Rubber Skin Buildings: A Malleable, Seamless Architecture

Rubber Skin Buildings: A Malleable, Seamless Architecture

For the most part, rubber isn’t considered a conventional building material – at least not to the same extent that materials like wood, concrete, or glass are. But rubber is commonly used in interiors for flooring of extraordinary color or brightness, and even more unexpectedly for exterior facades with unique aspects or upholstery effects. This functionality is motivated by unique advantages such as smoothness, elasticity, durability, and color consistency.

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CITYFÖRSTER’s RUBBERHOUSE. Image © Arne Hansen, Nils Nolting

Rubber was originally created from the latex sap of rubber trees, generating a naturally strong elastic substance. Later, it was discovered that it could be synthetically reproduced through a combination of chemicals with nearly identical effects. Depending on the desired use and qualities of the rubber, modern companies have also introduced mineral fillers, natural pigments, and vulcanization accelerators during the rubber production process.

Dapstudio’s Music Center Theater Teca. Image © Filippo Romano

This ability to introduce natural pigments is conducive to the production of bright, colorful flooring, exemplified by the bright orange highlights of Dapstudio’s Music Center Theater Teca. This type of flooring is especially recommended for public and high traffic buildings, where high ease of cleaning, anti-slip properties, and noise reduction are required. Projects like Kamp Arhitektid's Lenne Office and the Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion by Zaha Hadid Architects have taken advantage of these qualities, also highlighting certain areas or circulations through color.

Lenne Office / Kamp Arhitektid. Image © Terje Ugandi
Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion / Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Stefan Tuchila

On the other hand, this material can produce striking black facades, as is the case of Cityförster’s RubberHouse or Simon Conder Associates’ Black Rubber House.

Simon Conder Associates’ Black Rubber House. Image Courtesy of Simon Conder Associates
Dethier Architecture's Liège Centre for Group Dynamics and Institutional Analysis. Image © Sergei Brison

These manipulations of color are augmented by manipulations of surface and texture. Rubber, as a highly versatile material, can be molded into almost any shape, from upholstery-like surfaces to utterly smooth sheets to even liquified sprays. Benthem Crouwel Architects’ Rubber Holiday Home is one notable example of a spray-on façade, while the Saengthai Rubber Headquarters and Liège Centre for Group Dynamics and Institutional Analysis epitomize smooth rubber appliques on both flat and curved surfaces. This smoothness is created through the vulcanization process, which continuously moves the material between metal cylinders at high temperatures, producing a perfectly regular, continuous, and flat rubber strip.

Benthem Crouwel Architects’ Rubber Holiday Home. Image © Jannes Linders

One of the most unique applications of this material is that of Jefferson Sheard Architects’ Soundhouse, which features an upholstery-like façade of manipulated black rubber. Not only does it take advantage of rubber’s innate flexibility, but it also utilizes the material’s natural noise reduction capabilities to augment the design’s existing acoustic treatments.

Jefferson Sheard Architects’ Soundhouse. Image Courtesy of Jefferson Sheard Architects

Nor is noise reduction the only practical advantage of rubber facades: it is also weather-resistant, highly resistant to fire, runs low in smoke toxicity, and can even be recycled with little difficulty. These many advantages make rubber a viable, if not ideal, material for use in specific projects with requirements matching those listed above.  

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Cite: Lilly Cao. "Rubber Skin Buildings: A Malleable, Seamless Architecture" 01 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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