Form as Energy

The Building Envelope as an Expression of Energy





All too often, high-performance building envelopes are considered in terms of new materials and technologies that push specific systems to improve energy savings, without questioning the underlying geometry of the building, as if it is an a prior condition without recourse to examination. Material advances that offer occupant benefits while decreasing energy consumption are of a positive development but typically embed additional energy demands throughout their manufacturing processes. Triple silver coated glass provides enhanced performance over double coated silver glass but there is an obvious price to pay for this increased performance both in terms of energy consumption and the environment. It was Buckminster Fuller that said, ‘Do More with Less’ (Lopez-Perez, Daniel; Allen, Stan; R. Buckminster Fuller World Man; Princeton Architectural Press, 2014). This statement in its broadest sense extends to the constituent principles underlying a buildings form which directly translates to energy consumption.

The geometry of a buildings’ form has a critical impact on energy consumption, both in terms of embedded and operational energy. The reduction in the surface area of a building envelope inherently reduces the embedded energy of the project. It also serves to reduce operational energy required for human comfort by minimizing the building skin contact area between inclement exterior conditions and regulated interior conditions. Unfortunately, contemporary manufacturing techniques are at odds with environmentally sensitive forms, specifically forms that aim to reduce energy usage. Today’s manufacturing techniques are characterized by straight runs of steel or flat panes of glass; they are based on straight linear procedures that result in a built environment of orthogonal geometries, least favorable to environmental conditions. For a building envelope to strike a resonating chord with the environment and reduce energy consumption, a reassessment of its constituent underlying geometries in light of manufacturing techniques is required.

A case study of the Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico, (NAICM), or Mexico City New International Airport, a joint venture between Foster Partners and FR-EE, will be offered as a vehicle to explore this issue in greater detail. This project is a seminal example of rethinking the manifold criteria that goes into the determination of an energy efficient form and its enclosing skin. The project presents a tabula rasa of sorts reexamining the underlying principles that constitute the building form and enclosing structure.

Putting it in Context

Nature is Asymmetrical | Nature is Nuanced

As we know from our earliest childhood experiences, continuing in our day to day experiences, nature is not symmetrical. Although the surface

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Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico

Form and Geometry

The Mexico City New International Airport is a joint venture between Fernando Romeo EnterprisE (FR-EE) and Foster Partners (F+P) (Fig. 6). It is an entirely new

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In summary, the Mexico City New International Airport presents a new paradigm in the relation of architecture to its environment. Substantial reductions in energy consumption can be realized in challenging

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Rights and Permissions

Lopez-Perez, Daniel; Allen, Stan; R. Buckminster Fuller World Man; Princeton Architectural Press, 2014.

Fuller, Buckminster R.; Critical Path; St. Martin’s Press, 1981.

The Aluminum Association; North American Aluminum Industry Sustainability Report; September 2011.

Macdonald, Angus; Structure & Architecture; Taylor Francis Group; 2001.