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Spotlight: Building Envelope
The latest cladding systems that combine high performance and sophisticated aesthetics, including Texoversum's carbon-fibre facade.
Texoversum textile facility, Reutlingen University
Woven Fibre Wraps a Textile Facility in Germany
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Canvas House, Toronto
In Toronto, Canvas House Breaks from Convention
2/6
Post Rock, T+E+A+M
A Recycled Plastic Panel Designed to Rival Natural Stone
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Illueca Health Centre
In Spain, a Health Centre with a Two-Faced Ceramic Facade
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Artist studio with Ultra windows by Neon Energy
3 Window Systems That Offer Clear Outlooks
5/6
FX.12 Aluminum Panels by Prefa
3 Cladding Options That Embrace a Dark Palette
6/6
Spotlight: Building Envelope
Texoversum textile facility, Reutlingen University

Seeming to float free, the lace-like facade appears ethereal and delicate. A world first, the woven fibre structure is appropriately innovative for Texoversum, the new textile-focused teaching and research facility that it wraps at the Reutlingen University of applied sciences in Germany.

The facility’s industrial design makes thoughtful use of the enveloping textile as both organizational strategy and interior finish; staircases and collective seating areas crisscross the open and functional split-level floor plans, and a multi-storey mural of vibrant gradients links them all together. “Our mission for each of our projects is to develop a contextual dialogue with the spatial circumstances,” explains Sebastian Thomas, architect and head of project planning at Munich-based Allmannwappner, the firm that took on lead role as planner and architect for the building and its interior. “The building combines different special aspects to develop an identity for the site and the users.”

Texoversum, Reutlingen University

As the most visible external aspect of that identity, the spectacular fibre-composite facade adopts the textile as a literal architectural component. The construction technique is the culmination of years of experimentation and development at the University of Stuttgart by professors Achim Menges and Jan Knippers, who executed the facade system in collaboration with Allmannwappner through their respective firms, Menges Scheffler Architekten and Jan Knippers Ingenieure.

The web-like form consists of outwardly identical triangular tiles with five different inner fibre body templates spanning up to four metres in length (plus two trapezoidal corner elements), which were constructed using a robotic coreless filament winding process (pioneered and developed at the University of Stuttgart) that freely places fibrous filaments between two rotating winding scaffolds; the interaction of these filaments results in the predetermined shapes without the need for moulds or a core. “The carbon fibres have roughly the stiffness of structural steel and take on the main part of the loads,” explains Knippers, “while the glass fibres are significantly weaker and serve primarily as a mould for the carbon fibres.” When assembled from these panels, the fibre composite system can create dramatic shapes without generating any additional waste through formwork.

Texoversum, Reutlingen University

Wrapping Texoversum in the repeating five tiles did present a few challenges. “We had to meet the very strict requirements of the German building authorities and conduct many tests on durability, load-bearing capacity and fire resistance. We adapted the resin to meet these requirements,” says Knippers.

Texoversum, Reutlingen University

The sculptural facade is more than an expression of the program within. “It constitutes the external sun protection of the building, which has to fulfil stringent shading requirements in compliance with the German building code,” explains Menges. “In addition, the self-supporting fibre elements provide the structural balustrades for the balconies and frame the view towards the surrounding landscape.”

Canvas House, Toronto

In Toronto’s Forest Hill, Canvas House is an outlier. Surrounded by stately Georgian homes, the residence (which is also a private art gallery) is shrouded in a meticulously sculpted and undulating brick facade that signals a departure from the familiar. It also exemplifies how Partisans — the architecture firm behind the unconventional expression — is able to manipulate a traditional building material to create shock value.

Close up of brick facade

With advances in automated assembly, 3D printing, robotics, augmented reality and digital design, modern day approaches to masonry have become more scientific and refined, forging a new frontier in innovation and its capabilities. For Canvas House, however, Partisans chose to go a little old-school. The firm worked closely with local mason Finbarr Sheehan and his crew (which included Duffy + Associates and Picco), who individually placed just over 16,200 bricks — one brick type in three different dimensions — onto repeating five-brick modules in a custom square-shaped “Voxel-Bond” pattern reminiscent of the dot paintings of artist Larry Poons. Laid over two hundred sections, the bricks draw the eye across the surface in a frantic dance, creating the illusion of movement. Aside from aesthetics, the facade’s rhythm also serves two functions: It swells outward as an overhang above the door and recedes to allow light into the home around a second-floor skylight.

Canvas House, Toronto
Canvas House, Toronto

The resulting composition is an ode to the elegance of Georgian architecture. It finds its way inside through gently curved walls that blend seamlessly with the ceilings, as well as architectural fixtures like sinuously carved baseboards, door handles and handrails. Light-filled and mostly white, the interiors offer fluid, contemplative and calm spaces that, in juxtaposition with the crafted masonry work of the exterior, make the Canvas House an apt home for its residents and their captivating contemporary art collection.

