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  • Writer's pictureAfrah Jahan

Building with Kinetics

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

In the high circles of the Architecture posse, Sustainability would exude a jack-of-all-trades charisma. You could say, he (or she) has a finger in almost every pie - since there are so many ways in which one could reach a sustainable ending (just kidding).

But really, being entwined with a whole slew of other branches like Landscape, Renewable Energy, and Green Building Technology to name a few; sustainability is around every corner and here to stay.

And this is how kinetics comes into play. Kinetic Façade Systems of recent, has been a growing, innovative technology in the field of Dynamic Architecture. But that’s a story for another day. Right now, let’s talk about how this façade system is the latest crusader fighting the good fight for Sustainability.

Motion has existed from the start of time and has always been part of the cycle of life. Kinetics stands for the classical mechanics of moving bodies. From ancient water wheels to medieval windmills to movable bridges, kinetics has seen innumerable adaptations throughout history.

In 70 AD, the first kinetic retractable roof was built over the Colosseum to cover the seating area around the arena. Nearly two thousand years later, we still rely on the same principle to create comfortable living standards.

By incorporating motion into architecture, designers give occupants another dimension by which to interact with their surroundings. Kinetic structures hold energy; moving a single part initiates a flow all over the structure – creating spaces and objects that can physically reconfigure themselves to meet changing needs.

A prime example is the Al Bahr Towers, popularly known as the Pineapple Building situated in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the UAE. The protective skin covering the structure is what gives the 145m high twin towers, its name. Made of 2000 umbrella-like glass elements, this skin can automatically open and close depending on the intensity of sunlight falling on its surface. This has helped in reducing the interior heat gain caused by sunlight by 50 percent.

Another point to note is how the design for this kinetic façade was inspired by the ‘mashrabiya’ style – the geometric wooden lattice screens used to fill windows in traditional Arabic architecture.

The translucent umbrella-like components are placed on the east, west, and south zones. When a zone is subjected to direct sunlight, the façade in that zone will unfold into a close state. As the sun moves around the building, each unit would progressively open. Thereby reducing the need for artificial lighting within the building while providing better views for its occupants.

So how is this all made possible? The façade is dynamically controlled by a unique building management system that collects data concerning the light, wind, and rain conditions of the area, to make appropriate decisions.

In the nearby emirate of Dubai, a similar kinetic system can be found in the Apple Store located within The Dubai Mall. The design was made in response to the culture and climate of the Emirate and closely follows the ‘mashrabiya’ style.

The double-story space looks into a 5.5m deep balcony - one side of which is lined by 18 large motorized ‘Solar Wings’. The 11.4 m high façade spans a length of 60 meters and opens onto the outside world, engaging with the bustling urban life.

Each wing is made of densely packed, lightweight, carbon-fiber tubes to form an impenetrable net; letting in abundant sunlight during the day, to create a characteristic ambiance filled with shifting shadows. During the evenings, these wings unfold to showcase unparalleled views of the city’s center.

See this video to see how the building works:

In France, Architect Jean Nouvel portrayed the use of kinetic façade system as early as 1987. The Institut du Monde Arabe, on the banks of the River Seine, has its southern façade entirely covered in responsive metallic brise soleil. Coincidentally enough, the inspiration for these perforated screens was also drawn from the ‘mashrabiya’ style.

The façade system comprises hundreds of light-sensitive membranes that regulate the light entering the building. The lenses within the membrane, shift progressively throughout the day, letting in the optimum amount of light, while simultaneously creating a kaleidoscope of constantly changing patterns and shapes. The character of the interior alters and so does the exterior.

Solar gain is easily reduced while maintaining privacy and views, with the 30,000 everchanging apertures.

In Melbourne, Australia, the City Council House 2 or the CH2 building, exhibits the harmonious marriage between several sustainable elements to create an office space with zero-emission and reduced energy consumption.

Along with the kinetic façade made of timber shutters; rooftop wind turbines and a chilled ceiling provide occupants with well-ventilated and highly comfortable work environments. The timber shutters also let in optimum daylight, while moderating the climate providing the users with a cooling effect.

Improved occupant well-being leads to an increase in efficiency and decreases electricity consumption thereby leading to energy saving and minimal impact.

The above mentioned are only a few examples from the vast field of kinetics and kinetic façade applications used around the world to achieve a sustainable outcome. Endless possibilities arise from the technology that we already possess. As the world grows, so does its need for a lasting and viable system – to inspire and to endure.

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