Kinetic façade systems: Adding a dynamic element to building structures

The successful and fast installation of the kinetic façade system on Logan International Airport’s West Garage was credited to a collaborative design-assist approach involving the architect, installing contractor, and façade system manufacturer.
The successful and fast installation of the kinetic façade system on Logan International Airport’s West Garage was credited to a collaborative design-assist approach involving the architect, installing contractor, and façade system manufacturer.

Once the bid is approved and the contract awarded, a successful installation of a kinetic façade is measured in terms of time, cost, and quality. It requires the synergistic co-ordination of various activities including design, engineering, testing, fabrication, delivery, and installation. This begins during the conceptual design phase, with the development of the project schedule.

Typical project durations range from 12 to 20 weeks from the time of award. The type of overall design, the complexity of the kinetic elements, and the scope of the installation are some of the factors that can affect this timeframe. For large-scale kinetic façade systems, delivery schedules are often phased at various construction stages to allow a continuous stream of material through the duration of the installation. This phased method of delivery avoids potential damage to components stored onsite and helps conserve space by limiting site laydown and storage areas.

The kinetic façade installation is typically arranged as one of the final undertakings during building construction, thus limiting the exposure of the façade elements to potentially damaging activities from adjacent trades.

Planning considerations

When considering a kinetic façade installation, several site-related factors must be taken into account to ensure the chosen system functions as intended. The geographical location of the building is one of the most crucial aspects of successful kinetic façade design, specification, and installation.

Some location-specific questions that need to be considered during the conceptual design stages are:

  • is the building in an area that is generally suitable (as in the dynamic nature of the façade can be easily produced [wind] and enjoyed [view], while respecting any local ordinances [lighting, noise, etc.) for a kinetic installation;
  • is the wind speed and intensity enough (kinetic facades can work with as little as 3.2 km/h
    (2 mph) wind speeds, which is also dependent on the flapper size, shape, configuration, and material, heavier material will be less responsive than lighter material) to activate the façade’s kinetic elements;
  • what are the likely wind patterns in the selected location; and
  • is the building open or closed behind the kinetic façade?
For optimal cost and performance value, the drop-in suspension system is recommended.
For optimal cost and performance value, the drop-in suspension system is recommended.

Also essential is the building’s orientation—the position of the structure relative to the surrounding environment. How the orientation affects airflow, façade visibility, as well as the fall of direct and indirect light at various times of the day, should be assessed to ensure maximum façade performance.

Following an analysis of the building’s orientation, the viewing perspectives of the kinetic façade need to be considered. In other words, at what vantage points and viewing distances can the façade be observed for maximum visual impact? For instance, in tight urban environments, where most vantage points are nearfield, smaller flapper elements should be considered to achieve a denser, less pixelated appearance. Conversely, for installations where the façade will likely be viewed at greater distances, larger flapper sizes can be used to achieve the same visual impact at a lower cost. Additionally, if the kinetic façade serves as a shading device, the esthetic appearance of the system from within the building may also need to be taken into account.

The solar angle, and its effect on selected materials and associated glare, is another factor in the design, specification, and installation of kinetic façades. The angles at which the sunlight strikes the façade’s elements can have a profound impact on the esthetic. For specific environments, such as those near airports or in tight urban settings, glare resulting from the selection of highly reflective materials may be undesirable. In other cases, where indirect light is predominant, a material with more reflectance can accentuate the façade’s kinetic activity.

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