We’re More Then A Pretty Face

An all-day conference on Dynamic Facades: Architecture’s New Frontier may not be high on your “bucket list” but for DWF Contract it made perfect sense.  It was a long day – but a fascinating look into the engineering and design that goes into modern building systems.  Yes, window coverings are a system, just like HVAC and Lighting. In fact, they are an equal partner in the triangle formed by all three.       


We know it goes against the conventional thinking that window coverings are just decorations.  They are the “frilly” things that interior designers fawn over to make the client happy.  Certainly, science could have little role in a shade or drapery – or maybe it really does.  This is where things get interesting!

Old habits are hard to break and they can be expensive.  In a world of higher energy costs and increased concern over the environment it is no longer an option to build using yesterday’s thinking.  The technology that allows us to build light weight buildings, with little or no thermal mass, is also the same technology called upon to provide comfort with number of over-sized  energy intensive mechanical installations. 


Does it work? Usually! – Is it wasteful and unnecessary? Always!

So this is where we get to the facade, that thin layer separating the artificial interior from the natural climate outside.  Viewing the skin of a building as a dynamic entity is on the cutting edge of building design.  Some of the biggest names in architecture are embracing this notion and it is a well-founded concept finding its origins in places like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 


After years of extensive research and empirical testing the results are pretty conclusive.


  • Buildings Consume 40% of total U.S. Energy – more than Industry or Transportation.

  • 71% of Electricity and 54% of Natural Gas are used by buildings.

  • Poor indoor environments account for 14% of all health insurance expenditures.

  • Occupant productivity is up to 20% lower in poorly designed buildings.

  • Window glass will continue to be a primary building skin material.

  • Solar shading is the single most important facade element after the glass itself.

  • Shading strategies are paramount in increasing occupant comfort and saving energy.

The concept of a dynamic facade is the logical extension of advancements made in materials and technology.  It allows automation and integration to assume the role in managing the thermal, visual and energy performance of a building.  Not too long ago this was the domain of architects working on large projects with even larger budgets.  The average home or office building was doomed to humans repetitively working to adjust the shades and lights in an endless attempt to keep everyone happy.  Often the buildings occupants and their comfort were complete after-thoughts in the mind of the owners and designers.  


Once the architectural community embraces the concept of facades being a dynamic and responsive entity the next step is developing engineered solutions.  Ideally the solution set should be established early on in the design and planning phase.  It is somewhat ironic that consultants are hired for lighting, HVAC, glazing, and LEED but window coverings are relegated to “tenant issues” with little or no thought.  Engineering window coverings should not be left to the mere whimsy of choosing what color looks best as the project nears conclusion.                                             


How many of us in the industry actually know what the fenestration data on the backs of fabric sample cards means? – Why is it important? – How do we use it?  We like the idea of motorization but are completely unprepared to layout and design a motor control system.  Do we even know how to organize controls and integrate them into the lighting, heating and AV systems?  Have we ever done a cost-benefit analysis or do we know what ROI means?


It is sad to say that the vast majority of shading fabricators and dealers are “in the dark” when it comes to unraveling and organizing all of this information.  Architects often write generic “laundry list” specifications that find their roots in too much “cut and paste” and aren’t even specific to the project at hand. There is plenty of blame to go around but it is hardly an excuse for poor design and execution.

We came away from the conference tired but firmly convinced that window coverings are building system unto themselves.  There actually is a “system” to developing the “shading system”.  Proactive and collaborative planning is a must!  For specifications to mean anything they need to be well thought out and relevant to the specific project. Finally, we could actually see a point in the future where shading solutions paid for themselves almost immediately. Buildings would use dynamic facades with responsive shading to provide maximum comfort with “net zero” utilization of energy. Yes, dynamic facade is a fancy term, but it is the new frontier in building design.


Scroll to Top