A better environment begins with steel

A better environment begins with steel

A better environment begins with steel

A better environment begins with steel

A better environment begins with steel

Flexible design: facades

Retail Park Roermond (Nio Architects)

Adaptability is the key feature of a flexible design. Flexible design distinguishes between the load-bearing structure, the facades and the building systems.


Nearly 6 million m2 of office space is empty in the Netherlands, while there is a growing demand for housing. Whether and to what extent an office is suitable for conversion into residential units can be quickly determined using the Transformation potential meter (Geraedts and Van der Voordt, 2002, see the article from Real Estate Magazine, April 2005, under Downloads).

Specific requirements follow from this which make the reuse of facades easier.

Requirements for facades

  1. The facade provides adequate connectivity for (horizontal) expansion;
  2. The facade openings and any outdoor areas (patios, balconies) are adaptable;
  3. The windows can be opened and are reusable;
  4. The incidence of daylight is less than 10% of the surface of the new units;
  5. The facades are adequately insulated.

These requirements mean that facades must be adaptable. Thus, the requirements for Rc values for facades are becoming increasingly stringent (5) and after just a few years service, existing facades will almost never meet the requirements. The logical solution is the removal and replacement of the facade. A load-bearing wall does not just stand in the way of the adaptability of floor plans and volumes (see Flexible design, structures), but also complicates the modifications of and to the wall itself. A load-bearing wall defines the shell. Horizontal extensions (1) and the adjusting of the openings in facades (2) are considerably simpler with a skeletal load-bearing structure where the facade (structure) has no load-bearing function.

In steel there are really only two types of facade system. An assembled system (internal box with cladding) and a system using sandwich panels. Both systems can be dismantled, adapted and are potentially also reusable. In the assembled system the service-life of the external cladding can be extending by painting. This measure has the least environmental impact.

Extending the service-life of external cladding plate by repainting.

A further step is the replacement of the cladding by new cladding of the same type. This will improve both the aesthetics and the general image. The most drastic measures involve changing insulation or substituting with a sandwich panel with higher thermal resistance, so upgrading the properties of the facade.