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Spotlight: Façades
ElasticoFarm S-LAB
ElasticoFarm’s S-LAB Is A Warm and Wonderful Warehouse
3 Fresh Metal Facade Options
Out System of exterior finishes by Wall&decò
3 Exterior Finishes with a Novel Touch
Jax 01, an art venue in Riyadh by HWKN
HWKN Creates an Art Venue Near Riyadh with a Dynamic Facade
4 Enduring Cladding Materials Given a New Twist
Exterior view of office in Lille, France, showing louvre system
A Sophisticated Louvre System Pumps Up the Volume of a French Office Building
Spotlight: Façades
ElasticoFarm S-LAB

When it comes to the design of manufacturing warehouses, function often trumps form. In order to accommodate the equipment inside, the barn-like structures, typically steel and concrete, are hulking and Herculean, devoid of much (if any) charm. But a recently completed facility headquarters in Turin, Italy, bucks the expected vernacular by revealing that a softer side is possible for industrial architecture.

Designed by architecture firm ElasticoFarm on the campus of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, S-LAB is the new production complex for the machinery and precision instruments required by the research agency. “It’s an important building in an important location,” says studio co-founder Stefano Pujatti of the approximately 2,000-square-metre complex.

Polycarbonate panels allow natural light to penetrate the building while obscuring views from passersby.
Skylights and internal courtyards contribute to the controlled environments of the research labs.

To express this significance in built form, the Italian architect and his team revisited a material they had used for a 2019 two-house project — reinforced concrete infill panels — which was itself informed by previous explorations. “Every project influences the next,” says Pujatti, whose firm focuses on finding new uses for familiar materials. Applying “known technology in a way that was interesting and unexpected” also allowed them to stay within the strict budget.

With the houses, monolithic volumes of concrete and granite were connected using a series of cuts (somewhat similar to tab and slot construction), which allowed them to carry some of the overall structural load.

The name of the institute is emblazoned on the top left pair of panels but only appears in certain levels of humidity and rainy conditions. This was achieved by embedding insulating materials that vary the panels’ surface thickness.

Here, the panels are stacked in a more orderly fashion, with some extending beyond the perimeter to contribute to the vertical support; a structure behind the panels holds up the roof and provides additional reinforcement.

Manufactured by a local producer, the 69 panels share the same height (2.2 metres) and thickness (20 centimetres), but have lengths that vary from six to 10 metres. To give the rugged material a surprising elegance, the modules were each coloured using differing amounts of iron oxide (achieving consistent colouring with concrete was another technique the firm perfected with the aforementioned houses), resulting in five shades of pink that range from pastel to deep, rusty red.

ElasticoFarm S-LAB

To determine the slabs’ layout, the firm considered the positioning of the building on its landscape, which includes a nearby golf course and green park, and the interaction of natural light with the facade; the only restriction was that no two neighbouring panels could have the same colour. The subtle tonal shifts create a pleasing contrast to the other, more conventional grey buildings on the campus. “We wanted the building to complement rather than impose, to make a welcoming statement, not push people away,” says Pujatti.

ElasticoFarm S-LAB

Interspersed with translucent polycarbonate panels that let light inside, the end effect has a certain duality: It gives the building delicacy and helps communicate that it is not a public-access facility without appearing fortress-like. In short, the warehouse has become wonderful.

Metal Mesh by GKD Metal Fabrics
metal facade

Cladding the balustrade, the fall guards, and the spiral staircases and elevator towers at either end of this footbridge at Zurich’s main train station, GKD’s Metal Mesh facade is semi-translucent, offering users views to the city while ensuring their safety. Along the bridge, the horizontal warp wires are installed with a zigzag effect that alters the material’s transparency and opacity, while on the vertical structures, the wires are more rigid. Together, the two applications give the bridge architectural lightness and exemplify the meshes’ possibilities.

MetaMetal by Pure + Freeform
MetaMetal facade

The MetaMetal collection features eight single-skin aluminum compositions that highlight the rugged material’s poetic qualities. Available as panel systems or flat sheets, the designs (Bohemian, Patria and Float, shown here) can be customized for pattern, colour, gloss, texture and scale. Finished with organic pigments and resins, the durable surfaces are 100 per cent recyclable, and are resistant to cracking, UV degradation, fading and more.

