What is an adaptive façade? Analysis of Recent Terms and definitions from an international perspective


  • Laura Aelenei LNEG-national energy and geology laboratory
  • Daniel Aelenei Faculty of science and technology/Universidade nova de Lisboa
  • Enrico Sergio Mazzucchelli Politecnico di Milano





adaptive façade, energy efficiency, comfort, passive design, intelligent buildings, sustainable architecture


Adaptive façades can improve the building’s energy efficiency and economics, through their capability to change their behaviour in real time according to indoor-outdoor parameters, by means of materials, components, and systems. Therefore, adaptive façades can make a significant and viable contribution to meeting the EU´s 2020 targets. Several different types of adaptive façade concepts have already been developed, and an increase in emerging, innovative solutions is expected in the near future. According to recent research, the word ‘adaptive’ in the context of building façades is often associated in the literature with a long list of similar words. Moreover, there is no consistent definition of façade adaptability, although studies exist in relation to characterisation issues, design parameter, and classification. Even within the discipline of architecture and engineering, words such as ‘smart’, ‘intelligent’, ‘interactive’, ‘adaptive’, or ‘responsive’ have been used loosely and interchangeably, creating confusion as to their specific meaning and their conceptual relationship to building performance and design. In response to this, the goal of this paper is to build a provisional lexicon, or descriptive, behavioural, and methodological words, to assist researchers and designers in navigating the field of high-performance façades that incorporate materially innovative and feedback-based systems. It offers a brief overview of current advances in this nascent and rapidly evolving field and articulates a broader conceptual territory for the word ‘adaptive’, used in many cases to describe the technological systems that interact with the environment and the user by reacting to external influences and adapting their behaviour and functionality. The objective of this paper is to contribute to these developments by presenting the findings. Furthermore, common definitions will be proposed, based on the characterisation design parameters, classification approaches, and real case studies.

How to Cite

Romano, R., Aelenei, L., Aelenei, D., & Mazzucchelli, E. S. (2018). What is an adaptive façade? Analysis of Recent Terms and definitions from an international perspective. Journal of Facade Design and Engineering, 6(3), 65–76. https://doi.org/10.7480/jfde.2018.3.2478





Ad, Aa. van der, Heiselberg, P., & Perino, M. (2011). Designing with responsive buildings elements. IEA - ECBCS Annex 44. Aalborg University.

Aelenei, D., Aelenei, L., & Pacheco Vieira, C. (2016). Adaptive Façade: concept, applications, research questions. SHC 2015, International Conference on Solar Heating and Cooling for Buildings and Industry, Energy Procedia, 91, pp.269-275.

Aelenei, L., Brzezicki, M., Knaack U., Luible, A., Perino, M., & Wellershoff, F. (2015). COST Action TU1403 - Adaptive Facades Network. In: Aelenei, L., Brzezicki, M., Knaack U., Luible, A., Perino, M., & Wellershoff, F., Adaptive façade network — Europe. Delft: TU Delft Open.

Altomonte, S. (2004). L’involucro architettonico come interfaccia dinamica: strumenti e criteri operativi per un involucro architettonico bioclimatico e sostenibile. [The architectural envelope as a dynamic interface. Tools and criteria for sustainable architecture]. Florence: Editrice Alinea.

Banham, R. (1969). The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment. London: Architectural Press.

Brand, S. (1995). How buildings learn: what happens after they’re built. London: Penguin (Non Classics).

Brugnaro, G., Caini, M., & Paparella, R. (2014). Energy saving through Building Envelope Innovation: Smart Skin Design. Recent Advances in Urban Planning. Sustainable Development and Green Energy, pp.35-44.

Beevor, M. (2010). Smart Building Envelopes. (4th Year Project Report). University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering.

Chloë, M. (2016). Structural Adaptive Façades. (Master’s Dissertation).Ghent University, Ghent.

Clements- Croome, D.J.. (2004). Building environment, architecture and people. In Clements-Croome, D.J. (ed.) Intelligent buildings: Design, Management and Operation. pp.53-100. London: Thomas Telford.

Compagno, A. (2002). Intelligente Glasfassaden: Material, Anwendung, Gestaltung [Intelligent Glass Façades: Material, Practice, Design]. Birkhäuser Verlag

Davis, M. (1981). A Wall for all Seasons. RIBA Journal, 88

De Marco Werner, C. (2013). Transformable and transportable architecture: analysis of buildings components and strategies for project design (Master’s thesis). Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona. Barcelona

Dobzhansky, T., (1968). On some fundamental concepts of evolutionary biology. In Dobzhansky, T., Hecht, M.K., & Steere, W.C., Evolutionary Biology, 2. pp. 1-34. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Ferguson, S., Siddiqi, A., Lewis, K., & De Weck, O. (2007). Flexible and reconfigurable systems: Nomenclature and review. ASME 2007 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, pp. 249-263.

