Kinetics in Building Facades

Development of Taxonomy of Kinetics in Climatic Building Envelopes



Photo of Sean Cullen

Sean Cullen

Queen’s University Belfast

Photo of Professor Greg Keeffe

Professor Greg Keeffe

Queen’s University Belfast



The prominence of climatically responsive building facades through the use of kinetics has proliferated in recent years due to a concern for the reduction in building energy demand and increasing user comfort. However, no resource provides an extensive catalogue of knowledge around how kinetics in the building facade are used, what they aim to achieve and where they exist. Consequently, the taxonomy acts as a useful tool to organize and better understand a body of knowledge that will become increasingly important for architects, engineers and clients in years to come.

Through a grounded theory approach, a database of existing projects is analyzed through categorizing and coding their kinetics as well as their ‘type’. Kinetics are coded: rotate (vertically or horizontally); linear (vertically or horizontally); flex; fold (point or linear); translate; and, scale. Each project is given an order of complexity, up to three, depending on the number of kinetic mechanics within the facade system. It results in 729 potential sequences, a vast number of which are still to be explored. ‘Type’ refers to: light (L); thermal (T); airflow (A); generator (G); and, a combination of each (TL, AT, AL, LG, TG, AG). These are cross-referenced with climatic indicators and date of completion.

The taxonomy allows for an understanding of how ‘type’ interconnects with climate conditions and how complexity of kinetics has increased over time. Similarly, it indicates the role of kinetic facade systems in managing lighting conditions, which historically lies beyond the remit of mechanical services – the environmental management system of choice in the last century. It also highlights how other types, like generator systems, are becoming more prevalent.


In recent years, there has been a shift in the way environmental management systems improve user comfort and energy efficiency within buildings. As Banham (1967) explored in The Architecture of

Members Only

Importance of Taxonomies

The importance of developing a taxonomy lies in the ability to remove oneself from a close working relationship with a specific field and analyze it from the perspective of the

Members Only


Grounded theory uses a qualitative, inductive method of research that combines the process of data collection and analysis in a continual, cyclical nature. It allows highly contextualized theories to emerge

Members Only

A Taxonomy of Kinetics

The kinetic movement of each precedent in the database was determined and coded. As a result, the following kinetic motions were established: rotate (vertically or horizontally); linear (vertically or horizontally)

Members Only

Typologies in Climate Control

Despite the use of developing a taxonomy of kinetic sequencing within responsive building facades, an understanding of how they are used and in what climate they are located is equally

Members Only


The result of this process exposed a number of key insights. The first is the limited number of climates represented through the process. This could be for a number of

Members Only


As a result of the taxonomy, manufacturers, designers and clients can utilize it to reference desired outcomes for kinetic, climatically responsive facades. It has established clear links between ‘types’ and

Members Only

Future Work and Conclusion

The grounded theory approach to this work acknowledges the cyclical nature of the research methodology. For this reason, new precedents will continually be added to the database in order to

Members Only

Rights and Permissions

Banham, Reyner. 1969. The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment. London: Architectural Press.

Blum, B. 1989. "A Paradigm for the 1990s Validated in the 1980s." American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: 502-511.

Cullen, S., Keeffe, G., & Kinnane, O. (2016). Mapping Responsive Envelopes: Material culture evolution and climatically responsive building facades. In D. Noble, K. Kensek, & S. Das (Eds.), Face Time: The Emergence of the Facade as the Integrative Factor in Holistic Building Design (Vol. 2, pp. 201-207). Los Angeles: Tectonic Press.

Frampton, Kenneth. 2007. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. World of Art. 4th ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Glass, Robert and Iris Vessey. 1995. "Contemporary Application - Domain Taxonomies." IEEE Software (July): 63-76.

Knaack, Ulrich. (2011, March). About innovation. Paper presented at the Conference of Adaptive Architecture at The Building Centre, London, United Kingdom.

Loonen, Roel, Fabio Favoino, Jan Hensen, and Mauro Overend. 2016. "Review of Current Status, Requirements and Opportunities for Building Performance Simulation of Adaptive Facades." Journal of Building Performance Simulation 1493 (April).

Moloney, Jules. 2011. Designing Kinetics for Architectural Facades: State Change. Abingdon; 4: Routledge.

Morville, Peter and Louis Rosenfeld. 2007. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Beijing; Cambridge: O'Reilly.

Negri, Antonio (2014) ‘Reflections on the Manifesto’ #Accelerate, pp.363–378.

Noys, Benjamin. 2015. “Architectures of Accelerationism.” In History and Critical Thinking Debates: Locating the Politics of Architecture Series, pp.1–21. London: Architectural Association School of Architecture.

Wheaton, GR. 1973. Development of a Taxonomy of Human Performance: A Review of Classificatory Systems Relating to Tasks and Performance. Washington DC: American Institute for Research.

Willig, C. 2013. Intorducing Qualitative Resrach in Psychology. New York: Open University Press.