At first glance this façade looks just as regular as any façade might look covering a typical box building on a corporate campus. This façade is special, however, in that the occupants of the building are able to adjust their exposure to the exterior through the mechanics of the facade system. Taking a closer look at the skin of the Q1 Office Building, designed by JSWD Architekten, we see that it is made up of many metal “feathers” controlled by motors that act as a shading system for the building.
The idea of mechanical shading is not really a new one. Jean Nouvel, in 1987 completed the Arab World Institute in Paris with a south façade that responded to lighting conditions by opening and closing motorized diaphragms. The system no longer functions as it once did – the façade now is frozen in position almost as a caution to reconsider moving parts in architecture. (click here for video)
The desire to create dynamic systems in architecture, however, has not been halted by the mechanical failure of the Arab World Institute’s system. The topic of my previous post on the Sliding House was another, perhaps simpler example of moving architecture and more complex systems have been attempted and achieved as well. Santiago Calitrava designed the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2001 that opens and closes, resembling the wings of a bird while acting as Brise Soleil. In 2007 Giselbrecht + Partners designed the Kiefer Technic Showroom which is clad fully in operational aluminum panels that can be opened and closed based on the needs of the occupant within. (click here for video of MAM and Kiefer Technic)
In each case, the longevity of moving parts and mechanical systems that comfort levels or aesthetics are dependent upon remains a question of concern. Typical cladding systems degrade and must be replaced over time, but add the cost and complexity of moving parts and one might decide that the effort and money is not worth the maintenance. All that is left then is a “once cool, eye catching design.” I will not argue that moving architecture is exciting and impressive, but I also believe that architects should strive to design for the long term – the really long term. After all, some of the most impressive pieces of architecture did/do not even have electricity yet they have stood for centuries.
Time, I guess, will tell if today’s ooh and ahh architecture will last for generations of people to enjoy.