Fully transparent, glass buildings, which have been a staple of central business districts from Budapest to Tokyo, are, in my opinion, slowly but surely going away.
There are two main reasons for this:
First, there is the need to achieve high sustainability. High-performance glazing alone cannot satisfy this need, which is resulting in a wider variety of materials becoming available for opaque or shaded façades. And these materials can architecturally link the building to its context.
Secondly, increasingly advanced prefabrication capabilities, unitized systems such as shop-fabricated city pixels, and the use of the most advanced assembly technologies are all making it easier to bring articulated glazed and opaque elements to both tall buildings and to buildings with complex shapes.
New prefab capabilities, unitized systems, and advance assembly technologies all make it easier to bring opaque elements to tall or complex buildings
Glass will continue to play an important role in façades, but more from a qualitative than a quantitative point of view. What I mean by this is that it will have to relate to the opaque in the increasingly delicate and complex task of mediating between internal and external spaces.
New opportunities for architects and façade designers
We could see these trends as limitations on our expression. But in fact, the move towards opaque façades is opening up new aesthetic opportunities for architects and designers, and heralding a return to buildings that better reflect the history and character of a district or city.
The curtain wall is thus becoming once again an architectural element. It not only meets the energy requirements of the building it covers, but also looks outwards towards the squares and streets it surrounds. Through the materials and forms used, this creates a link with the full and empty spaces that are arranged around a new type of Renaissance square.
Curtain walls become a crucial architectural element in the squares new development
In addition, the façade outlined in this way can also be increasingly used as a tool for providing psycho-physiological comfort to the users of public places, as it can affect the levels of acoustic light or ventilation in these places.
Why sustainability (and regulations) require a shift to partially opaque façades
The drive for sustainability is based on an expectation coming from society – including future tenants – for zero-emission buildings (and for less anonymous buildings). Furthermore, in a lot of regions, this energy efficiency is no longer a nice option to include – it is a necessity. Regulations in many countries, including across the EU, are pushing developers to abandon all-glass buildings and turn to partially opaque façades instead.
The ambitions for a building’s sustainability have never been higher. Whereas in the past we might have looked to construct buildings that have a low environmental impact, now the target is zero.
And this doesn’t just mean zero impact when the building is functioning. It also means near zero emissions during the construction of the building. The materials that are used, the fabrication processes, the construction – everything will have to be done with the aim of having no negative impact on the environment.
Of course, given the environmental issues our world now faces, this move is necessary. But even if you don’t think so, the new regulations in place mean you have to follow these practices anyway. By 2051, the EU regulations will require buildings to have zero emissions during both their construction and their operation – the goal is climate neutrality.
These regulations will mean limitations – limitations to both the size and scope of buildings, and also to the materials used. It will mean a change to urban landscapes.
Pixels of a city
But limitations are great for creativity.
In order to limit land consumption, reduce energy losses and optimise energy consumption we will increasingly see two types of building developed. There will be tall, compact buildings connected with pedestrian bridges, and large buildings that actually crossroads.
This means we will have more neighbourhood buildings with complex internal walkable spaces. This in turn will require more complex façades from three different points of view:
- energy performance,
- the variety of materials used,
- and the shapes of the façades themselves.
And so, thanks to the “limits” of sustainability, and also thanks to prefabrication in the workshop, architects are increasingly taking the opportunity to develop an interplay between full and empty volumes, between opaque and glass.
They can offer different cuts of light towards the interior, and different views of the outside, even on the same façade. On the other hand, from the outside, such varied façades can increasingly offer a reading of an image composed of individual pieces, of tiles or pixels, like musical notes on a giant pentagram.
Here are some recent projects by Staticus that illustrate this approach.
The Quality Hotel™ Ramsalt in Bodø, Norway
The Quality Hotel™ Ramsalt in Bodø, Norway, illustrates the way the curtain wall is becoming an architectural element again. Image courtesy of Brick Visual
This project shows how the materials used can create a link with the full and empty spaces around a building. Image courtesy of Brick Visual
A façade element being installed by Staticus on the Quality Hotel™ Ramsalt in Bodø, Norway.
Universitetsgaten 7, Oslo, Norway
The Universitetsgaten 7 project in Oslo, Norway, is an example of how architects are developing an interplay between opaque and glass.
Façade pieces for the Universitetsgaten 7 project being assembled in the Staticus workshop.
Different pieces of the city can be created using different shapes and materials, and so too can each façade piece.
Complex buildings require more complex surface façades, which are now possible thanks to advanced assembly and installation technologies.
Via Vika, Oslo, Norway
Targeting a BREEM Excellent rating, the Via Vika building in Olso, Norway, indicates how opaque façades can enhance sustainability while simultaneously creating a unique new pixel for a city.
The Via Vika project is highly complex, with 20% of the façade elements curved. This required advanced façade design, prefabrication, and installation.
PRISMA office building in Helsingborg, Sweden
In the Prisma office building in Helsingborg, Sweden, the interplay between the glazed and opaque zones of the façade enable different forms of light and creates different views for those inside.
The design stage of the façade elements for the Prisma office building.
And the elements on the building during installation
Stockholm New, Stockholm, Sweden
Located on the edge of a cliff, and utilising 10 different colours in the NCS coloured enabled glass, both the overall design and the façade elements of the Stockholm New project interplay with the surrounding city. Image courtesy of Sauerbruch Hutton
The Stockholm New project features another complex architectural design requiring a complex façade solution. There is a 30cm difference between each successive floor, meaning the building is 8m wider at the top than it is at the bottom.
Façade elements in the Stockholm New project show the “step” design used in the building.
Opaque façades revitalising cityscapes
Thanks to the drive for sustainability, our cities are becoming more attractive again. That’s because they are increasingly made up of buildings with façades that have multiple aesthetic qualities. To private spaces, they offer varied shapes of light and unique views, and to the city, they offer new perspectives to read and interpret.
At Staticus, we are pursuing highly sustainable building façade projects. We are doing this not only because it means safeguarding the planet. It also gives us the chance to get involved in increasingly unique projects and to help – one pixel at a time, one element at a time – to build the best contemporary city.