DF Perforated Panels by Engineered Assemblies
DF Perforated Panels metal facade

Recently added to Engineered Assemblies’ portfolio of cladding materials, Germany’s DF Perforated Panels allow for unique patterns and graphics through the brand’s DesignPerf technology. Shown here on a multi-storey parking garage, three-millimetre galvanized metal sheets have a bubble-like effect, partially concealing the building’s inner workings while letting light pass through.

Out System of exterior finishes by Wall&decò
Out System by Wall&decò

The Out system of exterior finishes brings wallpaper to the outdoors. The fibreglass coverings (for application on concrete, gypsum board or other materials, with sanitizing primer and transparent finish) are predicted to last up to 10 years. Measuring 94 centimetres wide in heights up to seven metres (depending on project needs), the panels come in numerous motifs, including Debonademeo’s Bau-Man, a whimsical pattern of striated semicircles.

Corrugated Hemp Panels by Margent Farm

A hemp farm in Cambridgeshire, England, Margent Farm manufactures various household products, as well as these corrugated construction sheets made with hemp fibres stabilized in a bio-resin matrix (which consists of such agricultural waste as corncobs, oat hulls and bagasse). Replacing PVC or steel, the 120-by-105-centimetre panels can be used to create eco-friendly, carbon-sequestering rainscreens.

Mesh Panels by Wood-Skin

From scintillating pastel ombrés to expressive wood prints, Wood-Skin’s Mesh Panels allow for ultimate customization. The 3D surfaces’ four facet patterns — Basic, Classic, Decor and Digital — feature parallel lines or triangles (equilateral or isosceles), or a combination thereof. Offered in sustainable materials like PaperStone, metallic and non-metallic laminates or Alpi’s manufactured wood, the series provides a world of options for exteriors and interiors.

Jax 01, an art venue in Riyadh by HWKN

Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in December 2021 marked a new era for contemporary art in the traditional town: It kick-started the redevelopment of the industrial zone on the outskirts of the historic capital city of Riyadh into a cultural centre for the broader creative community. Anchoring the event was Jax 01, a permanent exhibition space in a 7,000-square-metre former warehouse by New York–based firm HWKN.

Exaggerated outwardfacing footings support the facade and help to visually connect it to the surrounding courtyard, enabling a smooth transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces.

When reconceptualizing the distribution centre, designers Matthias Hollwich and Dorin Baul of HWKN looked to the “existing structure and local systems and materials to highlight the often-overlooked character of this amazing city.” Borrowing its name and design inspiration from its previous tenant — the household cleaning supplies brand Ajax — the building maintains its factory roots via a new articulated exterior.

Retrofitting often comes with its fair share of challenges, and here, it was determined that any showpiece facade would have to be entirely self-supporting. Seeing an opportunity, the team let climate-control design define the look of the building: Jax 01 is fronted by a series of dramatically oversized Corten steel shutters, an elevated version of the loading docks that characterize other buildings in the area.

Jax 01, an art venue in Riyadh by HWKN
To give the Corten shutters a sophisticated “fine arts performance,” HWKN concealed their mechanical folding system, along with most structural components.

These large, heavy mechanisms with perforated panel inserts help to modulate the effects of the desert sun and make any indoor lighting condition achievable at the touch of a button — an especially important consideration when showcasing a variety of art installations, including digital exhibitions. “We did not want to hide the screening system. Instead, we made it the main feature of the facade, allowing it to open and close in a very playful manner,” the design team says. Outward-facing footings reaching into the courtyard reinforce a stately entry ramp and give a dynamic character to the ground plane while also providing the counterbalance necessary for a tectonic facade.

A similar pared-down approach was undertaken with the interiors, where a grand, eight-metre-high hall connects (by way of a staircase and gently sloping ramp) to a more intimate mezzanine at the rear. Painted white, the flange beams and columns are fixed with exposed fasteners, a further nod to the complex’s industrial heritage. Even the functional aspects of the building evoke a shop-floor atmosphere: Freestanding walls, benches and planters outfitted with forklift pockets can easily be lifted, carried across the ramps and rearranged for any event — from a small-scale viewing to a grand public opening — allowing for maximum curatorial flexibility.

