The changing faces of facades

Philip West from Spanwall discusses the future of facades and how technology and legislation have created a new set of design expectations throughout the industry

In the wake of unprecedented change, manufacturing firms across the globe are being forced to rethink how they design as events over the past few years cause a massive shift in design trends. The end user’s needs, which had become somewhat familiar to architects throughout the years, have dramatically changed, bringing with it a whole new set of design expectations.

This shift has provided designers with an unprecedented opportunity to create new innovative ideas that are shaking up traditional industry standards.

When designing any building, the facade is arguably the most important (and difficult) element. Not only does a building’s facade create the essence of an iconic building, but a well-designed facade has a monumental impact on how a building will operate, from both a structural and environmental point of view.

The constant advancement of technology is a main driving force in facade design, creating intelligent solutions to previous project-stalling challenges. Manufacturers have always been at the forefront of innovation, but now, driven by legislation and new design trends, facades are becoming even more sophisticated, fuelled by ground-breaking innovations.

Sophisticated software continues to transform the design landscape, creating a more streamlined and collaborative design process. Blueprints which were notorious for taking weeks to approve, due to inefficient processes, can now be easily accessed by all individuals within the design process – enabling all edits to be instantaneously signed off.

What were whispers of technology-driven builds have blown up into industry-wide conversations with things like generative design and robotic construction now being put on the table for consideration as manufacturers look for better ways of doing things. For facade designers, who regularly work with complex design requirements, the idea of an algorithm that predetermines design requirements, and produces a range of possible options based on these, certainly merits serious consideration.

Smart buildings will continue to grow, with designers incorporating smart elements into facade designs creating products that are adaptable, durable, and intelligent – adding more value and functionality to buildings.

Sustainability will remain a key focus in the industry, from design concept stage right through to design development as firms continue to face increased pressure to incorporate more sustainable materials into their buildings – without compromising on the aesthetics or functionality of the design. Issues such as facades’ longevity will also be critical in ensuring a more sustainable build.

To a large extent, the exterior facade controls the energy use of any building. New legislation, which has been fuelled by the increasing need to reduce the carbon footprint of new developments, will see energy efficiency continuing to be an important factor in project design.

The next step in design innovation is to find ground-breaking ways for facades to generate energy themselves. Solar panels have already been used to great success and it seems inevitable that research will develop new technologies for energy generation in the future.

Performance testing is paramount in facade systems, especially during the design stage. Fire safety has recently become a subject of nationwide concern, pushing for tougher legislation on building and fire safety. More accountability and new regulations will mean fire safety will be a key element when considering any facade design alongside the need for a better understanding of how buildings will operate under certain stresses, such as weather. Firms will need to adopt a holistic approach to any project, considering the wider building components to ensure a safe and comfortable build.

Pre-pandemic, ventilation was already a much-talked about topic when designing buildings, however the Covid-19 crisis, which saw people forced indoors, has brought these discussions to the fore in any planning conversation. As the need for good ventilation systems intensified, it has forced designers and manufacturers to look for better ways to create a healthy environment that safeguard a user’s health and wellbeing and we can expect future designs to incorporate elements that encourage improved air flow within the building.

The facade is the main external expression of architectural intent and although we are already seeing architects and developers become more ambitious in their design ideas, new design capabilities will drive even more complex creations, with an increase in curvilinear, free-forming architecture.

To conclude, the facade of the future will be responsive, innovative, and high performing and will play a crucial role in creating more sustainable buildings.

Philip West is sales director at Spanwall