Co.Design

Mighty Building Facade Beats Solar Heat With Mechanical Muscles

Decker Yeadon's prototype for an expanding, contracting architectural skin has promising applications in green-building design.

Architects love saying their buildings have brains. Now, apparently, they've got brawn, too. The latest intelligent-building tech from New York architects Decker Yeadon is a mighty, muscle-y structural facade that fights solar heat-gain by flexing its guns.

The Homeostatic Facade System consists of a mess of silvery squiggles -- which, to continue the body metaphor here, look a lot like a small intestine -- that open and close in response to heat, effectively regulating temperature throughout a building's interior. The key is something called (steel yourself for the scientific gobbledygook!) a dielectric elastomer that uses electricity to change shape. The electricity deforms the squiggles, expanding them when it's hot and sunny and contracting them when it's cold.

If you read our blog regularly you know that intelligent facades aren't particularly new. We've seen high-rise skins that adapt to the environment at the press of a button and others that manage indoor climates by magically breathing in and out. Generally, though, these facades rely on digital programming, which often fails to deliver on promised energy savings. That might be because the controls themselves are unreliable or because they have to be set by employees who are too lazy or too preoccupied to bother. With Decker Yeadon, the innovation is in the material itself. The Homeostatic Facade System shapeshifts on its own; no computer (or human) required.

Unfortunately, the facade is just a prototype, so don't expect to see it pumping away on the latest batch of Chinese super towers -- or even at a smaller scale. (As Decker Yeadon's Martina Decker tells us in an email, it needs to be tested in a mockup architectural setting first.) Still, it's a promising development in green-building tech. The more muscle you put into a structure -- and the less you require of people -- the better off for the environment.

For more Co. coverage of Decker Yeadon, go here and here.

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