There are numerous examples of building design where clever approaches to the building façade create a striking aesthetic result.
By the same token, good design doesn’t simply mean creating an unexciting ‘box’ with poor functionality and little thought to the occupants, and then adding an interesting façade for the benefit of the outside world.
A good building design should add to its environment and be satisfying to look at but equally, a well-designed building will feature many attributes that are hidden from view. Many are the sorts of design features that yield operational benefits that have no evident aesthetic value. Some of these benefits include:
Airflow: Designing a building that stimulates a natural flow of air throughout delivers significant benefits to the occupants. This isn’t just a case of adding operable windows, but more detailed consideration about how air can flow throughout workspaces without creating ‘stale air’ pockets or inefficient airflow for chilled or heated air.
Natural light: Getting natural light into internal spaces is a design challenge worth pursuing. It not only reduces the need for artificial light, it also makes occupants feel better about their work environment. Façade design should take into account the impact on how natural light filters into the workspaces within a building rather than blocking it out.
Flexible floor space options: Long-term building efficiency means designing spaces that can be re-designed in the future to cope with changing tenant or workplace needs. Rigid designs that prohibit future flexibility will limit a structure’s future value, and no amount of appealing external cladding can compensate for this.
Interconnecting floors: On multi-level structures, it is common for inter-floor connections to be primarily via lifts, but good design should also provide for interconnecting floors via stairwells or voids. These help connect multi-floor workplaces and teams. In some of the more advanced office buildings we are seeing today, the role of the interconnecting space is very much a design focus, and one which is not apparent from the outside. If designed into the floor structure, these can be added at a future date as tenancy requirements change through expansion or other factors.
Energy efficiency: Much more than just an ESD objective, there are genuine bottom line benefits to building owners and tenants from energy efficient design. Natural light is only one element of creating energy efficient design, and while external facades play a significant role in shielding structures from hot sun for example, the bulk of design thought in terms of energy efficiency goes into the inside of a structure. Water efficiency and the potential to harvest and reuse rain and waste water are also increasingly aspects of energy efficient design which will not be apparent from the façade.
Construction efficiency: Being able to build a structure efficiently is a design feature sought by every client, and this is something that is a design consideration from the initial sketches through to final documentation. The exterior of buildings offer little clue to their buildability but it is a vital consideration, and one that can often mean the difference between a viable feasibility and one that simply doesn’t stack up.
Materials choice: From structural components to walls, floorings, glazing and furnishings, the choice of materials has a huge bearing on how a building performs over its effective life. Using low cost or short-life span materials may promise some short-term savings but often at a medium or long-term cost. There is always a happy medium which delivers quality, timelessness and endurance without an exorbitant price tag. Once again, this is a design input that isn’t at all apparent from an external perspective, but one that has both economic impacts for the owners and aesthetic impacts for tenants.
Failing to fully appreciate what goes into a building and judging its appeal just by external appearance is a lot like assuming a book will be a good quality read if it has a pretty or appealing cover.