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The use of contemporary composite materials as a technological solution for façade systems has been increased and improved during the last few years. This because those innovative materials can assure high performances and environmentally friendly solutions. New generations of acrylic surfaces, laminates and aggregates panels are brought into trade everyday and more and more performant compositions are continuously tested.
Moreover, a specific attention on recycled materials is being paid in order to reduce energy building consumption and foster sustainable and avant-garde technologies. Consulting a material library like for example Material ConneXion, we can find thousands of different composites having a big variety of physical and aesthetical properties and made with infinite sorts of components (from carbon particles to bovine fibers!) and processes.
Unfortunately, only a small amount of these innovative materials are already used on the building construction field. Composite materials like artificial stones, solid surfaces (i.e. Corian Dupont), laminates (i.e. Alucobond) and other less known elements are nowadays commonly adopted for ventilated façade solutions and help projects reaching high levels of building sustainability certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) or KlimaHaus. The purpose of the following article is to analyze the thermic and physical benefits the application of composite materials on the building envelope generates in the sense of environmental design prescriptions.

Keywords: Composite materials, innovative façades, renewable cladding components.

Cladding Innovations: Composite Material Technologies as Environmentally friendly, responsive and Lightweight Solutions

Anna Martini

IUAV University of Venice, Design and Planning in Complex Environments, Italy



In the last two decades the area of advanced materials and technologies have developed rapidly. New researches on nanomaterials, biomaterials and smart composites imitating natural nano-structures and processes are experimented everyday within the cutting-edge technologies adopted mainly by aerospace and chemical engineer. In the architectural field, and especially in the sector of building cladding, only a small amount of such advanced technologies have settled. As an alternative to traditional components and techniques, architects and civil engineers are nowadays using advanced composites materials. Composite technologies are actually nothing new. Artificial composite materials have been used as building and cladding system solutions since long ago.

With the connotation “composite” we refer  to every material constituted by two or more different components (usually a matrix and a reinforcement that can be both either natural or synthetic), whose physical and mechanical properties have a  superior grade quality  than the sum of the single raw materials’ ones. We distinguish three main groups of matrices: composites materials can be metal-matrix composites (MMC), polymeric-matrix composites (PMC) and ceramic-matrix composites (CMC), while reinforcements can be almost any kind of material: from natural particles to high-tech fibers or even high-performance nano-components.

One of the first man-made composite wall construction method we know is that of  sun-dried adobe blocks elevation,  which  have been used since 9000  years ago in the construction of the Neolithic city of Çatalhöyük, in Anatolia. Those bricks were made up of a mixture of clay, mud and a reinforcement of straw or dung. A similar  ancient procedure for raising walls is the rammed earth technique (or pisé), which consists on the compression of a mixture of earth, sand, clay, lime and gravel onto an inner wooden frame or mold, in order to create entire walls or single bricks. This method is still used in today’s architecture. An example of a recent building cladding designed with such technology, in which a rigid insulation panel is embedded in order to lower energy consumption, is the Nk'Mip Desert Culture Centre, built last year in Osovoos, Canada and designed by HBBH Architects. Its exterior walls are made of  several longitudinal and irregular stripes having thirty different hues of colour (from light yellow to red) that blend with the desert environment and imitate the sinuous contours of the surrounding valley dunes. In this project the purpose of improving energy efficiency and of lowering energy consumption during transportation and dismantling, is therefore joined to a great respect for natural and cultural aspects. Moreover, natural ventilation, joined to an embedded 100mm insulation panel within the wall, help reducing air-forced system consumption by 50%.

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