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Smart shells
8/29/2012
Tina Wolf works as a freelance architect and as a professor at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Munich, photo © Tina Wolf

After completing her studies under Kurt Ackermann at Universität Stuttgart, Tina Wolf worked in architectural firms Herzog + Partner in Munich and in the Renzo Piano building workshop in Paris. Alongside buildings construction, she specialized in the area of facades. After receiving her doctorate (for a thesis on the “development of a solar-optimized façade”) she became project manager working on research into the integration of solar thermal technology into facades as well as the development of a “façade collector”. Since 2009 she has been working as a university professor in the newly-founded teaching and research unit for Technology and Design of Shell Constructions at Technische Universität München.


SANDRA GOTTWALD: MS. WOLF, IS THIS NEW SUBJECT AREA SO IMPERATIVE FOR ARCHITECTURE?

TINA WOLF It’s really quite simple – Germany and the entire world have a big problem. If you look at total energy consumption worldwide, buildings alone account for 44 per cent of the figure.


AND YOU WANT TO CHANGE THAT?

WOLF With research and teaching. We are trying to find pragmatic solutions, the façade collector, for example, which was created in collaboration with the Institute for Building Construction at Universität Stuttgart and Ritter XL Solar GmbH. We used those collectors that were previously mounted on rooftops here and there without a second thought as a starting point. We successfully integrated the glass piping into the buildings’ facades and subsequently developed an operational product. Until now most facades have remained rather rigid. But the nature of our climate means that conditions vary from season to season. Temperature and solar radiation alone can be subject to major shifts. We aspire to develop facades that are adaptive, that can, so to speak, adapt themselves to constantly changing outdoor conditions, while maintaining consistent, pleasant conditions inside. Our aim is to sensitize future architects to look beyond the aesthetics of a building’s façade and instead consider its ecological profile too. And we also provide them with the requisite know-how to construct these facades effectively.


WHAT POSSIBILITIES ALREADY EXIST FOR INTELLIGENT FAÇADE CONSTRUCTION?

WOLF There is no set formula here but there are a few ground rules to which you have to adhere. And this is what we teach our students. Firstly, I have to save energy. I can do that by insulating a building or by installing good-quality windows. I can also draw upon structural and creative measures in the form of wooden constructions like those developed by Hermann Kauffmann Architects. Secondly, each and every building requires effective solar protection for the summer and at our (central European) latitude, these generally differ in their appearance on each side of the building. Thirdly, I have to ensure – and this applies especially to administrative buildings – that the rooms are flooded with good, consistent daylight. When I have achieved all of this and my energy consumption has been drastically reduced I can also try to activate the building’s outer skin, equipping it to produce energy itself.


ISN'T THAT A LITTLE MUCH FOR A BUILDING?

WOLF Quite the contrary. I believe that all attempts, all moves toward saving energy are fundamentally correct. What we need to work on at present is the redevelopment of existing buildings from the 1960s and 1970s. We really did get ourselves into some trouble with architectural “aberrations” committed during the post-War years. Now we have the chance to deal with these buildings, overhaul their ecological profiles and at the same time enhance their aesthetic appeal.


IS THERE A PARTICULAR REASON WHY INVENTIONS SUCH AS THE FAÇADE COLLECTOR, WHOSE DEVELOPMENT YOU WERE GREATLY INVOLVED IN, ARE NOT ABLE TO ASSERT THEMSELVES MORE SUCCESFULLY ON THE MARKET?

WOLF Architects are not keen on being reduced to specific systems. Each of them is an individualist, they want to design their buildings and give the city a new face with these buildings. This is why the trend toward standardization – as seen in the case of supporting structures, for example – was never really able to win through. Although intelligent people have come up with intelligent systems in the past, at times they have been doomed to fail due to architects and their individuality. This is exasperated by the fact that these techniques are still extremely expensive, as is the façade collector. And so, the client does some very simple math: This is my investment, at what point will it have paid for itself, and at what point will I make a profit. The most probable reason why we are seeing so many photovoltaic units cropping up on buildings? It is not because there are cheaper but because until now they have been heavily subsidized.


IS THERE A PARTICULAR EXAMPLE OF A BUILDING WITH INTELLIGENT FACADE SOLUTIONS THAT SPRINGS TO MIND?

WOLF Not of an existing building, no. There are a number of very accomplished examples, but no solution for the majority of buildings. New builds are conceived differently from the offset. The façade determines the building’s energy consumption, so of course they have a major influence on building services engineering too. In addition to a high-performance ground plan, today, an intelligent building has a technical concept that is tied in with the façade. Take KfW Bank’s new administrative building in Frankfurt by Sauerbruch Hutton: The building was optimized such that it can make use of the wind available to provide the building with natural ventilation.


SPEAKING OF WHICH, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE ON-GOING HOSTILITY AMONG GERMANS TOWARDS INSULATION?

WOLF That is a delicate subject. How should I insulate, where should I insulate – is it enough, or not? This is what we teach our students about this. We try to tread the fine line between “architecturally acceptable” and “ecologically sensible”. After all, architecture is ultimately an extremely important contribution to culture and you can’t just box up a building if it’s under monument protection. So you have to look to other strategies.

Tina Wolf works as a freelance architect and as a professor at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Munich, photo © Tina Wolf
The development of the solar thermal façade collector “Wictec CPC” was sponsored by German’s Federal Ministry for the Environment and won the “Intersolaraward” in 2010, photo © Giovanni Nouriza
The predecessor project of the façade collector “Wictec CPC” was initiated and coordinated by Tina Wolf amongst others, photo © Giovanni Nouriza
This student work by Samuel Kaiser and S. Stoyanov shows the concept for a modular building, photo © Teaching and Research Unit for Technology and Design of Shell Constructions
Student project by Franziska Miliz and Carina Steidele for a solar protection for an administrative building, which adapts itself to the course of the sun, photo © Teaching and Research Unit for Technology and Design of Shell Constructions
The student work by Arianna Bouccomino and Qianqian Cai shows elements of a multi-layered textile façade that effects a “self-shading” of buildings, photo © Teaching and Research Unit for Technology and Design of Shell Constructions
Student Jan Fuhrmann created a textile shell construction that serves as “second skin” for new buildings or renovated existing buildings, photo © Teaching and Research Unit for Technology and Design of Shell Constructions

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