Adaptive and Dynamic Buildings – The Future of Environmental Design & Architecture

And while large scale initiatives have driven the green building movement here in North America and abroad, some issues have an easier time emerging as hot topics than others (think renewables). There’s no doubt that advances in those areas will, in fact, have positive impacts on the built environment, but there is an emerging group of products, technologies, materials, and design principles that seems to be taking shape in a growing number of buildings scattered across the globe.

You might call it “Green Building 2.0”. It’s the next stage of green building where initial advances in the last few years of the green revolution start coming together in dynamic, intelligent systems that have far greater impact in their buildings than those of each system operating independently. It’s where the individuals who occupy those buildings have a relationship with the environment around them; where parts of the building think, move, react, and adapt to real time conditions.

What if you could design a building that, at any given time, was optimized for the environmental conditions around it? What if that building meant more satisfied tenants, a lower carbon footprint, and significant savings in capital and operating costs? And what if you could do so without compromising the aesthetics of your building’s design, perhaps even enhancing it?

These possibilities are closer than ever to being fully realized, thanks to a select number of innovators making ‘living buildings’ a living reality.

Take solar shading and daylighting, for example. Traditionally, these existed as fixed systems bracketed in place on a building. Have a look at the video below, however, and you’ll see some of the possibilities with dynamic, controllable systems that react to environmental conditions:

Okay – so a futuristic kinetic facade might be overkill for your building design. We thought we’d outline three firms – one product manufacturer, one designer, and one architect – that are integrating living solar shading technologies into existing buildings with great success.

Hoberman Associates and Adaptive Building Initiative

Founded: Hoberman Associates in 1990, Adaptive Building Initiative in 2008


Description: “A joint venture between Buro Happold and Hoberman Associates dedicated to designing a new generation of buildings that optimize their configuration in real time by responding to environmental changes.“

Notable Projects: Hoberman designed an operable covering to accompany Foster + Partners’ design for the Aldar Central Market in Abu Dhabi.

A system of rectangular cells opens and closes to regulate sunlight and solar gain, as well as block sand and dust from entering the open-air traditional Souk Market.

Cool thinking from their website:

“Adaptation is essential for survival and success: This is as true for our buildings as it is for all other aspects of our lives…Today buildings represent the single largest contributor to carbon output in the United States; their owners and occupants pay the price in higher energy costs and reduced comfort and flexibility. Rising energy demands, along with the lack of design solutions that sufficiently respond to the changes in our environment, may well be the defining problems of our century. Adaptation is the means by which we can begin to address these daunting challenges and enter a new era of innovation.”

With compelling but simple logic, “Buildings with adaptive systems use less energy, offer more occupant comfort, and feature better overall space efficiency than static buildings do…These technological advances allow us to create buildings that are self-optimizing, rather than merely best-fit compromises.”

Behnisch Architekten

Founded: 1989


Description: Behnisch is one of the leading architecture firms dealing with innovative solutions in daylighting, shading, facade technology and creating built environments, known for their “sensitivity to the culture and climate of place and the desire to bring a new quality of life to their users”.

Notable projects: Unilever Haus, featured in last month’s GreenSource, was recently named “Office Building of the Year” at the World Architecture Festival. Following the theme of intelligent buildings, Behnisch and team conceived an innovative system combining double skin facade technology, operable windows, and Warema controllable exterior venetian blinds on every elevation except the North (where shading is hardly needed).

Cool thinking: Behnisch and close collaborators Transsolar were recently featured in an exhibit at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. The exhibit featured models of projects and interactive displays concerning the importance of light, shading, temperature and other building factors.  In addition, viewers could watch documentaries on iPads with thought leaders in each area. Of interest were Behnisch’s thoughts on applying these principles to the existing building stock, an often overlooked opportunity in green building:

“…The most difficult stock we have to deal with, and it has to be done, if we really want to save CO2. We need to fix up about 60% of the existing buildings. The biggest challenge is not the historic buildings. The biggest challenge is 50s to 80s buildings. The mirror glass building across the street is one example. And these can be done well with new facades and technologies. The problem is less of a challenge than you think.”

Construction Specialties & Solarmotion

Founded: 1948

Website: &

Description: The next generation of intelligent operable shading systems, ranging from exterior louver and fin systems to retractable external venetian blind systems.

Notable Project: C/S Operating Sun Controls were installed in 1997 over the gallery skylights of the J. Paul Getty Art Museum to provide filtered sunlight to each of the galleries and to prevent the sun’s UV rays from damaging valuable artwork.

Cool thinking:

Solarmotion dynamic facades are almost like a living part of the building and respond to the elements (wind, rain, sun, snow) providing optimal comfort.

Independent energy modeling on a 10-storey building in Dallas with Solarmotion intelligent shading showed a 21.1% reduction in the annual cooling energy demand (MWhrs) was achieved, translating into savings of $137,160 per annum on the building modeled.

From an architectural standpoint, one of the things we like best about Solarmotion technology is the design options for shading systems. Typically you’d see these systems as aluminum airfoils mounted to the building envelope. Solarmotion’s blade options, including Red Cedar wood, aluminum airfoils, laminated glass, a variety of perforated aluminum blades, clear acrylic, and even LED options mean your shading system could take the same form as your building, or stand out as a prominent feature.

As buildings all over the world are responsible for a majority of the greenhouse gases emitted today, one of the easiest ways to reduce a building’s energy usage post-construction is to take these adaptive and dynamic factors into consideration during pre-design. The technology is available, but it’s up to stakeholders at each level – architects, designers, contractors, and product manufacturers to listen closely to drivers in the market and respond with innovative, relevant, and effective solutions.

Europe has been doing this for some time now and North America is just beginning to embrace it.  With the need for energy efficient buildings, including the existing building stock remaining one of the key solutions to addressing climate change, perhaps we can take a note from nature and learn how living, intelligent, dynamic systems can help the built environment adapt to the conditions around it. The market leaders mentioned above are seeing the future of intelligent buildings and designing solutions that work. Are you?

Let us know in the comments if you have been involved in a building with intelligent shading, facade, or building envelope technology. Do you work or live in such a building? Are you working on a cool technology or have you used one in a previous design? We want to hear about it!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Construction Specialties (C/S), one of our partners.

About this author
Cite: Construction Specialties Inc. "Adaptive and Dynamic Buildings – The Future of Environmental Design & Architecture" 10 Aug 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.