Innovative facades for built structures are growing popular in India
Comfort and technology are the defining factors of today's climate-responsive facades used by architects while designing buildings
In so many ways, the façade of a building reflects the nature of architecture in a given time period. It demands as much aesthetic quality as it requires functional excellence. When designed well, it provides the building exterior with its own, unique brand image, while also enabling the interior to function at optimum levels by shielding it from the external elements. If we were to study today’s façades, what would we learn?
“Today, more than ever before, the user is at the heart of every built form,” shares AR Unnikrishnan, director – Sales & Marketing, Glass Business, Saint-Gobain India Private Limited. “By empowering the user with technology that can bring a paradigm shift in terms of comfort while being energy efficient, designers are indeed looking at new ways to innovate.” As a result, the façade – which establishes contact between the external and internal environment – has taken the technological route, and superior dynamic façades are increasingly in demand.
With all the functional requirements, aesthetics doesn’t take a backseat in façade design. FunderMax’s Ashwani Khanna (head – Marketing) believes that façade systems today have to be flexible enough to allow architects the freedom to use their creativity and give shape to their imagination. “A good façade system will allow the designer to make perforations, bend the material without affecting its strength and structural stability. It should also allow the option to print (customised) design on to the cladding material.”
In the light of new trends, façade solutions have become more performance-centric with other factors like cost playing a lesser role in the selection process. “Today, the cladding material for the creation of façades is high on quality and safety while keeping in mind its aesthetic appeal. Conventional products that were once used as the default cladding materials – such as ACP (aluminium composite panel) – are gradually being replaced by much better alternatives like slim porcelain slabs,” notes Amit Shah, managing director, Classic Marble Company (CMC).
Modern façade solutions point out that the comfort of end-users is paramount with opportunity for creativity and technologically-advanced solutions dictating the way a building exterior looks and functions.
Among all the solutions dotting the market, dynamically tinting electrochromic glass is a game changer in the sector. Unnikrishnan explains, “It is a new-age product that gives the end-user the benefit of using a glazed façade without using blinds that obstruct the exterior view and daylight ingress.” It not only maximises natural light, but also cuts glare significantly – thereby enabling better thermal and visual comfort, and greater well-being. “What’s more, you just need BMS/your finger on a switch to get all of this done!” adds Unnikrishnan.
As an architect, Takbir Fatima, principal at Design Aware, definitely sees the merits in dynamic façades. “Façade design has evolved to a finely controlled process that is heavily reliant on information and technology. Building façades are leaning toward data-driven design, dictated by information about program, context, daylighting and temperature, as well as a feedback loop based on user interaction.” This makes the façade a living and adapting skin, much like the skin of an organism. Dynamic façades, she explains, allow for further adaptability based on time of day and year.
Similarly, Rear Ventilated Façade Systems offer a modern and smart cladding solution that optimises temperature levels inside a building. “The materials used are with low U values and they reduce the ingress of thermal energy inside a building, which helps in keeping the heat at bay,” points out Khanna. Such solutions also take into account the climatic conditions that are specific to a region. For instance, during monsoons, the façade system will drain the rain water away from the walls. Khanna also adds that, as a sustainable system, it can help reduce power consumption of air-conditioning in buildings too.
If technology is one of the defining factors in façade selection, the need for materials that exude warmth is a new demand taking hold of this sector. We can finally say goodbye to the onslaught of cold, artificial ACPs that once defined façade design, as earthy-looking materials find a larger audience now. Architect Love Choudhary, principal, AND Studio, mentions, “WPCs (wood polymer composites) are now one of the most preferred materials for exterior cladding. It is used for its almost real texture and the look and feel of wood...Yet it is more lightweight, durable with an ease of application and maintenance.” These new solutions are also cheaper than traditional pressure-treated timber and, hence, budget-friendly.
The rise in demand for such composite solutions has encouraged suppliers to bring in international products to the Indian shore. Manish Maheshwari, managing director, Ventura International, confirms this trend. “We have recently presented a natural, B1 fire-rated cladding solution – Viroc by Portuguese company Investwood. Viroc is a cement-bonded wood panel made with Portland cement and mineralised wood particles (71% Portland cement, 18.5% wood fibres).” Since architecture presently gravitates towards a neo modern and minimalist look, this new material, owing to its non-homogeneous and natural appearance, works perfectly as an exterior cladding solution for our times.
NEW IN THE MARKET
Saint-Gobain’s research has yielded a new solution in the form of the new dynamic glazing product SageGlass. Static glazing does not address the issue of glare by completely eliminating it. Dynamic glazing like SageGlass, can address this need. With the click of a button, the user is able to control the glare in living spaces. SageGlass is also designed to deliver tinting to block heat and glare. “But sometimes there might not be the necessity to tint an entire pane of glass. It is in such a case that Harmony comes into play,” explains Unnikrishnan. Part of the dynamic glazing solution, Harmony has a natural, gradual in-pane tint transition from fully clear to fully tinted – giving it the capacity to protect exactly where needed.
In sun shading louver systems, FunderMax’s Max Lato is a game changer for being energy efficient and sustainable in nature. It improves daylighting, glare mitigation and energy efficiency without compromising on the comfort of the occupant. The portfolio was recently updated with six new fascinating decors, mainly in urban and earthy tones. Available in matt and glossy finishes, these hybrid decors comprise geometric elements and flowing textile dynamics.
When the beauty of stone is desired on a façade, the ultra-thin, large-format porcelain slabs in the Kalesinterflex range by CMC works best. With a flexibility radius of 5.5m, the tiles can be clad on buildings that have concave and convex surfaces. The 3mm thickness makes the slabs light in weight, making them an ideal façade material even for tall structures. Highly resistant to weather changes, wear and tear, they do not require extra care or maintenance – routine cleaning will ensure the façade always looks as good as new.
Ventura’s Viroc cladding combines the strength and flexibility of wood with the durability and resistant qualities of cement. Created by a compressed and dry mixture of pine wood particles and cement, Viroc can be factory calibrated/sanded (for applications requiring a tighter tolerance). Once calibrated, it presents visible wood particles on the surface. It can be machined and worked with typical carpentry tools. These cement particle boards are easily workable like wood, and offer moisture and sound resistance along with a European B1 fire rating. Viroc panels also provide resistance to fungi, termites, rot and water vapour. They can be easily installed on aluminium framework like any other exterior cladding solution.
Using its patented vacuum press drying method –VACU3, Timura (available with P3 Architecural Solutions) transforms and refines native woods into thermo wood that works beautifully on façades. They have better dimensional stability than tropical wood and minimised cracking. Thanks to the long service life, it is a low-maintenance material. Showing highest resistance to mold, blue pillar, wood pests, it can withstand wear and tear as an exterior cladding solution without requiring any chemical impregnation. Timura also ensures that the wood used is a renewable resource from certified forestry.
With innovative new materials and traditional materials animated by new technologies, façades now offer a cutting-edge visual experience – but at the heart of these advancements lies the endeavour to create environments that will be comfortable for the end-user.
For this designer, dream projects are happening every day, and he feels privileged to have the kind of clients that they do.