Post Rock, T+E+A+M

Can recycled plastic convincingly mimic stone? Faculty at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, are fast at work turning post-consumer plastic into stone-like panels for applications such as facades, rainscreens and curtain walls. Thom Moran and Meredith Miller, professors and T+E+A+M co-founders, have collaborated with fabrication research specialist (and Taubman lecturer) Christopher Humphrey to develop Post Rock, a promising solution to help reduce the building sector’s carbon footprint.

Supported by a U.S. patent and an NSF grant, the team is advancing toward commercialization and plans to construct a two-storey mock-up in their fabrication lab in the near future, demonstrating how Post Rock can reshape sustainable construction practices.

Post Rock, T+E+A+M

Inspired by Rock

Post Rock initially drew its inspiration from plastiglomerate, a rock that naturally forms when ocean plastics meld with elements such as sand, seashells and wood. Post Rock’s thermoforming process involves heating moulds with controlled motion to blend the plastics in a way that mirrors geological processes. This results in a distinctive marbling reminiscent of sedimentary rock, in which one can “read” the rock’s formation from both natural and human-made inputs.

Waste Made Visible

Amid the ongoing climate crisis, it is increasingly crucial for designers and builders to select materials with an eye on their life cycle and potential for re-use. Post Rock combines various plastic types and sizes, creating a heterogeneous, chunky aesthetic. By showcasing plastic fragments, Post Rock encourages an awareness of the material life cycles at play, underscoring the idea that recycled plastics can match the aesthetic appeal of other cladding options with higher carbon emissions.

Mindful Reprocessing

Although recycled materials often reduce carbon footprints, reprocessing and transportation can counter these benefits. Post Rock proposes to minimize energy-intensive reprocessing by sourcing waste locally from automotive plants — plastic that is already UV-stabilized, impact-tested and flame-resistant. Further, unlike roto moulding, the robotically controlled method brings the source of heat close to the surface of the moulds rather than heating a large volume of space and placing a mould within it. The plastics used are infinitely recyclable, and a modular panel design allows for reinstallation on future buildings.

Tailored Stone “Our process emulates the geological forces that create stone, but it also allows for the direct placement of materials into the mould by hand,” explains the research team. Manual composition, combined with the unpredictability of heat and movement, delivers panels that are custom but never identical. Architects and designers can selectively pick and place plastic aggregates into the panels to create custom colour combinations and surface graining, which collectively form a stone-look facade distinct from traditional cladding products.

Illueca Health Centre

How to design a building that stands out yet melds seamlessly with its context? This was precisely the challenge Zaragoza firm Pemán y Franco Arquitectos faced in creating the Illueca Health Centre. Located in a developing area of the once-tiny Spanish town, the primary care facility sits on an almost 1,400-square-metre plot of land and will service 11 nearby communities. “Until a few years ago, Illueca was an agricultural town. Its industrialization began with manufacturing footwear, which became the economic engine of the area,” explains co-founder and architect Luis Franco Lahoz. “As the town grew, it needed to absorb the increase in population that industrial development would bring.”

Illueca Health Centre

As one of the only buildings in the planned urban development to be completed thus far, the health centre — which has a premium street frontage — had to make a strong impression. But the recent economic downturn and ensuing construction delays put the region’s growth on pause. Therefore, the design needed to hold its own until the surrounding five-storey residential structures were built and be versatile enough to contribute to a cohesive whole. The answer: a building envelope that offers two facades in one.

Ceramic facade by Favekar

To that end, the architects sourced an innovative ventilated ceramic facade by Spanish brand Faveker. Combining flat and volumetric extruded tiles from the GA 16 collection mounted onto a metal support substructure, the lightweight system features horizontal joints that allow the tiles to overlap in a tongue-and-groove formation, keeping the air chamber watertight and improving the building’s longevity. With its high-performance thermal properties — especially important in Illueca, which experiences large temperature swings throughout the year — the envelope reduces energy consumption by up to 40 per cent. The tiles themselves include up to 46 per cent recycled content, and at the end of its life, the system can be dismantled and recycled once again.

A titanium-effect glaze gives the porcelain tile an ever-shifting expression dependent on weather conditions, angle of approach and time of day, contrasting with the crisp white composite window frames.
A titanium-effect glaze gives the porcelain tile an ever-shifting expression dependent on weather conditions, angle of approach and time of day, contrasting with the crisp white composite window frames.

The exterior’s stark white window frames jut out slightly, lending its clean-lined profile a dynamic three-dimensional quality. Made of a composite material with an enforced thermostable resin skin and a high-density insulation core, the casings (single units that include the lintel, jambs and sills) eliminate thermal bridges by reducing the need for joints.

