Computational design for adaptive facades

Some of the contemporary experiments and studies for parametric architecture demonstrate the level of potential development of smart adaptive facades, thanks to the exploitation of the computational design. Through this approach, it is possible to translate the aspect of multifunctionality that is in nature into architecture. Contemporary parametric architecture draws inspiration from the various levels of biological and reticular organization of some cellular organisms and systems found in nature. The solutions and functions proposed in nature, and developed over millions of years, can help to create a single hierarchical structure at several levels, capable of facing and solving the problems of climate and energy adaptation of a building, with the main goal to create a resilient building. 

Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall, Stuttgart

The smart adaptive facade of a resilient building created with generative design

For many years, experiments on adaptive structures have offered important insights into the potential offered by technological innovation, for sustainable protection in the Mediterranean area. Digital technologies can provide adequate solutions to address the formal and technical complexity of building protection or closure systems, leading to unprecedented changes also in the conservation process.

The transformation of design processes through the use of performance-based computational, algorithmic or parametric generative design, or simulations made using augmented reality technologies, as well as digital fabrication and new construction methods contribute to a paradigm shift in Architecture and a transformation of contemporary design practice.

The theme of adaptive facades is just one of the starting points for thought on some intervention strategies, which assumes a general character such as to offer guidelines of useful indications for all designers. Once elaborated and systematized, the developed intervention strategies can be used in different geographical contexts, but with similar climatic characteristics.

Food for thought for an original reading of themes already present for some time in the agenda of those who govern the city and represent a stimulus for new insights on biomimetic-adaptive facades to be implemented and exploited for new or existing buildings in Mediterranean areas. If the copious literature of the last decade promises a central role to biomimicry in architecture of this millennium, the study of the reproduction of biological mechanisms will increasingly have to characterize the design of smart screens, facades or envelopes for buildings in hot climates. Radical and revolutionary design solutions thus stimulate the research and development of environmentally responsible, reactive structures.

The multifunctional adaptive facade, able to meet different functional requirements and regulate multiple environmental factors

In nature, there is a wide range of organisms that specialize in different functions. The translation of biological solutions to be applied to adaptive facades would benefit from billions of years of evolution (FAÇADE 2018 Final Conference of COST TU1403 “Adaptive Façades Network“)

Buildings with systems integrated into the envelope

Multifunctionality in nature is the integration of more than one function in a unified system, in which a unified structure is able to control multiple functions. This is why current studies focus on the realization of monofunctional elements assembled in a single system, which subsequently becomes multifunctional.

In the case of an adaptive facade, for example, the components of a window are designed separately to meet different requirements, such as daylight lighting and the external view controlled by the properties of the glass. While glare and solar gain are controlled by shading systems.

The parametric or computational architecture approach takes into account the possibility of managing multiple aspects at the same time, in order to meet the functional requirements of a building and protect the interiors from environmental factors such as wind, rain, humidity, external temperature and solar radiation. Smart adaptive facade systems aim to meet a wide range of various functional requirements.

The requirements are sometimes contradictory: for example, obtaining optimal illuminance with minimal glare and having a high thermal accumulation with light and permeable structures. Implementing studies and research on the development of multifunctionality in facades, thanks to the integration of lessons learned from biological structures, can pave the way for further stimulating developments in research and experimentation.

Clearly, the open issue is that of efficiency and energy saving. In the case of intelligent or adaptive facades, the most immediate element is the integration of photovoltaics, which in a Mediterranean country like Italy turns out to be an interesting and complex challenge. The Mediterranean areas, attractive due to the strong sunshine, are suitable for an energetic approach in step with the times. The identification of integrated systems in the Mediterranean home through the choice of innovative solutions will make it possible to transform specific architectural components of the envelope into energetically active components.

In particular, solar protection systems are configured as a characterizing element of the Mediterranean living tradition and as a fundamental response to the energy saving needs of a building, guaranteeing shading, solar control and reducing the thermal load of a building. The UNI 8290 standard does not include the shielding component and, moreover, in the definition of Legislative Decree 311/2006 it is defined as a system applied to the outside of a transparent glass surface.

In Mediterranean architecture, the shielding component of a building interacts synergistically with the building envelope. The shielding of a building, in the Mediterranean area, can also be the pergola or the garden, but it is often a device, a technology applied to the building envelope. 

Bioclimatic pergola in the Mediterranean house

So why not consider, for example, the shielding as part of the building envelope itself? If it were part of the transparent envelope, it would contribute to the enhancement of thermal resistance. And as part of the opaque envelope, it would contribute to insulation.

With respect to what has been said regarding this component with a Mediterranean flavor, it is proposed to feed interdisciplinary research on an integrated performance approach which, on the one hand, captures the suggestions from tradition and identifies the new needs for adaptation of the already built better design of the new and, on the other hand, draws from the research and cataloging of new materials on the market and characterizing national and international research. Through this new approach, new performances are identified, unified in a multifunctional envelope based on the needs of climatic adaptation and external environmental conditions.

Conservation and innovation can become an inseparable and essential combination for the richness and uniqueness of the existing building heritage characterized, in the words of Le Corbusier, by “this invincible Mediterranean attraction”. 

Contemporary Mediterranean house

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