More than two ways to skin a building: smart facades


tanakawho on Flickr

How does an architect approach the design of a brand new building? What are the primary considerations – function, form, structure, materials, setting, sustainability?

Each designer will have their own priorities, but to the public – outsiders, neighbours and visitors – a building’s cladding forms a large part of our first impression. The cladding is the building’s face, and we often take it at face value.

Increasingly, though, new technologies are allowing a building’s skin to have functions beyond weatherproofing and decoration.

Smart skin: translucent insulation

Impression of a SmartSkin zero-energy building

Dutch architects and engineers Jon Kristinsson and Andy Dobbelsteen have released details on a new smart skin system for zero-energy buildings, conceived by Dr Noor van Andel and Mr Peter T Oei. Tests on prototypes have shown promising results.

‘Smart skin’ is a new concept: a thin translucent skin for buildings instead of walls. Groundwater is used to buffer the temperature difference between night and day and even between summer and winter. Most often, technicians think that energy losses can only be reduced by using thick insulation, or at least high-performance insulation. ‘Smart skin’ is a typical Dutch idea from a wet country with an averagely mild climate and high groundwater level. ‘Smart skin’ is not a well-insulated wall, but uses the thermal mass of groundwater for heating or cooling.

A PDF outlining the project can be downloaded here.

Smart skin: building-integrated wireless access

In another project, Ji Hoon Jeona, Woonbong Hwang, Hyun-Chul Park and Wee-Sang Park have researched the buckling loads of smart-skin composite panels, in this case for use with wireless LAN systems. Here, thin-strip antennas are incorporated into laminate cladding for building-integrated wi-fi access.

Smart skin: biomimicry

MRA's Kepos eco-hotel

An Ecofriend blog post brings details of MRA‘s Kepos eco-hotel. Designed by John Naranjo, the hotel absorbs solar and wind energy through an open skin. The double-skin building facade is meant to replicate a forest canopy:

The technical and sustainable attributes that are being reinforced by the biomimicry concept include learning from the life-supporting aspects of our living environment, obtaining energy, recycling and reclaiming resources and materials. The main component that will be applied to the building’s exterior canopy will be a special layer developed by SMIT called GROW. This canopy incorporates a combination of photovoltaic and piezoelectric technologies in one system that will absorb both solar and wind energy in one open skin.

Smart skin: carbon absorption

In a previous post, we have glanced at how living algae facades can be used to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. We have also (in our very first, tentative and terribly short blog post) looked at the emergence of living walls.

Smart skin: this is just the beginning

Through nanotechnology, biomimicry, photovoltaic energy generation, dynamic facade technology, membrane development and a growing emphasis on ‘intelligent’ building materials, building facades will increasingly have to work harder, becoming more than just a pretty face.

Cladding images, specification details and case studies can be found on

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10 Responses to “More than two ways to skin a building: smart facades”

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  2. Biomimicry and architecture « Building Says:

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  3. Environmental psychology and facade design « Building Says:

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  4. RAEED Says:


    • Benedikte Ranum Says:

      Thanks for your interest, Raeed!
      I will email you some more information, hopefully it might be of use.
      Is your practice involved in a similar project at the moment?
      All the best,

      • raeed Says:

        ihavnt any information yet about the subject . please sent to me that i need it >

  5. Benedikte Ranum Says:

    Hi Raeed.

    I’m sorry you didn’t receive it – I will email you again to try and find out exactly what it is you’re looking for.


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    […] More than two ways to skign a building- Smart facades. […]

  7. Says:

    I actually blog also and I am authoring something similar to this blog, “More
    than two ways to skin a building: smart facades Building Design”. Do you really care in the event that I personallyincorporate a
    number of your points? Thanks a lot ,Klara

    • Benedikte Ranum Says:

      Hi, Klara – I don’t mind at all, as long as you credit my blog and provide a link to the post. Thanks for getting in touch. Best regards, Benedikte

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