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Dressing the apartment from the outside in

Exteriors | November 1, 2010 | By:

A mesh fabric façade helps reduce solar gain while adding privacy as needed.

In 2008, Firmengruppe Gundlach, a consortium of German home construction, property development and property management companies, opened a competition for architectural proposals for the redevelopment of part of the site of the former Pelikan factories in Hannover, Germany. In May 2009, Gundlach selected a broad range of concepts for the 20,000m2 site, among them an exciting concept from OX2architekten of Aachen, Germany, for an energy efficient apartment block featuring a fabric façade.

The apartment block features nine luxury apartments divided over eight floors. The building is sited on a relatively narrow lot, with approximately 11m of space between it and the surrounding buildings. “Our concept was inspired by the question ‘What is luxury today?’” explains Ina-Marie Orawiec, who, with her husband, Prof. Marcin Orawiec, leads the OX2office. “After a lot of consideration, we arrived upon the design principles of privacy, discretion and the importance of personal ritual,” says Ms. Orawiec. “A feature of modern life is that we’re all now very transparent to everyone. Real luxury is the ability to keep secrets; to be able to choose when things are public.”

“We conceived of the façade of the structure as being like a dress, with some shifting elements that could reveal or mask what is under it, depending on how much people want to show or hide,” Ms. Orawiec says. “The vertical strips of mesh, in the center of each side of the building, cannot be moved, but there are lamellae at each corner of the apartment that allow the residents to adjust natural light levels during the day and also adjust what is visible from the outside.”

“We’re fascinated by the texture and optical nature of mesh fabrics,” says Ms. Orawiec. “We wanted to take advantage of the changing way that light reflects from/refracts from/passes through the surface, depending on how the fabric is composed or how it is moving.”

“We designed the twistable shades to create a changeable moiré,” explains Ms. Orawiec. “Constant movement from the wind and shifting mesh overlap from the way that individual people adjust their shades will combine to make a vibrant, living exterior. We decided to call the building Maison Moiré after this.”

Counterpoint to the twistable lamella over the gardens, are the vertical slat shades over the windows of the living quarters on each side of the building. The result should be many different types of light interplay on any given side of the building.

Another striking element of the building design is the corner gardens that are shared between apartments on each level. “This also stems from the tension between transparency and privacy,” says Ms. Orawiec. “Each apartment gains light from the garden spaces, but only the lower apartments can open doors into the garden spaces.”

OX2 chose to use translucent, glass fiber reinforced panels from Okalux in this application. This material provides thermal and sound insulation.

Of course, there are reasons to use the Stamisol products beyond esthetics.* According to Magnus Vohn, of Stamoid AG, a Ferrari Group company, the Stamisol FT material can function to limit the amount of external heat that enters a room from outside to approximately 25%, depending on the specific colors chosen. This can translate into construction cost savings in the form of reductions in the need for insulation and HVAC, while reducing the mass of the building. It can also translate into energy cost saving and end-of-life savings, as sustainability initiatives take hold in many countries.

Mark Zeh is a product innovation consultant based in Munich and a contributing editor to Fabric Architecture. His review of the Allianz Arena appeared in the Sept/Oct issue.

*Ferrari SA has undertaken a bold program to make these materials sustainable through a recycling program. They have built a plant that can receive end-of-life PVC-coated materials, break them down into constituents and re-cycle or down cycle the components.

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