"ITS ANALYSIS IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP"Joann Gonchar in Architectural Record

Despite its title, Kinetic Architecture is not a book about buildings with components that literally move. Instead, its authors, Russell Fortmeyer and Charles D. Linn (both former editors at Architectural Record), investigate projects with envelopes that dynamically respond—in ways both visible and invisible—to their surroundings in order to modulate the interior environment, conserve energy, and enhance the comfort of occupants.

Linn, an architect and director of communications for the University of Kansas School of Architecture, and Fortmeyer, an electrical engineer and sustainable-technology specialist at Arup, put dynamic facades in context, examining their historical roots in a series of essays. But the meat of the book is a set of case studies investigating projects from around the world that have been completed in the last decade or are under way—buildings that have benefited from relatively recent developments in modeling and analysis tools, control systems, and glazing and other materials.

The projects featured vary from the widely publicized, like Renzo Piano's California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco (completed in 2008), with its hilly, living roof, to the less well-known, such as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners' Milstein Family Heart Center (completed in 2010), in New York. The latter project has a transparent “climate wall” that helps control interior temperatures while providing views of the Hudson River. The book includes self-consciously iconic buildings, like the towers of Aedas's Abu Dhabi Investment Council Headquarters, with their operable shading screens inspired by traditional Arabicmashrabiyas. But it also features more subdued projects like William McDonough's Ames Research Center on the NASA campus in Moffett Field, California, which has an exoskeleton that doubles as an armature for shading devices and solar panels.

For each of the 24 case studies, Fortmeyer and Linn go to great lengths to explain how the building enclosure is part of a system of interrelated subsystems. They describe how the envelopes work in concert with other building systems—systems for lighting and daylighting, active and passive cooling, and natural and mechanical ventilation—to create a high-performance ensemble. In short, although Kinetic Architecture is a book that focuses on facades, its analysis is more than skin deep.

"INSPIRATION FOR YOUR NEXT PROJECT" Andy Pressman, FAIA, Architect, Washington DC

Aside from the beautiful images and insightful text (which almost goes without saying since the authors are former editors of Architectural Record), the material is placed in theoretical and historic contexts, providing remarkably refreshing perspectives. Design strategies gleaned from the numerous case studies will trigger ideas for addressing building performance and creating striking architecture responsive to a specific set of circumstances.

The book appropriately concludes with an essay on research and development. It is exciting to have a glimpse of the facades of the future, which are being (and will be) developed by the collaborative work of academics, professionals, and manufacturers.


"THE SEMINAL ACTIVE FACADES REFERENCE BOOK FOR ARCHITECTS, ENGINEERS, AND CONSULTANTS" --Alan Dunlop, Director, Alan Dunlop Architects, Glasgow, Professor, Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen  

The front cover of "Kinetic Architecture: Designs for Active Envelopes" is intriguing: is it part of an alien spacecraft, an insect carapace or giant origami? Actually, it is a close up of a sophisticated shading system for the Abu Dhabi Investment Council Headquarters by Aedas. The cover, like most images in the book, is striking. Apparently, inspiration for the shading system was drawn from traditional shading screens, called mashrabiyas. These mashrabiyas open and close independently, to minimise solar heat gain as the sun moves across the building. In summer, Abu Dhabi is beyond hot with temperatures of 45c, in winter temperatures drop to 12c.

I tell my students to be wary of buildings that shape shift, for such slight of hand often masks an absence of deep thinking about design. So just how important are active building envelopes in architecture today? Well, in his foreword, renowned architect Christoph Ingenhoven considers the building envelope to be a third skin, having to act as protectively our own skin and to be as adaptable as our clothing. “The skin is the most versatile organ of the human organism” he writes “I want my facades to be just as adaptable and active.”

Just what he means is explained inside, with a case study of 1 Bligh Street, a remarkable office tower in downtown Sydney. The developers wanted the building, by Architectus + Ingenhoven, to be the first sustainable high-rise in Australia, and to use the most advanced environmental systems. The building's passive double-wall façade, which consists of insulating inner glass and single glazed outer glass and aerodynamic louvres, is set out in diagrams and plans, and gorgeous photos in an entire chapter which is devoted to the building. Full chapter case studies of 24 other buildings from around the world make up the rest of the book.

For the authors Russell Fortmeyer and Charles D. Linn however, this book is not about buildings that move or clever facade design. It is about energy. The authors declare their motivation openly in saying, “we are interested in the envelope and innovative ways [facades] can be used to modulate energy in its primary forms.” In this, they succeed, as the book explores in a comprehensive and rigorous manner how contemporary architects have reacted to escalating international concern over the use of natural resources and climate change by modulating their designs to consume less energy, perform better and respond to site context.

The book has two sections, the first is a well written essay by Charles D. Linn which considers the history and development of the glass facade in architecture, using few important precedents like the 16th Century Hardwick Hall by Robert Smythson, Paxton’s greenhouse at Chatsworth and the Steif Toy Factory in Germany, all supported by expert analysis. Linn is an architect and until recently, a deputy editor at Architectural Record. His writing is accessible, jargon free, and a pleasure to read.

His coauthor, journalist and engineer Russell Fortmeyer, also writes succinctly. His essay “Tugendhat House – Passive Mies to Active Mies” is included as “one of the earliest examples of a dynamic façade used to mediate environmental conditions” The coverage is completely original, enlightening, comprehensive, and the photography excellent.

Yet this is not, as Linn points out, a book about history or theory. “We have written case studies of projects with active facades that react to exterior conditions for both energy savings and maintaining human comfort. These are from all over the world, many have not been documented outside their respective countries.”

These exemplary projects are set out clearly in the case study chapters. The best offer stunning photography of environmentally exceptional buildings but also clear detail of how the buildings perform to reduce energy.

For example, the California Academy of Science by Renzo Piano is visually striking and its sustainable credentials are explained and supported by working drawings, sections and diagrams. So too is Unilever Haus in Hamburg by Behnisch Architekten. This building uses an outer layer of synthetic polymer as a low cost method of achieving a double skin system to improve energy performance and to create a building which has “re-energised the city’s waterfront.”

The most interesting project from Australia is the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp. A small, public building it has exceptional detail and environmental credentials, with two very different facades, in response to site context and orientation. One has vertical timber louvres which react to the position of the sun and minimise solar gain inside. Away from direct sunlight, a double-skinned glass façade over four storeys, encloses an “environmental atrium” which pulls air in from the roof, filters it through bamboo plants and into a gabion wall in the basement, which cools the air.

Kinetic Architecture is, as the authors intended, a valuable resource for architects, engineers and students. It is clearly written, accessible and the photography is exceptional. An entertaining and pleasurable book for the professional and those generally interested in architecture and in the environment.