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‘Smart’ Building Envelope Shields Sun

Friday, April 3, 2015

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Facade modules that bloom open when the sun pours in may drastically reduce energy consumption in glass-fronted buildings, the system's developers say.

Office buildings with huge glass-front facades are some of the biggest energy guzzlers, and regulating their temperature is no small feat, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Dresden, Germany, said Wednesday (April 1).

smart facade
© Bára Finnsdóttir / Weissensee School of Art Berlin

The facade element operates using integrated shape-memory alloys and doesn't require an external power source, according to the researchers.

To cut the energy consumption of these buildings, the researchers teamed up with the Department of Textile and Surface Design at Weissensee School of Art in Berlin to develop a facade element that responds autonomously to sunlight and its thermal energy.

A demonstration of the technology will be on display April 13-17 at Hannover Messe 2015, the world’s largest trade fair for industrial technology, in Hannover, Germany.

Flower Fabric Blind for Glass

The technology is based on a concept by design student Bára Finnsdóttir, and consists of a matrix of 72 individual fabric components shaped like flowers.

Each textile module has shape-memory actuators integrated into it: thin 80-millimeter-long wires of nickel-titanium alloy that remember their original shape when exposed to heat, according to the researchers.

Should the facade heat up due to the sunlight exposure, the wires are activated and noiselessly contract to open the textile components. The exposed surface of the facade is covered, and sunlight can no longer penetrate into the room.

As soon as the sun disappears, the components close again so that the facade is transparent once more. The effect is made possible by a special lattice arrangement in the material, the team states.

Eivind K. Døvik / Flickr

The technology would adapt to weather conditions throughout the day.

“Picture the facade element as a sort of membrane that adapts to weather conditions throughout each day and during the various seasons of the year, providing the ideal amount of shade however strong the sun,” said André Bucht, researcher and department head at Fraunhofer IWU.

Design Options

Designed for large expanses of glass, the sun shield can be attached either on the outer layer of glass or in the space between multi-layer facades, according to the scientists.

The structure is easy to retrofit and comes with a range of design options, allowing the user to choose the pattern, shape and color of the individual components.

“For instance, you might want to replace the circular design with triangles or a honeycomb arrangement,” explains Bucht.

“You can also control the level of sun exposure for individual sections of the facade. … What’s more, the membrane even fits on curved areas of glass.”

Looking Forward

In the next phase of the project, the researchers plan to collaborate with industry partners to develop a range of prototypes for private and office buildings.

glass facade
Ultra7 / Wikimedia Commons

The team wants to have facade systems for new builds as well as existing buildings.

They also intend to conduct long-term testing with prototypes installed on a detached home and on buildings at the Institute. Eventually, they want to have systems suitable for new and existing buildings.

“One priority will be to design fabric elements that are stable enough to withstand any weather,” says Bucht.

The goal is for the systems to be ready for market launch by mid-2017, according to the researchers.

Facades of the Future

Also, the team plans to research climate functions for the facade element.

“It might be possible to store solar thermal energy and then release it when needed to heat the interior, for instance at night,” according to Bucht.

“Another idea is to coat the flower fabric components with malleable, organic solar cells in order to generate electricity that can be used within the building.”


Tagged categories: Architecture; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Building materials; Cladding; Commercial Construction; Curtain wall extrusions and cladding; Europe; Glass; Research

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