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On defining the façade

Clients and non-architects are always asking about the façade, as soon as a volume study is shown. Though it’s an understandable question, the particulars of the façade is secondary at that stage of the process. First, we need to find a sensible spatial system for the building, a good volumetric effect on the site, and a good disposition. We need to try doing magic with the program to free the plan, taking care of movements, vistas, axes. We need to consider composition carefully, handle the light in the best possible way, and perhaps most importantly invent the atmosphere of the building. In short: creating an architectural idea.

Of course, we can think of what the façade might be like in parallel to figuring everything else out; in fact it comes natural, since structure is related to everything we consider, and structure will imply façade. But the final decision on the façade can only be done at a point when we know what we want to achieve. That’s why the question about façade particulars, asked at a premature stage, is difficult to answer.

In competitions we are nowadays required to submit very photorealistic renderings of the building, at least if we want to win, which makes it really difficult to avoid a decision on what the façade is. This poses a problem, actually, and I personally also think that the choice of façade is being too prominent a factor for jury verdicts. At least in the way our own process functions, a façade that is shown already in a competition, is something decided quite late, and could still even be up for consideration.

I would trust that any architectural expert on a jury would try to see beyond the proposed façade and explain to the other members what to look for in a scheme, what it is in a scheme that actually points at a great potential for further development. Because truly, the jury should look for the scheme with the greatest potential, not the scheme developed the furthest, let alone the scheme flashing the prettiest image.

That being said, when the time is right in the process, the façade decision is an extremely important parameter to convey what a building is trying to say, which obviously goes deeper than any sales slogan or metaphor. When a façade makes sense, it works seamlessly with volume, structure, space, and light, to clearly express the idea of the building.

Jonas Elding / Elding Oscarson

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