New facade technology can contribute to a sustainably built and high-quality living environment. To what extent is its application by architects a matter of taste? With his research, Alejandro Prieto Hoces explores the aesthetic appreciation of facades as an aid to innovation. He asked 34 Dutch design firms: what makes a facade beautiful?

 Prieto Hoces heads the Architectural Facades & Products Research Group. As such, he is interested in the question of what facade technology suits the needs of building designers. In 2020, just before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, he visited more than thirty Dutch design offices for the one-year project Pretty Face - Exploration of aesthetics in façade design, funded by NWO. “Using questionnaires, I asked junior and senior designers about their design approach, the role that facades play in this, and the facade properties that they consider important. Throughout, the key question was: what makes a facade beautiful? 

Face

The questionnaires included open questions and the researcher divided the answers into ones on intrinsic (physical) properties and those on more extrinsic (social and psychological) properties. "Some designers, for example, indicated that they find a facade attractive if a relationship with the environment is established or if the facade radiates the fact that it is based on human labour." The most frequently mentioned factor in the beauty of a facade is its plasticity and, as part of this, the way in which the materials used in the facade give the building a face. “For example, several respondents indicated that they appreciate it when the appearance of a facade changes as the observer moves closer or further away. Or when the appearance changes in relation to changing daylight. ‘Simplicity‘ was also praised several times as an aesthetic quality."

Not unimportant, says the researcher, is that by no means all architects consider their aesthetic preferences to be the guiding principle for their facade designs. “While some architects are very outspoken about wanting to design something beautiful, there are also plenty who indicate that a good design results from meeting the requirements for the quality, use or sustainability of a building. My impression is that Dutch architects are fairly pragmatic."

Next step

All in all, the research has yielded a first impression of points of interest for inventors and manufacturers of facade technology. How can they take into account the taste and preferences of architects and so get designers to embrace new, more sustainable products? In the next step non-designers too will indicate what kind of facades they like and why. The results of the one-year project are therefore being used for a larger-scale study, says Prieto Hoces.  “With the input of the architects, we are creating a database of different types of facades and their aesthetic properties. In collaboration with ArchDaily, an international architecture platform, we will be conducting a survey in the course of this year in which we present people, basically anyone with an interest in architecture, with aesthetic choices based on different facade characteristics. I hope that people from all corners of the world will respond. ”