Double-Skin Façade System: Materials, Advantages & Examples

Instructor: Ela Poursani

Ela has taught college Architecture, Interior Design, and Culinary Design and has a doctorate degree in architecture.

Double-Skin Facade system is a sustainable design solution. In this lesson, you will learn about the materials used in this system, its advantages, and some examples.

Double-Skin Facade

How do you stay warm in winter? You wear layers of clothing to insulate your body, right? If it's summer, you ventilate your face with a hand fan. Architects use the same tactics to keep buildings warm or cool; a building's exterior wall is like the skin of human body.

The exterior wall is the barrier between the outside and inside of a building, which is called a façade. A ''passive façade'' deals with the heating or cooling issues naturally. An ''active façade'', like in the Kraanspoor Building, actively influences the indoor climate by integrating mechanical or digital devices and systems.

Kraanspoor by OTH-Architects (left) and ING House by MVSA-Architects (right) in Amsterdam
DSF in Amsterdam

The double-skin façade, or DSF, is an envelope construction composed of two transparent ''skins'' that are separated by an air corridor. The DSF is a form of active façade, because it employs equipment, like fans or solar/thermal sensors. It also integrates passive design strategies, such as natural ventilation, daylighting, and solar energy. The DSF is a hybrid of these two as it uses some mechanical energy in addition to the natural and renewable energy resources, like in the ING House.

DSF System & Materials

The DSF is a system. A DSF system can be created over an entire façade or just a portion of it. It is applicable to all kinds of buildings, including reconstruction and renovation projects. It can be installed to any existing building with minimal adjustments.

The DSF system consists of three components: an exterior wall, a ventilated cavity, and an interior wall. The exterior wall provides protection against the weather. It is usually a single layer of heat-strengthened safety glass or laminated safety glass, like in the Aurora Place in Sydney. For more transparency, high-reflective flint glass can be used, too. Architects sometimes prefer spectrally-selective glazing as it admits daylight but prevents the transmission of solar heat.

Aurora Place by Renzo Piano (left) and Business Promotion Centre by Norman Foster (right)
DSF system

The interior wall of the DSF system is a thermal-insulating single or double pane glass. Here, low-emittance coatings can be used to reduce radiative heat gain. This layer may have operable casement or hopper windows, or even sliding glass doors.

The cavity is an undivided or divided buffer space. It ranges from five to 50 inches in width. The Loyola Information Commons in Chicago, for example, has a three feet cavity space. Some DSF cavities have metal floors or grilles at each level, which allows access for maintenance, cleaning, or even fire escape.

The cavity insulates the building against wind, sound, and temperature. It pulls in outside air and uses it for the controlled ventilation of interior spaces. The ventilation of the cavity can be natural (like in the Sendai Mediatheque), mechanical, fan-assisted, or automated by the computer system.

Sendai Mediatheque by Toyo Ito (top) and Cambridge Public Library by Van Brunt & Howe (bottom)
DSF & the cavity

This intermediate space is used for solar protection, too. Shading devices, such as blinds, roller shades, louvre systems, motorized openings, or fans, are placed in the cavity. These devices provide a complete screening or a 'cut-off,' which means it allows diffused daylight.

All kinds of materials are used for shading systems from wood to stone. The louvres are usually made of glass. They can also be perforated sheets, like in the Cambridge Public Library, aluminum profiles, or fabric covering. These devices can be manually or automatically controlled.

Advantages of DSFs

Increased Energy Efficiency

The DSF system is a sustainable design solution with many advantages. One of its main advantages is increasing the energy efficiency of buildings. In winter, the DSF uses solar rays to preheat the air in the cavity, like in the Biomedical-Science Research Building in Michigan. The thermal insulation reduces heating demand, which is particularly beneficial for cold climates.

Debis Tower by Renzo Piano (left) and Biomedical-Science Research Building by Polshek-Partnership (right)
DSF & energy efficiency

In summer, the DSF controls solar heat by protecting the building from excessive sun. Shading devices prevent sunlight from reaching the interior wall. The DSF is also beneficial as a passive night-time cooling system. Night-time cooling increases energy efficiency by reducing the operation of a building's Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. We see this in the Debis Tower in Berlin.

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