Exploring Kinetic Envelopes

What is a kinetic envelope, and how do they influence buildings in different geographic regions?

Research Goal

As an architectural intern in an environmental design studio, finding a research topic associated with innovative technology, environment, and potential project use was very important. After examining many research topics, I chose to study kinetic envelopes.

What is a Kinetic Envelope?

A kinetic envelope is the outermost layer of a building or structure that has some type of movement, often independent of the rest of the building. The kinetic envelope usually wraps the main building and can help improve the energy or functional performance of the building. In my research, I investigated the kinetic envelopes of three different buildings in various geographic regions.

The kinetic envelope of Abu Dabi’s Al Bahr Towers plays an important role in protecting the building and its occupants from high solar exposure while enhancing the aesthetic appearance and expressing cultural designs of the region. Temperatures in subtropical Abu Dhabi drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during winter, and rise to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. 1,049 Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) panels cover the east, south, and west building faces that are most exposed to direct sunlight. The panels open and close throughout the day based on the path of the sun. The pattern of the PTFE panels are inspired by a traditional Islamic wooden pattern, called Mashrabiya. The panels reduce solar glare, heat gain, and improve indoor lighting conditions and comfort while also providing a tangible connection to Abu Dhabi’s cultural context. Al Bahr Towers’ kinetic envelope reduces energy consumption needs in the building by 50% and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 40%.

Thyssenkrupp Q1 is located in a sub-oceanic region where the climate is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The region has temperatures as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter and summer temperatures as high as 86 degrees. The Q1 building core has a transparent central atrium with large windows to the north and south. A kinetic envelope covers levels 2 to 13, which house office space. The kinetic envelope is comprised of 400,000 stainless steel lamellas – or metal feathers – that rotate and fold with the sun’s path. This complex façade system reduces the building’s HVAC load while maximizing the amount of natural air ventilation. Q1’s primary energy requirements are 50% lower than the legal limit for new buildings in Germany, and its carbon dioxide emissions are 27% lower than other similar buildings.

The Kiefer Technic Showroom is located in a temperate region of Austria, where winter temperatures get down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. The Showroom’s kinetic façade is made of 122 aluminum panels that fold or contract independently, varying their formation and openness on demand according to weather conditions. The façade can be adjusted according to user preferences and is operated by 56 different motors. The independently functioning panels allow light to be adjusted for each individual space depending on comfort and lighting needs.

Kay Song
Architectural Intern