and Komproment and with the support of the Danish Ministry of the Environment. For this microclimate with harsh winds, cold temperatures and the salt of the sea, the team selected plants with two very different characteristics. Some plants look beautiful 365 days a year but have a naturally low biodiversity, while others are home to up to 132 different native insects. The façade has a controlled hydraulic buffer capacity that collects rainwater from the roof. This ensures that the plants are constantly supplied with water.


The climate secret of Nordø lies in the use of plants and insect diversity, which are made possible by the special façade elements.
© R. Hjortshöj


Project partner BG Byggros has introduced processes that ensure continuous CO2 absorption. Through the annual harvest of plant mass and biomass within the farm, the CO2 is not stored through the release of plant compost and CO2, as is usually the case, but by converting it into biochar through pyrolysis. The biochar can then be used in growth media as a valuable nutrient buffer for plant growth. In addition, the façade in Nordø is equipped with sensors that measure the impact of the façade on noise and temperatures at street level. Simulations show that a 15 percent reduction in noise at street level can be expected. And due to the evaporative and heat-absorbing properties of the plants, the façade will help to lower the temperature on the street in summer.


Round landmark: Tip of Nordø by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects plays with the charms of sunlight and makes perfect use of them.
© Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, COBE and Tredje Natur - Photo by Jakob Holmqvist


Right next to it is the new landmark Tip of Nordø by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, a cylindrical, 60-metre-high building that stands out like a landmark. Here too, albeit in a completely different way, it is the façade that deserves special attention. It is a 12,000 square meter element façade with a special design and inclination that filters daylight as required and regulates solar radiation. With their textured surfaces and clad in glass, the faceted angled façade elements vary in size and glazing ratio based on hourly weather simulations. There are six different variants in total.


Narrow to the south, wide to the north: the façade controls the optimal use of daylight practically all by itself.
© Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, COBE and Tredje Natur - Photo by Jakob Holmqvist


In this way, overheating in summer is prevented, energy consumption is reduced and excellent daylight conditions are taken into account, which develop a dynamic of their own due to the reflection of the water, among other things. But everything has been thought through to the end: the façade elements on the south side of the building, where the façade is most exposed to daylight, are narrower than those facing west, east and north and widen more and more to increase the amount of daylight entering the building.


The façade as a fascinating construct in the service of climate targets.
© Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, COBE and Tredje Natur - Photo by Jakob Holmqvist


Timo Ranta and Jukka Turunen, together with Finnish steel construction pioneer Aulis Lundell Oy and architect Matti Kuittinen, planned the steel-frame Pyörre house in Lohja, Finland, from cradle to cradle - and thus following the entire material cycle. The special thing about it is not only the ecological footprint, but also the planning of the time after the building's life cycle right from the start. To this end, a material balance was drawn up for the house, showing the proportion of recycled and renewable raw materials as well as the recycling possibilities of the various materials at the end of the life cycle, should the decision be made to demolish the house. Numerous new innovations have also been used to enable low-carbon construction. With the help of plants, bioplastics and recycled concrete, the carbon content has been drastically reduced. The math worked out: 15 percent of the resources used are renewable, 22 percent are recycled and 82 percent can be recovered as material or energy.


Unjustly targeted: Steel also has its good sides - House Pyörre by Matti Kuittinen is one of the best examples.
© Nina Kellokoski


Recycled car waste and cleaning wool made from recycled glass were used for the frame, but primarily steel, which will be available again at the end of the building's lifetime. The cycle of steel is practically infinite thanks to its recyclability. For architect Matti Kuittinen, it is the designer's responsibility to think beyond the life of the building, right up to its demolition. The aim must be to maximize the proportion of recycled, recyclable and renewable materials. Steel is not only suitable as a flexible material for organic shapes. Thanks to its strength, steel is lighter than other materials and almost 100 percent recyclable. Steel is also flexible in the redesign of buildings and structures, easy to dismantle, separate by type and therefore easy to recycle. In addition, the construction on steel legs meant that no soil was used.


The building can be completely dismantled and recycled at the end of its life cycle.
© Nina Kellokoski


Finally, an example from Mexico, where architect Francisco Pardo did not create a façade in the classic sense for a weekend house, but gave the building a "fifth" façade, so to speak. In the rural lake district of Valle del Bravo, around two hours from Mexico City, Casa Aguacates, the "avocado house", was built for an enthusiastic hang-gliding couple, right next to an avocado field, a dense forest and a nearby ravine. In order not to damage or destroy this natural idyll, they decided to literally bury the house. As a result, avocado trees sprout above the hidden and inconspicuous structure, which looks directly into the treetops of the forest.


No façade at all: the avocado house is completely buried in the ground.
© Sandra Pereznieto


The "fifth façade" is the name given to the bird's eye view, just as carefully designed as its counterparts, so that the house blends in naturally with its surroundings. This solution also provides optimal thermal conditions in an area affected by strong temperature fluctuations between day and night, thanks to the earth above the roof, which keeps the house at a constantly comfortable temperature. Inside, the bare concrete structure is combined with chukum, a natural stucco from the Yucatan region, and partitions made from recycled pine wood. The project is thus a subtle expression of architecture's ability to blend into its natural surroundings and coexist with them in creative tension. Francisco Pardo's Casa Aguacates adapts naturally to its location and is the living expression of the symbiosis between architecture and nature, wildness and domesticity.


Double top: the house not only takes advantage of the surrounding soil, but also blends in perfectly with its surroundings.
© Sandra Pereznieto

Originally written by Barbara Jahn

Showing a New Side to Facades
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