Breaking the stereotypes on the use of metal in façades
Sumit Dhawan, founder & principal architect, Cityspace' 82 Architects, discusses the use of metal in residential architecture
Façades determine visual identity, character and expression of architecture. The design and enchanting exteriors of a building impart a character to it and is a huge parameter for building performance. Building facades lie at the convergence of the outward and inward environment; forming an integral part of the building. They are the most difficult to design since the perception of iconic and technologically advanced facades is changing frequently. Besides technology, materials like metal, glass, concrete etc., used for the building skin are an integral yet singular aspect of the façade design.
It’s often seen that whenever an architect is talking about metal in facade, it is always correlated with commercial or institutional architecture. Few of the examples that come to mind are the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry done in titanium, Riverside Museum by Zaha Hadid, or The Sage Gateshead in the UK by Norman Foster. If the same is proposed in a residence by an architect, most of the clients’ apprehensions will be, it will look “commercial”.
The façade combines attributes of both appearance as well as superior performance in a manner unlike any other building system. The beneficial properties of metal are perfect for residential façades too. Aesthetically speaking, metal offers a unique modern rhythmic aesthetic to complement any building. Easily bent and configured to the specific design, it can be used as a lightweight decorative element or as a structural component in buildings. Metal roofs and wall panels can also be curved to create a unique and dynamic building appearance, hence amplifying its versatility. Not only can metal withstand harsh weather environments, it can also resource depletion due to its recyclability. Being an eco-friendly entity, metal minimises energy use, promotes sustainability, and invites innovation and creativity in terms of design. The concept is fast catching up in India but the changes go beyond skin deep alterations or a facelift. Apart from aesthetics, they also offer better functions.
Metal cladding encompasses a plethora of different materials, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The choice of material will be influenced by a number of project-specific factors, including desired aesthetic, climatic conditions, chosen structural system, the nature of adjacent materials and the construction budget. The most common material options for metal cladding are galvanised steel, aluminium, stainless steel, zinc, copper, titanium etc. Designers are researching and experimenting with new and complex façade and fenestration technologies.
Along with the materials that furnish the look and feel of a building, technologies applied to facades are also changing. Investing in technologies like BIM allows designers distil options down to a set of criteria that meet the aesthetic ambitions of the project and its tactical requirements, ensuring that these are met with optimised environmental parameters. There has been a slow but very perceptible shift from the use of traditional masonry towards the use of compelling automation in façade and fenestration. Motorised shades, switchable windows that modulate daylight and solar heat transmissions, model predictive controls for optimised performance end-user comfort, satisfaction, and acceptance of automated façade systems are the various ways automation is incorporated in facades. These tools enable designers to explore the forms, real-time and derive key insights into the thermal, daylight and solar performance informing decisions pertaining to the building orientation, solar shading, glazing etc., and also saves the cost. Thus, metal façades combined with the right dose of technology can uplift the exterior of spaces & multiply their utility.