Facade Engineering for the Fourth Industrial Revolution



Photo of Mikkel K. Kragh

Mikkel K. Kragh

Head of Department, Professor. Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering

University of Southern Denmark



What does the fourth industrial revolution mean to the design and engineering of facades of the future? We are experiencing a global technological revolution and the ‘archaic’ construction sector is at a crossroads. The global challenges of climate and the environment in combination with rapid urbanization calls for radical change in a highly fragmented sector, where definitions of disciplines and construction practice do not readily lend themselves to swift transformation and innovation. Technology and engineering may offer some of the possible solutions, but the challenges of the necessary transformation are formidable and will require new mindsets and new capabilities.

In this context, there is a fundamental difference between what we refer to as digitalization and computation. The facade engineer of the future will need to master computation and information technology in order to integrate complex technology, while still considering a multitude of design parameters pertaining to architecture, constructability, performance, cost and value. The integration and exploitation of computation throughout the different stages of design, delivery and operation of buildings will offer vast advantages through virtually unlimited optioneering, optimization, and hence potential gains in productivity, performance, and quality.

In an almost Darwinian sense, we are likely to see that those professionals and corporations that are able to adapt to and - to some extent - drive these changes will thrive while those that are not willing or able will increasingly struggle and fall behind. The paper outlines the promise of ‘I4.0’ and discusses through examples some likely implications on the practice of design and delivery of architecture and building technology with special focus on facades. Topics covered include automation of design and fabrication, parametric design, additive and subtractive manufacturing, optioneering and optimization, performative architecture, multiparameter decision-making, dynamic facades and transformable architecture, artificial intelligence, digital twins, augmented and mixed reality, robotics and drones.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution – Frequently referred to as Industry 4.0 – is a term which takes on different meanings depending of context. Digitalization, computational power, connectivity, and automation are

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Automation of Design and Fabrication

The digitalization of the construction sector has revolutionized the exchange of data and the amount of information available throughout the ideation, conceptualization, design, construction, and operation of the built environment

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Parametric Design

Rather than a representing a method or a set of tools, Parametric Design is an entire approach to problem-solving and to design and engineering. We are all familiar with studies

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Performative Architecture

An example of a field where Industry 4.0 will impact on design and delivery of facades is what is frequently referred to as performative architecture – i.e. the integrated design

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Additive Manufacturing

A detailed discussion of the broad term Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing goes beyond the scope of this paper. Additive Manufacturing is a compelling technology which crosses the boundary

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Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

There is much talk about smart components, smart buildings, and smart cities. We are currently seeing numerous systems and components that allow for control and automation, but we are yet

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Optioneering and Optimization

The ability to model and simulate with sufficient accuracy coupled with increasing computational power offers interesting opportunities for optioneering and optimization. Through a structured and systematic variation of multiple parameters

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Digital Twins

A digital twin is a comprehensive representation of entire systems that can serve to test different scenarios and possible alterations. Digital twins represent opportunities to trial designs virtually through advanced

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Augmented and Mixed Reality

New technologies in visualization are made possible through a combination of detailed digital modeling and enhanced power of computation. Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR, i.e

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Robotics and Drones

Automation and the use of robotics in construction represents potential gains in productivity and built quality. It may also ultimately eliminate dangerous, dirty, and dull work to the benefit of

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Skills and Competencies

By nature, the discipline of façade engineering covers a vast array of aspects pertaining to aesthetics, building envelope function and performance, structure, physics, materials, constructability, cost, construction management, and procurement

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The Role of the Facade Engineer

The façade engineer integrates disciplines, trades and technologies. As an integrator, the façade engineer also holds the key to identifying appropriate solutions to complex problems. In the context of the

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Conclusion and Future Work

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is impacting on façade engineering as methods, tools, techniques, and manufacturing and installation technologies evolve. Some will say that the construction

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