The façade is one of the most important elements in an architectural project. In addition to being the building's first barrier against heat, rain, snow, or wind, it also largely determines the appearance of a building. It can make the project stand out, blend into urban context, or even manifest, at first glance, values of transparency, lightness, or simplicity that the architect seeks to convey. Accordingly, the façade also constitutes a significant portion of the total cost of the work and, therefore, must be specified very carefully, taking into account aesthetics, functionality, maintenance, and long-term behavior.
There is a great diversity of options for façade coverings, which may vary according to the region where the project is located. Mortars, exposed bricks, wooden boards, natural stones, tiles, and metal sheets are common options that require specific design and installation processes, and feature minor variations and inaccuracies present in the natural materials. Often, however, architects' primary considerations are the ease of installation, the reduction of unpredictability during the life of the building, and the need for fast, dry, and waste-free construction. Modular, lightweight solutions with quick and easy fastening systems can reduce setbacks and problems that would occur when using materials in their raw state.
There currently exist several options on the market for prefabricated façade panels. High-pressure laminated panels (HPL) are quite common: with good dimensional stability and impermeability, these panels are made of overlapping layers of kraft paper, injected with thermosetting resins and joined by the simultaneous application of heat and pressure. There are several other possibilities as well, such as ACM (aluminum composite) panels, cement plates, and plasterboard, to name a few. When these prefabricated sheets arrive at the construction site, they can be quickly installed as a protective outer layer to the building.
Whatever material chosen for a façade, architects must always be aware of its peculiarities, details, and specific instructions for care and maintenance. The dimensions of the modular pieces should be taken into account from the beginning of the design phase. It is vital that the supporting structure—whether vertical or horizontal—is compatible with these pieces; the same goes for the building's thermo-acoustic insulation (when applicable), openings, installations, and dimensions. Oftentimes, a façade consultant can assist in choosing the best façade system according to the demands and challenges of a specific project, such as winds, salinity, excessive sunlight, and other similar considerations.
With this in mind, the panel manufacturer Dri-Design has developed modular facade products consisting of folded single-skin metal sheets, which can be fixed to almost any substrate without the use of clips or extrusions. They offer options such as aluminum, copper, zinc, and other light materials, all of which come with an easy and clean installation process that does not require gasket seals, gaskets, or butyl tape, thereby eliminating stains and associated maintenance. Looking ahead to the demolition of the building, the panels are also all made of 100% recyclable materials.
For example, in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Design Building project by Leers Weinzapfel Associates, the entire building is covered with anodized copper sheets, which together with the vertical windows, emulate the colors and patterns of the region's forests. Moreover, the division of the pieces and marking of creases between the metal panels give added dynamism to the building's façade.
In Toronto's Regent Park Aquatic Center by MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, the marked horizontality of the building is counterbalanced by the vertical division of the zinc panels. In addition, the different depths (which keep the substrate and weather barrier in the same plane) create texture and dynamic variations in the patterns, further diversifying the façade's striking horizontal and diagonal lines.
In summary, choosing the type of façade and the material that composes it is a key step during any project. In addition to aesthetics and functional considerations, it is vital to think about how the material will behave throughout the life of the building, how it will perform functionally, and whether its aesthetic characteristics will appear as expected. It is therefore important to delve into the details of prefabricated panel options and identify which best provide efficient and effective solutions in the short and long term.
For more information on Dri-Design's façades, access this link.