Building your own facade in a travelling lab

News - 19 February 2014

The Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment and the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University (Detmold) are going to display the state of the art in facade-making techniques throughout Europe in a travelling lab. The laboratory on wheels has been made possible through a grant received by Ulrich Knaack from the Pillars of Sustainable Education Programme. 

The lab provides space for workshops and presentations, but is also equipped with an impressive array of tools to build facades with. Students can use all of this to get down to work when this mobile facility makes a stop at their university. "This project is about learning to understand how a facade works," explains Knaack. "You can't do that if you only work at a computer. You've got to put a construction together with your own hands." The project emanates from the Facade Research Group, which Knaack set up from his chair in Design of Construction.
Students can start thinking up, engineering and building models in the lab using the latest knowledge and methods and receiving help from a facade specialist. In the workshop it is possible, for instance, to experiment with methods to keep out sunlight and noise, or conversely to utilise it, as well as with techniques to generate, store and distribute energy in the facade. The combination of smart techniques should result in an "intelligent skin". To put together a self-regulating facade, there are also sensors, piezoelectric techniques and 3D printers available in the workshop. The models are built on a scale of 1:1 but can be no larger than the 1.20 × 2.50 metre frame in which they are placed and in which they are also displayed.

The lab is housed in a lorry trailer and will be on display at conferences of the European Facade Network (EFN), which is a partner in this endeavour. It will also be making stops at a number of European universities with a master's programme in facade-building techniques. In Bath (England), students have already built a number of facade models using the lab's toolbox. Other university towns included in the tour are Detmold and Aachen (Germany), Paris (France), Lucerne (Switzerland) and San Sebastián (Spain). In October the lab will be in Düsseldorf for an exhibition at Glasstech 2014.
The exchange of knowledge with universities and the design and facade industry is the main goal of the project. It should contribute to the development of sustainable, integrated solutions for the next generation of buildings, more comfort for the end user and a reduced ecological footprint. Structural collaboration with the facade industry is not the intent, but the mutual exchange of information could be repeated if the lab experiments yield promising innovations.

Prof. Ulrich Knaack (professor of Design of Constructions) is leading the 30-month project together with Prof. Uta Pottgiesser (OWL). The partnership between TU Delft, OWL and EFN is one of six consortia to have been awarded a grant from the Pillars of Sustainable Education programme. This programme was set up by the Alcoa Foundation in collaboration with Architecture for Humanity to support sustainability education and the use of sustainable materials in design practice. The entire programme is worth 1.5 million dollars.

Examples of models which have already been built can be found at