Hardie Architectural Collection by James Hardie

With three panel types — Smooth Sand, Multi- Groove and Knockdown — designers can create mixed-texture facades, with fine and smooth contrasting rough stucco finishes. The fibre-cement boards create a multidimensional aesthetic of clean lines.

Paramountstone by Walker Zanger

In two natural tones — taupe Trail Dust and deep grey Iron — this series captures the essence of concrete. The porcelain tiles come in 20.3-by- 121.9- and 60.9-by-121.9-centimetre formats, as well as a coordinating mélange mosaic that adds a compelling accent.

Longoton Terracotta Rainscreen by Shildan
Longoton Terracotta Rainscreen cladding by Shildan

With an internal chain of I-beam supports, the four-centimetre-thick Longoton terracotta rainscreen panels by Shildan/Moeding boast superior strength and versatility: Offered in 10 standard formats (with up to three-metre lengths) and 16 earth tones, the system can be customized for colour, size, shape, glazing and surface texture.

Metallix by Glen-Gery

The Metallix series imbues brick with a shimmery effect: When sunlight hits the facade, the cladding material’s satin-metallic surface sparkles. Available in the colours Platinum, Titanium and Cuprum, the blocks come in standard sizes of 5.7 by 19.3 centimetres.

Exterior view of office in Lille, France, showing louvre system

When a client asks for transparency and low energy consumption in one building, you wouldn’t immediately think of wrapping said structure in glass. Yet that’s exactly what Barbarito Bancel Architectes did with its submission to a competition for a new office building in a fast-growing tech hub in Lille, a historic city in northern France. “Achieving both those things was difficult,” admits Benjamin Bancel, co-founder of the Paris-based practice.

Barbarito Bancel Architectes angled the aluminum louvres on the mostly glass Lucio building to alleviate the harsh effects of direct sunlight.

The firm won over the judges in 2017 with a design that was classic with a twist: Its building featured an imposing precast concrete base, a double skin of glass and a taller top floor reminiscent of the “mansard roofs of more classical buildings,” says Ivana Barbarito, the firm’s other co-founder. The most compelling aspect of the project, which was completed in 2020, was a system of vertical glass and aluminum louvres angled just so to both protect from solar exposure and appear to move and shift in the changing light.

Proof that they had successfully resolved the thorny issue of thermal control for the largely glass building was confirmed last August, when the temperature outside hit 35 degrees Celsius, but inside, just behind the glass, it stayed a coolish 28 degrees. And this without any air conditioning, something the client had wanted “just in case” but that the architects insisted wouldn’t be necessary.

Considered a third layer of the facade, silver birch trees planted out front enhance the visual rhythm of the building and add an element of green.

So how did they achieve this impressive feat? They looked to the future and the latest R&D in layered and treated glazing. “When we first conceived the building, glazing that incorporated these filters and came in large dimensions was not available,” says Bancel. But historic French glass manufacturer Saint-Gobain eventually developed a treated glass for a different project, so it became available to Barbarito Bancel too.

“In the original renders, we had glass on all four elevations,” says Barbarito, “but due to budgetary issues, that wasn’t possible. We really wanted to keep that idea of a light and reflective object in an expansive space alive, however.” To that end, the sides of the building with the greatest exposure to daylight — southwest and northwest — have a nearly transparent double-skin curtain wall to mitigate thermal gain while offering unobstructed views to the popular public square out front and an early 20th-century brick cotton mill beyond.

The other two facades — southeast and northeast — feature a composition of opaque polished aluminum panels to provide privacy from buildings to the rear, and also to hide the internal plant, the services and the staircases.

A great part of the allure of Lucio (as the building is called) is how much it reflects back its urban surroundings. “The mill, the people, but also the green,” says Bancel. “We planted silver birch trees in front of the building and saw them as the third layer of the facade, similar to the eucalyptus trees at the Eames House in the Pacific Palisades of Los Angeles.” Lucio is that rare thing: a jewel box of a building as rich with ideas and detail as one with a much heftier price tag.

Exterior view of office in Lille, France, showing louvre system