T5a – Responsive Facades

Through my investigative report I have started looking at examples of responsive facades in contemporary architecture. A responsive facade is one that alters to a given stimulus. The facade usually responds in order to control the internal climate of the building, although could be for aesthetic purposes too. It would be more beneficial to have some effect on the building rather than appearance so that the extra cost and material is justified. The stimulus could be daylight levels, internal/external temperature or even time of day. A good precedent for responsive facades is the Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi by Aedas.


Inspired by a mashrabiya (a traditional Islamic lattice shading device), the shading system on this pair of towers was developed using parametric design for the geometry of the moving triangular facade panels which open and close in response to sun exposure and the changing incidence angle of the sun throughout the year.

The screen operates as a curtain wall, sitting two meters outside the buildings’ exterior on an independent frame. Each triangle is coated with fibreglass and programmed to respond to the movement of the sun as a way to reduce solar gain and glare. In the evening, all the screens close.

The building responds to the external stimulus of UV light: as the sun rises, the shading components along the east side of the building remain closed, while open on the remainder of the building. As the sun moves around the building throughout the day, the dynamic facade responds with components opening/closing accordingly in order to shade the glazing.

To better understand the mechanism and how the facade components work I decided to model them:

This simple folding mechanism is very effective in shading the glazed building, this is particular important due to the hot climate where the buildings are located. This modelling exercise got me exploring other folding techniques to see how else this shading device could have been designed.

As you can see I experimented with three forms and folding techniques and these could all be developed to a solar shading device, I developed the first example into a design proposal below.

If attached to central support with an electronically programmed mechanism that could slide to open/close the component the surface area would open up to provide the shading. This design could be scaled-up to shade whole facades of buildings. It would offer more thermal shading if installed on the exterior of a building (outside glazing) however it could be fitted behind a glazed rainscreen, though thermal gain would still be an issue to some extent.