Fortmeyer, R., & Linn, C. D. (2014). Kinetic Architecture: design for Active Envelope. Australia: The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd.

Fox, M.A., Yeh, B.P. (1999). Intelligent kinetic systems in architecture. Managing Interactions in Smart Environments, pp.91-103.

Knaack, U., & Klein, T. (2008). The Future Envelope 1: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Amsterdam: IOS Press.

Kolodziej, P., & Rak, J. (2013). Responsive building envelope as a material system of autonomous agent. Open Systems: Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia, pp.945-954.

Konstantoglou, M., Kontadakis, A., & Tsangrassoulis, A. (2013). Dynamic Building Skins: Performance Criteria Integration. PLEA2013 - 29th Conference, Sustainable Architecture for a Renewable Future, Munich.

Kroner, W. M. (1997). An intelligent and responsive architecture. Automation in Construction, 6, pp. 381-393.

Hayes-Roth, B. (1995). An architecture for adaptive intelligent systems. Artificial Intelligence, 72 (1–2), pp.329-365.

Heiselberg, P., Inger, A., & Perino, M. (2012). Integrating Environmentally Responsive Elements in Buildings. Proceedings of the 27th AIVC Conference, Lyon.

Loonen, R.C.G.M. (2014). Bio-inspired Adaptive Building Skins. Biotechnologies and Biomimetics for Civil Engineering, pp.115-134.

Loonen, R.C.G.M. (2010). Climate Adaptive Building Shells What can we simulate? (Master‘s Dissertation). Eindhoven University of Technology. Eindhoven

Loonen, R.C.G.M., Trčka, M., Cóstola, D., & Hensen, J.L.M. (2013). Climate adaptive building shells: State-of-the-art and future challenges. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 25, pp.483-493.

Loonen, R.C.G.M., Rico-Martinez, J.M., Favoino, F., Brzezicki, M., Menezo, C., La Ferla, G., & Aelenei, L. (2015). Design

for façade adaptability – Towards a unified and systematic characterization. Proceedings of the 10th Conference on Advanced Building Skins, Bern, Switzerland, pp.1284-1294.

López, M., Rubio, R., Martín, S., & Croxford, B. (2017). How plants inspire façades. From plants to architecture: Biomimetic principles for the development of adaptive architectural envelopes. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 67, pp.692-703.

Masri, Y. (2015). Intelligent Building Envelopes: Design and Applications. Proceedings of the International Conference on Building Envelope Design and Technology, Graz Advanced Building Skins 2015, pp.37-46.

Meagher, M. (2015). Designing for change: The poetic potential of responsive architecture. Frontiers of architectural Research, 4, pp.159-165.

Möller, E., & Nungesser, H. (2015). Adaptable Architecture by Frei Otto: a case study on the future viability of his visions and some forward ideas. Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, Amsterdam.

Negroponte, N. (1976). Soft Architecture Machines. Cambridge: MIT Press

Ochoa, C.E., & Capeluto, I.G. (2008). Strategic decision-making for intelligent buildings: Comparative impact of passive design strategies and active features in a hot climate. Building and Environment, 43 (11), pp.1829-1839.

Ramzy, N., & Fayed, H. (2011). Kinetic systems in architecture: New approach for environmental control systems and context-sensitive buildings. Sustainable Cities and Society, 1 (3), pp.170-177.

Romano, R. (2011). Smart Skin Envelope. Integrazione architettonica di tecnologie dinamiche e innovative per il risparmio energetico. [Smart skin Envelope. Architectural integration of dynamic and innovative technologies for building energy saving]. Florence: Florence University Press

Schumacher, M., Schaeffer, O., & Voght, M. M. (2010). Move. Architecture in Motion – Dynamic Components and Elements. Basel: Birkhauser.

Velikov, K., & Thün, G. (2013). Responsive Building Envelopes: Characteristics and evolving paradigms. In: Trubiano, F., Design and Construction of High Performance Homes. pp. 75-92. London and New York: Routledge.

Vermillion, J. (2002). Phototropic architecture: intelligent responses to sunlight stimuli. A new school of architecture for Ogerlthorpe University. Atlanta. (Master’s Thesis). Ball State University. Muncie, IN.

Wang, J., Beltrán, L., & Kim J. (2012). From Static to Kinetic: A Review of Acclimated Kinetic Building Envelopes. Proceedings of The Solar Conference, 5, pp. 4022-2029.

Wigginton, M., & Harris, J. (2002). Intelligent Skins. Oxford: Architectural Press.