top of page

Adaptability as a key to sustainable design

Adaptive facade of the Q1 Office Building in Essen - drawings of the structure and shading system

Currently, the label of ‘sustainability’ forms an inherent element of every design and action taken by humans. It might seem like the word overuses this term and it loses its meaning but nothing could be more wrong. Sustainability is a trend, which is necessary to create architecture. It refers to economic, environmental, and social aspects. By designing a sustainable architecture, there is a significant to establish goals for the outcomes, which should be not only profitable but also contribute to the reduction of the negative impact on the environment and improvement of occupant comfort. The development of new technology brings new hopes to the building industry, but at the same time, it is related to higher costs. Therefore the case of expenses are reduced by using for instance recycled materials. Moreover, society became more aware of its impact on the environment. Human exploits the Earth’s resources violate nature to build and in all of this forget that our planet is limited. Sustainable architecture aims to respond to contemporary concerns because of human activity (T.J.Williamson, A. Radford, H. Bennetts, 2003).

This concept is strictly connected to the climate as it is related to the environmental context of the place. A significant feature of sustainable architecture is to reduce the use of energy by the building. It can be achieved by designing climate-adaptive facades, which can be drawn properly into the needs of the occupant as well. Adaptability is strictly connected to sustainability as both of them aim to increase a need for survival. Adaptive features of the facade can be implemented for example by designing, a kinetic envelope’’ (R. Fortmeyer, C.D. Linn, 2013), which is able to change in terms of its moving parts or due to changes of materials and components properties. The trend of using dynamic facades is not new, however, it brings a lot of potential and opportunities due to the use of passive and active technologies. Nowadays, the building sector contributes to the production of greenhouse gas emissions and about 55% of energy consumption (IEA, 2020). Thanks to adaptive systems this number can be decreased, however, there must be found a solution for a reduction of the cost related to the process of production and management. The main problem is that such structures cannot be affordable for everyone. It can be easily noticed, while taking a closer look at the countries, where there is possible to find some adaptive facades like Germany, Singapore, or Australia. The issue of technology complexity and high costs stay has not been solved yet (Barozzi, M., et. al., 2016). This draws a challenge, which creates some opportunities for architects to improve form and function to provide the needed results.

Designing according to the climate helps to create sustainable projects as it responds to the specific environment. Additionally, analyzing an area's characteristics shapes needs. Adaptive architecture has its roots in the first buildings known more as shelters, which were built with concern about the climate. The beginnings of building envelopes were shaped as a protection for people to survive outside conditions. Within the development of architecture, people forgot about the primary concepts, instead of that, they change them into complicated and sophisticated structures, not always taking into account the environmental impact. Nowadays, in the face of threats, which are caused by human activity the topics of sustainability, climate-responsive and biomimicry acquire new meanings.

The significant source of the ideas for climate-adaptive facades is the observation of the living organisms in the specific environment. Nature is a key to establishing sustainable solutions for a design as it represents the ages of the evolution process, which defines what is suitable to function well. Taking a holistic biomimetic approach can also solve the problem of the facade’s cost. To follow nature it is necessary to overview methods of adaptation of plants, animals, and other living organisms. Inspirations from nature can be related to different levels of biomimicry: organism, behavior, and ecosystem (Shahda, Abd Elhafeez, & Ashraf, 2014). Design, which follows these guidelines should refer to any of them or can combine them together. The organism-level responses to the shape of the design. The varieties of biomorphic structures provide the base to create facade modules for example in the case of Beijing National Stadium, which was designed based on the strong nest structure. Looking at biomimicry from a behavioral level there is possible to find a large number of mechanisms, which occurs in nature like passive cooling in mounds-buildings built by termites, collecting water methods used by darling beetles or the thorny devil, and nastic movements of plants to change of temperature, in contact with touch or chemical reactions and much more. The ecosystem level might be hard to achieve by designing a single facade as it is mostly related to a larger scale, however, can be achieved if the facade cooperates with the other structures of the building.

One of the examples of climate responsive envelope, which is based on the biomimicry concept is the Q1 Headquarters Building, located in Essen in Germany. The facade of the construction was designed as a kinetic system. The structure aims to provide sun shading, which was achieved according to the sun’s path. The facade was built using stainless steel. The elements were designed in a shape similar to feathers, which is possible to change in three ways: triangles, squares, and trapezoids depending on outside conditions. Therefore, the building uses an organism level of biomimicry. Moreover, the concept is based on the biomimetic mechanism of the mammal's muscles to move to achieve the self-regulation process. The whole concept provides the reduction of HVAC load on the construction by maximizing natural air ventilation and providing shading for occupant comfort.

Sustainable architecture can be represented by using various solutions and climate-responsive adaptive facades are just one of them. However, there is no doubt that such an idea creates promising results and still requires development. The facade, which is capable to adapt according to the climate features follows the concept of sustainable architecture as it works in harmony with nature. Buildings are the creation of man and they are not considered as something, that occurs naturally. By adjusting architecture to sustainable goals the negative impact on the environment decreases and the performance of the facade improves.




Karolina is a Polish architecture student, who is currently studying Master's Degree at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and working on research of the 'Biomimetic Climate Adaptive Facade Module for Eastern European Countries'.

bottom of page