Reconfigurable Terracotta Facade

Stacked Ceramic Skin System as Facade Energy Moderator

Overview

Abstract

The traditional building facade as a permanent construction does not actively respond to the differing needs from varying weather conditions. Conventional dynamic facade systems as energy moderators are costly and require significant maintenance. In this regard, a passive strategy such as a thermal mass application is beneficial to reduce energy costs. However, typical thermal masses are not well-suited for movable applications and often limit the view and use of the space. Therefore, our study explores a thermal mass application using terracotta blocks that can be reconfigured for different seasons. A self-supporting shading structure outside of a glazed enclosure during the summer can be reconfigured into a thermal mass inside of the enclosure during the colder months. Inspired by traditional wood joinery, the modularized blocks are designed with specific interlocking geometries which can receive dowels, securing the interlocked blocks. The system of aggregation allows stacking with geometric freedom by fabricating the center area of the blocks with controlled angles. For disassembly, a specific force on the dowels removes the jamming. The interdisciplinary team of architects, engineers, ceramic specialists, and artists built a full-scale prototype that demonstrated the physical transformation by single-person labor without tools. While the typical permanence of terracotta is celebrated, the study suggests exploring a low-tech, dynamic facade and movable thermal mass application through a unique reconfigurable stacking method.


Authors

Photo of Jin Young Song

Jin Young Song

Associate Professor

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

jysong@gmail.com

Photo of Dan Vrana

Dan Vrana

Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the SMART Factory

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

danielvr@buffalo.edu

Photo of Johnathan Hopp

Johnathan Hopp

Assistant Professor, Alfred University

hopp@alfred.edu

Photo of Shawn Murrey

Shawn Murrey

Senior Kiln Specialist, Alfred University

swm1@alfred.edu

Photo of Jiatao Wu

Jiatao Wu

Graduate student

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

jiataowu@buffalo.edu

Photo of Jongmin Shim

Jongmin Shim

Associate Professor

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

jshim@buffalo.edu


Keywords

Introduction

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by leaders from more than 150 countries to initiate a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 1. Buildings in the United States use about 40 percent of the country's energy 2. In response to the climate crisis and the imminent mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is critical to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. The conventional, permanent building facade does not actively respond to the differing needs from varying weather conditions pertaining to both heating and cooling loads throughout changing seasons. In the summer season, the facade has the ability to reduce heat gain through shading while, in the winter season, it can allow more sunlight to enter spaces, increasing efficiency in energy storage and release through the use of thermal mass. Conventional dynamic and kinetic facade systems as energy moderators are costly and require significant energy use and maintenance. Typical thermal masses are not well-suited for movable applications or typical office environments due to their lack of porosity and flexibility. Therefore, our study explores a thermal mass application using terracotta blocks that can be reconfigured for different seasons. Terracotta is one of the most efficient materials for periodic thermal energy storage for building applications 3, and it is also locally sourced, long-lasting with low maintenance, and contains recycled materials. While the conventional use of terracotta for the building is for a permanent rainscreen or shading system, the study aims to expand the use of the material for broader and more intimate use for human habitation. Through the investigation of a unique block design and aggregation system which can be rearranged into other structural forms, a prototype of a reconfigurable ceramic façade is designed. A self-supporting shading structure outside of a glazed enclosure during the summer can be adapted into a thermal mass inside of the enclosure during the colder months. The interdisciplinary team of architects, engineers, ceramic specialists, and artists built a full-scale prototype that demonstrates the physical transformation by a single person without tools. The CFD analysis also confirms the function of the energy moderator in scenarios of an office tower skin renovation and a residence for the energy performance, operability, and facade aesthetics. While the typical permanence of terracotta is celebrated, the study suggests exploring a low-tech dynamic facade and movable thermal mass application by a unique reconfigurable stacking method.

Unit Block Design: Performative ‘Part’ for the Creative ‘Whole’

The transformation from a tall and thin shading structure to low and thick thermal mass is based on the unique stack-interlock method derived from traditional wood joinery (Fig. 1).

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Finite Element Analysis: Structural Performance of the ‘Part’ and ‘whole’

A series of finite element (FE) analyses are performed to check the structural integrity of the modularized unit block. The overall size of the considered base four-unit module is 1.0

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Fabrication of Stacked Ceramic Skin System

Due to the reconfigurable nature of the modularized blocks as well as the interlocking system between them, more precision is required during the fabrication process than with typical terracotta applications

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Discussion

Considering that space heating is the largest energy end-use in the U.S. building sector *4, a thermal mass application such as the Trombe wall has the potential ability for addressing

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Footnotes

  1. United Nations Climate Change, The Paris Agreement, France, Paris, November 2016, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

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  2. Monthly Energy Review, Table 2.1, April 2021, preliminary data for 2020, by U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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  3. Jeanjean, Anaïs, Régis Olives, and Xavier Py. "Selection criteria of thermal mass materials for low-energy building construction applied to conventional and alternative materials." Energy and Buildings 63 (2013): 36-48.

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Acknowledgements

The project is supported by Boston Valley Terracotta for ACAW 2021. We appreciate the research effort by all students from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.

Students who contributed to this research:

Phuong Vu (Graduate Student, Architecture)

Sakeena Nazir (Graduate Student, Architecture)

Nicole Sarmiento (Graduate Student, Architecture)

Lydia Ho (Graduate Student, Architecture)

Adrian Cruz (Graduate Student, Architecture)

Margeaux Claude (Ceramic Art and Design Graduate Student)

Corwyn Lund (Ceramic Art and Design Graduate Student)

Jaclyn Head (Ceramic Art and Design Graduate Student)

Mackenzie McDonald (Ceramic Art and Design Undergraduate Student)