Ceramic facade by Favekar

But the facade boasts more than just impressive performance. Each tile is finished with a stunning metallic effect that evokes the titanium used to make
it — and creates a striking optical illusion (the architects carried out multiple colour and finish tests before landing on the textured treatment). In the sunlight, the ceramic facade gleams in shades of vibrant turquoise, while on overcast days, it transforms into a matte charcoal monolith that recedes into the existing brick-clad residences that surround it. “The selected surface finish also aims to establish a bridge between local tradition and contemporary modern expression,” explains Franco Lahoz. “It was about finding a finish that would evoke the uniqueness typical of a public facility while integrating into an environment dominated by traditional brick.” While the ceramic material nods to Spain’s vernacular design techniques, Pemán y Franco’s interpretation is anything but traditional.

Artist studio with Ultra windows by Neon Energy
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Ultra by Neon Energy
Ultra by Neon Energy

For a creative couple in a small hamlet of Long Island, Brooklyn architecture practice Worrell Yeung designed a two-storey addition to their main house, with an artist studio up top and an exhibition space (and garage) below. Wrapped in 1.2-metre-tall ribbon windows from Neon Energy (a combination of the Ultra fixed and tilt-and-turn models), the upper workshop is flooded with natural light and possesses 360-degree views of the surrounding tree canopies. To achieve the continuous run of windows, the architects worked with Silman structural engineers and devised a series of small steel columns and steel rod cross- braces for lateral support that perfectly matched the mullions.

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Auraline True Composite by Jeld-Wen
Auraline True Composite by Jeld-Wen

More durable than vinyl and possessing the beauty of natural wood, Jeld-Wen’s Auraline True Composite windows (and patio doors) are manufactured from an extruded mix of wood fibre and synthetic polymer, making them low-maintenance and scratch-, peel- and flake-resistant — and they require no painting. Offered in five operating styles (single-hung, two- and three-panel sliding, casement, awning and direct set), multiple performance-glass options and clear or textured surfaces, the windows have slimmer sightlines that result in more visible glass. Weld-free, mechanically fastened corners enhance the super-clean look.

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Series 7600 Multi-Slide Door by Western Window Systems
Series 7600 Multi-Slide Door by Western Window Systems

Western Window Systems recently updated the interlocks of its Series 7600 Multi-Slide Door, resulting in more expansive openings with slender seven-centimetre sightlines. The dual-pane glass of the rolling panels has a U-value of 0.30 and can be customized for such considerations as enhanced winter performance or solar- and glare-control. The doors can be configured with one of three sills — Thinline (for seamless indoor–outdoor transitions), Water Barrier and Flush — and with two handle options and a concealed multi-point locking system. Further, a number of standard bronze- and satin-anodized finishes are available for the aluminum framing, along with custom colour capabilities.

FX.12 Aluminum Panels by Prefa
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FX.12 Aluminum Panels by Prefa
FX.12 Aluminum Panels by Prefa

Nestled within a conifer woodland just outside of Prague, Forest Cabin, by local firm Archicraft, was designed to reflect — and respect — its surroundings. Opting for the durability and nearly negligible maintenance requirements of aluminum shingles, the architects chose FX.12 panels from Austrian cladding brand Prefa for both the gable roof and facade, and the Prefalz system for the roof’s flat portions — all in dark brown to give the entire structure a seamless look. Each panel has both longitudinal and transverse edging sections, which lends them a unique “crumpled” appearance while also increasing their strength. Embossed with non-repeating cant patterns, the surface characteristics change throughout the course of the day. FX.12 panels are installed as non-bearing, rear-ventilated facades.

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Slatpanel Exterior Composite Wall Panelling by The Wood Veneer Hub
Slatpanel Exterior Composite Wall Panelling by The Wood Veneer Hub

The Slatpanel exterior wall panelling from The Wood Veneer Hub mimics the charm of natural wood while offering the longevity of a composite. Available in four colourways — Black, Oak, Walnut and Grey (shown) — the waterproof PVC panels boast a realistic wood-grain look, complete with a textured surface, that is resistant to fading. They are offered in two sizes (and can be cut to size) and have tongue-and-groove edges that hide fixings and are easy to assemble and install.

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Acrylic Black by Nakamoto Forestry
Acrylic Black cladding by Nakamoto Forestry

Nakamoto Forestry, the leading Japanese maker of quality shou sugi ban siding, recently added the Acrylic Black finish to two of its hinoki cypress cladding lines: Gendai and Pika-Pika. Developed for commercial applications but equally suitable for residential projects, the new deep black tone appears understated from afar, but its texture and raw beauty shine through when viewed up close. The low-maintenance product is resistant to rot, insects and fire (Class A rated), and the new finish will maintain its dramatic impact over time without weathering or patinating. Acrylic Black was originally a custom treatment for Oregon State University’s Gladys Valley Marine Studies building by Yost Grube Hall Architecture (shown).