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Building skins play a pivotal role in architecture. Other than the aesthetical and architectural aspects, facades are key to the climate performance, the occupant’s health and wellbeing, the construction process efficiency and safety, and the overall environmental impact of a building. Therefore, they have enormous potential to drive change in the construction sector and represent a perfect incubator to explore opportunities for transformative innovation. This paper builds on these premises and presents a critical overview of the editorial project – Rethinking Building Skins: Transformative Technologies and Research Trajectories – carried out by the authors over the past two years, which brings together the experience and expertise of more than 60 facades global innovators from both academia and industry. The discussion focuses on the major challenges and opportunities ahead for the construction (and façade) sector, with a focus on the two domains of “product” and “process” innovation. Project findings include the definition of a new framework for future facades, creating the basis for a multilevel and multidisciplinary discussion around the topic of facade innovation and contributing to the definition of an international research agenda for the years to come.
The construction industry is among the largest worldwide and notably one with the most impact on the environment, responsible for substantial waste production and contributing alone to over 1/3 of global energy consumption and carbon emissions (United Nations Environment Programme 2020). Present concerns around climate change require drastic measures, but while in recent years many other sectors have been showing a quick technological uptake towards transformative innovation, the construction industry made no discernible shift in its basic mode of production and delivery, advancing at a slow pace. Productivity growth shown over the last decades has raised concerns regarding its very limited magnitude. The construction sector is traditionally articulated, fragmented and not prone to take risks. Those factors, together with limited digitization permeating the industry and strong reliance on manual labor, have significantly hindered the sector’s ability to disrupt (Barbosa et al. 2017; Ribeirinho et al. 2020).
The whole process and value chain around buildings need to evolve in the way objects are designed, assembled, used and maintained, as well as disassembled towards their end-of-life. The resilience of building artefacts is also a crucial issue to be accounted for in today’s everchanging reality. This transformation strongly relies on the recognition of the ecosystem complexity as a starting point, which can in turn trigger improved knowledge and know-how sharing and dissemination practices to foster multidisciplinary cooperation within the multifaceted community of professionals engaged in the construction sector. Innovation and digitalization are key enabling factors for the sectors near future evolution and systemic development towards a paradigm shift.
Within the frame of the construction industry at large, building skins play even a more pivotal role, determining many features of buildings besides the mere aesthetic appearance. Facades are the connecting layer between the human and the built dimensions of cities, guiding the transition from the indoor to the outdoor environment. They have large stakes in achieving overall building energy performance, as well as contribute to occupant’s comfort and wellbeing in indoor spaces. Building envelope types and typologies also have an impact on construction process efficiency and overall building safety, especially in high-rises which are increasing their presence in highly urbanized areas. In this context, the façade has enormous potential to drive change in construction, representing fertile ground for incubating emerging technologies and exploring opportunities for transformative innovation.
This paper builds on these premises and presents a critical overview of the ambitious editorial project – Rethinking Building Skins: Transformative Technologies and Research Trajectories – carried out by the authors over the past two years (Gasparri et al. 2022b). Throughout a thorough analysis of the past century’s major milestones and advancements in the façade sector, the authors reflect on and identify main future research and development trajectories to inspire the international technical community to rethink future facades beyond the state-of-the-art, adopting a systemic, multidisciplinary approach. The book showcases the most relevant and forward-looking research in façade design and construction through the lenses of both “product” and “process” innovation, picturing the way forward towards a more efficient and sustainable future. This is a one-off experience, that collects organically in one place the experience and expertise of more than 60 facades global innovators from both the academia and the industry, from 10 different countries spread across 3 continents (America, Australia, Europe).
Current societal challenges are unprecedented and multidisciplinary, compared to previous centuries when the world was less connected globally and thus much less interlaced in terms of economics, technics, and potential
Rethinking Building Skins project is solidly grounded on existing literature in the field of façade technology and its development followed an incremental step-by-step approach. As a first move, the authors
The framework presented in this section, and graphically summarized in Figure 1, has set the basis for gathering contributions on the topic of innovation in the façade world from academia
Interviews with industry experts highlighted several cross-cutting topics deemed to be driving the façade market in the years to come. Based on their extensive experience in the field, interviewees from
Rethinking Building Skins investigates the façade sector ecosystem, reading through it based on the product and process lenses. It highlighted main research trends that are deemed to impact the industry
Authors kindly acknowledge all interviewed experts and contributing authors to the Rethinking Building Skins book published by Elsevier. All images by the authors.
Acharya, Devni, Richard Boyd, and Olivia Finch. 2020. From Principles to Practices: Realising the value of the circular economy in real estate. Arup & Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Barbosa, Filipe , Jonathan Woetzel, Jan Mischke, Maria João Ribeirinho, Mukund Sridhar, Matthew Parsons, Nick Bertram, and Stephanie Brown. 2017. Reinventing construction: A route to higher productivity. . McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey & Company.
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Gasparri, Eugenia, Arianna Brambilla, Gabriele Lobaccaro, Francesco Goia, Annalisa Andaloro, and Alberto Sangiorgio. 2022a. "1 - Façade innovation: between ‘product’ and ‘process’." In Rethinking Building Skins, edited by Eugenia Gasparri, Arianna Brambilla, Gabriele Lobaccaro, Francesco Goia, Annalisa Andaloro and Alberto Sangiorgio, 1-13. Woodhead Publishing.
Gasparri, Eugenia, Arianna Brambilla, Gabriele Lobaccaro, Francesco Goia, Annalisa Andaloro, and Alberto Sangiorgio. 2022b. Rethinking building skins: transformative technologies and research trajectories. Oxford: Woodhead Publishing.
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