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Spotlight: Facades
From a Copenhagen showpiece by 3XN to an exploration of AI design, our Spotlight on Building Envelopes explores the latest in façades.
InDéfense and Hôtel OKKO Bring a New Sense of Place to a Historic Region in France
Wildwood Bamboo cladding system by Fiberon
4 High-Performance Facades That Don’t Sacrifice on Style
The Hermitage of San Juan de Ruesta in Spain Returns to Life
Portrait of Material Cultures team
5 Regenerative Design Principles by Material Cultures
A Case Study in Uniform Concrete: Casa Santos in Mexico
SlimLine 38 window system by Reynaers
4 Innovative Window Systems That Welcome the Outside In
Midjourney AI Architecture rendering
Artificial Intelligence Tools Conjure Architectural Renderings in Seconds
Spotlight: Facades

From the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the Grande
Arche de la Défense, the Historical Axis in Paris is a walkable 10-kilometre
stretch of architectural and cultural significance. So in order for a new
building to make any sort of impression, it must possess a little something
special. Case in point, the recently completed InDéfense and
Hôtel OKKO; it now anchors La Défense — the westernmost region of
the Axis and Europe’s largest purpose-built business district — which
dates back to the 1950s.

As the first structure you see when you enter the neighbourhood,
it needed to be an “eye-catching and dynamic” standout. This aspect
was top of mind when Danish architecture firm 3XN began designing
the 16,000-square-metre...

Wildwood Bamboo cladding system by Fiberon

The facade is a building’s first impression, making it important for architects to select cladding that makes a statement while being durable enough to weather the elements. These high-performance systems by EcoSupply, Pac-Clad, Fiberon and Lunawood embrace these principles across a varied material palette. 

Tekstur by EcoSupply
Tekstur cladding by EcoSupply

With an expansive portfolio of patterns and colourways, Tekstur (an EcoSupply brand) protective panelling makes an immediate visual and textural statement. A composite made by applying heat and pressure to resin-saturated kraft or decorative papers (recycled and FSC-certified), the material is resistant to impact, heat, water and staining; a variety of predetermined patterns are available, as...

As part of a larger regional project intended to bring back life, heritage and tourism to the depopulated area around the Aragón River in Northeastern Spain, Zaragoza-based Sebastián Arquitectos has restored a small stone chapel outside the hamlet of Ruesta. The hermitage of San Juan de Ruesta was originally built in the 12th century; it was known for its significant collection of Romanesque paintings before the artwork was removed in the early 1960s, when a pharaonic reservoir and dam were built nearby, hastening the area’s decline.

In 2001, in an act that Sergio Sebastián Franco, founder of the architecture practice, calls “cruel and unnecessary,” the local government demolished part of the chapel’s roof and walls and...

Portrait of Material Cultures team

Material Cultures has an admirable goal: to steer the architecture industry “towards a post-carbon built environment.” Working with all levels of the A & D community, the U.K.-based not-for-profit, which was co-founded in 2019 by architects Summer Islam and Paloma Gormley (architect George Massoud joined as director in 2021), champions regenerative design and construction principles.

It advocates the use of bio-based materials and sustainable building methods that are economically viable and “touch lightly on the ground.” The group recently launched its first book, Material Reform, a collection of essays that call for a more harmonious relationship between the built environment and the natural world. Here, they — collectively —...

Just a short trek from Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is a mini compound offering a unique escape from the bustle of the up-and-coming tourist town. Surrounded by a desert landscape dotted with low-lying scrub and cacti, Casa Santos responds to its environmental context through resilient and sustainable architecture that celebrates place and performance.

Identical in size, shape and colour, Casa Santos 11 concrete cubes create a harmonious expression that complements their desert placement.
Identical in size, shape and colour, Casa Santos’s 11 concrete cubes create a harmonious expression that complements their desert placement.

When architects María Gómez, Héctor Coss and Giovanni Ocampo were commissioned for the project, it was initially intended as a private villa for two business owners and their families. In a move that proved...

SlimLine 38 window system by Reynaers

As glazed facades continue their reign in contemporary architecture, today’s window systems are constantly evolving to meet the needs of modern buildings — from improved insulation to sound absorption. These innovative window systems manufactured by Jeld-Wen, Salamander, Reynaers and Kova elegantly fade into the background to bring views into focus, all without compromising functionality.

Northern Tri-Pane Collection by Jeld-Wen
Northern Tri-Pane window collection by Jeld-Wen

Designed specifically for colder climates, these thermal-performance windows by Jeld-Wen feature two 1.2-centimetre argon-filled air pockets between three panes that add an extra layer of insulation and reduce radiant heat condensation. The interior panes also buffer exterior noise transfer...

Midjourney AI Architecture rendering

From initial sketch to final rendering, realistic models of architectural concepts traditionally take days (if not weeks) to produce. The fantastical facades pictured here — structures sheathed in swaths of multicoloured fabric, glazing encased in Antoni Gaudí–inspired curves — are different. They were created by artificial intelligence.

A.I Artificial Intelligence Colourful architectural rendering of curved building

Using text-to-image A.I. tools (Midjourney is one of the most popular), designers and architects are conceptualizing boundary-pushing envelopes using little more than a string of text. Enter a few words and these tools get to work, scouring image “memories” developed during the A.I.’s neural network training. Seconds later, they generate new forms and invite the human on the other side of the screen to refine, remix or upscale their appearance. A welcome disruption to a manual process or a threat to the human element of creation? Two designers weigh in.

Andrew Kudless, principal of Houston-based design firm Matsys, is specifically interested in A.I. tools’ ability to render building envelopes. Inspired by a fascination with the fabric curtains used to wrap construction scaffolding, he’s been employing Midjourney to explore the possibilities of textile facades, documenting his process and sharing the results on Instagram. Could they be constructed in real life? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Artificial Intelligence rendering of Building made of sheets

“Visionary architecture always has a role to play in the design process, even if it is simply aspirational,” Kudless says. He sees A.I. tools like Midjourney supporting — not supplanting — a human designer. “Some might see this as a threat, but I love the idea of clients using these tools to help them envision their desires for a project. It helps start a conversation with the designer around shared objectives,” Kudless says. “These images are able to quickly establish an atmosphere for a project that has always been incredibly difficult using digital modelling and rendering tools.”

Like Kudless, Southern California–based multidisciplinarian Hassan Ragab is using Midjourney to develop concepts for complex, sometimes dreamlike facades. Drawing on his architectural vocab- ulary, he prompts the tool with descriptions of building styles and materials, repeatedly refining hundreds of generated images until his vision is realized. Ragab is bullish on the tool’s potential to make the human-led design process redundant. “I think as these tools evolve, they will make a lot about our jobs obsolete,” Ragab says. “That’s the natural process of technology.” That’s not to say these tools are without limitations.

AI Rendering of dynamic organic shaped building

As is the case with other artificial intelligence technologies, certain elements of human design haven’t yet been perfected by A.I. Ragab points to copyright as one issue (who does the final image ultimately belong to?). Bias is another; in Ragab’s experience, the data sets the A.I. is trained on unintentionally lean toward Western architecture. “If we are not addressing these flags, these tools will really be biased. Some cultures could perish digitally.”