Creat. Sp.

Dynamic Adaptive Building Envelopes - an Innovative and State-of-The-Art Technology

Sachin Harry


Dynamic Adaptive Building Envelope; Building Management System; Kinetic Façade; Actuation

PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at

The building envelope has a key role to play in achieving indoor comfort for the occupants and building energy efficiency. A dynamic, active and integrated solution -- able to achieve the optimum thermal performance, harness energy from renewable resources and, integrate active elements and systems -- is the most promising and innovative strategy for the building envelope of tomorrow. To achieve an effective and sustainable building envelope with a dynamic behaviour, considerable efforts in research and development are necessary. This paper endeavours to present a broad review of design, research and development work in the field of Dynamic Adaptive Building Envelope (DABE). Based on detailed studies, the characteristic features, enabling technologies, and the overall motivations that have tendered to the advancement of DABE are discussed. In spite of its positive aspects, the study reveals that the concept of DABE has not yet been well-applied and needs much more exploration. Various challenges need to be resolved and advanced research undertaken to bring it to maturity and acceptance.


Since the Stone Age, human beings have sought shelter that would protect them from the external environment and offer comfort conditions. Initially the concern was safety and security but soon it was realised that this shelter can be an effectual measure to achieve thermal comfort inside. To improve this function, it became necessary to focus on the building envelope considering the fact that this building element, which further consists of a set of components, separates the outdoor from the indoor. The basic thought was to create a protective cover which is capable of shielding the building, its occupants and its contents, from the extreme and sometimes hostile climate outside. As an outcome, optimisation of the ‘separation effect’ became the primary objective of architects and engineers, as it has been for centuries [18].

The building envelope, or ‘skin’ as it is also known as, is that part of the building which encloses space, separating the inside from the outside. It, thus, comprises those elements which are constructed to divide the internal from the external environment and, consists of structural materials and finishes and include doors, windows, walls, floor surfaces, and roofs -- the transparent as well as the opaque elements. The basic function of the envelope is to balance the building requirement for daylight and ventilation while taking care of moisture and thermal protection pertinent to the micro-climate of the place where the building is located. The design of building envelope plays a major role in determining the operational energy usage of a building during its lifetime. Moreover, the embodied energy and the overall environmental lifecycle impact of various envelope materials differ significantly.

Climate is the one of the primary factors which affects the design of building envelopes. Different climates will suggest different design strategies and solutions, and, for a given climate, specific designs and materials are required. Therefore, keeping in mind the need for designing the whole building as a single unit, the architect should integrate the envelope design with other design elements like proper natural lighting and other passive solar design strategies; appropriate selection of materials; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and passive cooling techniques; energy saving measures; and project performance goals [2].

It is time to have a closer look at the impact that buildings have on the environment and how we can make good use of new technologies to create more adaptive building envelopes. Today, we have facilities for appropriate designing of building envelopes that canreject or accept free energy available from the external environment, thereby reducing the costs required to achieve a comfortable, internal environment [9].

Page(s) 167–183
ISSN Print : 2321-3892, Online : 2321-7154
DOI 10.15415/cs.2016.32011

There are numerous other examples for the Dynamic Adaptive Building Envelope like the Conservatory buildings in Gardens by the Bay (2012) in Singapore, designed by Wilkinson Eyre; the One Ocean pavilion in Yeosu, South Korea designed by SOMA from Vienna, Austria; Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York (1993), designed by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci; the Communications and Design building for Syddansk Universitet in Kolding, Denmark designed by Henning Larsen Architects; the Kiefer Technic Showroom in Bad Gleichenberg, Austria designed by Ernst Giselbrecht + Partner, etc.

Loonen, et al. (2013)state that with increasingly stricter energy performance targets to be met, DABE seems promising in becoming a profound contributor to sustainability and energy efficiency without being limited by the need for compromise in terms of comfort. But there is hardly any information about DABE’s monitored post-occupancy and operational performance. Also, the study reveals that DABE, at this point, cannot be regarded as a mature concept due to the fact that there are very few cases documented on the topic [13].

According to B. Kolarevic and V. Parlac (2015), automated building skins bring a host of other issues into play that go beyond available state-of-the-art materials and technologies, affordability, durability, lowmaintenance requirements, and other various performance targets (such as energy savings, uniform light levels, outside view, etc.). User override is potentially a critical issue in the design of any highly automated adaptive, responsive building envelope system. Social and cultural factors need to be taken into account. There is also a good chance that any mechatronic solution that depends on the current modern technologies could become obsolete relatively quickly. An example that can be cited is that of one of the initial buildings to use an automatic sensor-based system responsive to external environment, i.e., the Arab Institute designed by Jean Nouvel in Paris and completed in 1987. But now the system is no longer working due to mechanical problems, thereby warning architects of the risks of designing kinetic facades [10].

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