Facades are taking on new roles in contemporary architecture. Modern building facades do more than just alter a property’s appearance. They protect occupants, improve comfort, make buildings more sustainable and decrease ongoing costs.

Learning how other designers have used facades can help you make the most of these structures. As construction and architectural firms face increasing pressure to innovate, building exteriors must serve purposes beyond holding up a roof. In that spirit, here are five leading examples of modern building facades that play critical roles in their projects’ designs.

1. Al Bahr Towers

The Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi are some of the most striking examples of modern facade design. The towers feature a double-skin facade with a conventional glass curtain wall as the first layer and a dynamic layer of actuating panels on top.

The outward solar facade consists of lattices inspired by mashrabiya, a traditional Islamic shading device. Fiberglass-coated triangles form larger hexagonal lattices that fold up to let more sunlight through or unfold the fiberglass surface to shade the curtain wall underneath. By opening and closing in response to the sun’s position throughout the day, the Al Bahr Towers can reduce their G-value by 50% or more.

These solar heat reductions are crucial for maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature in the desert of Abu Dhabi. Since the facade moves in response to the sun, it maximizes these benefits regardless of changing outdoor conditions.

2. One Central Park

Sydney, Australia’s One Central Park towers highlight the green facade movement taking over modern architecture. Like many other office buildings, One Central Park features a glass wall envelope, but unlike most, it boasts 1,200 square meters of green walls featuring hundreds of species of plants.

These green walls interrupt the glass to showcase a stunning contrast between nature and human-made materials. In addition to these large panels of greenery, more than 5,000 planter boxes dot the window sills on every level, and roughly seven kilometers of climbing plants snake around wire trellising.

All this green space gives One Central Park an unmistakable look. More importantly, it also means the building fights its own carbon emissions through the plants’ photosynthesis. Hosting greenery along the surface also preserves biodiversity within its urban environment.

3. Asheville Regional Airport

Modern building facades don’t have to be quite so complex to be effective, either. The Asheville Regional Airport in Fletcher, North Carolina, is an excellent example of efficacy in simplicity.

The airport’s car garage features a perforated metal facade over the majority of its street-facing side. By varying the sizes of holes in the metal, designers were able to create an image of the Blue Ridge Mountains without any paint. The facade also blocks harmful UV rays, preserving the cars inside while allowing light and air to pass through.

The use of perforated metal in this facade keeps project costs and complexity low. Thinking of perforations as an aesthetic factor and not just a functional one also lets the airport improve its curb appeal while protecting passengers’ vehicles with a single design choice.

4. PAM Center

The PAM Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also highlights facades’ impact on ventilation but to a more dramatic level. The building also uses perforated metal but in the form of vertical fins behind a larger aluminum grid to maximize natural airflow.

The exterior metal grid lets air flow through to the perforated sheets underneath while shading the building’s windows. As a result, the facade generates passive cooling, letting cold air flow up from the bottom as hot air escapes at the top, with shades minimizing solar heat. This zero-energy cooling is crucial for the PAM Center’s tropical setting.

The glass elements in the PAM Center’s facade use argon-insulated windows to further boost energy efficiency. Argon gas’s thermal conductivity is 67% lower than that of air, so these windows dramatically improve thermal insulation.

5. SBB Main Office Building

Another excellent example of solar shading in modern building facades is the SBB main office in Bern Wankdorf, Switzerland. The Swiss Railway’s headquarters uses a series of vertical, colored glass slats over a conventional window wall.

Thin layers of fabric cover each glass slat to give the facade a unique color while reducing solar heat gain. Each of the more than 6,000 slats is also individually movable. Moving different slats across the facade at varying angles can dramatically alter its appearance and balance visibility with shading as the sun moves throughout the day.

The use of fabric across glass slats improves shading without adding excessive material costs to the project. As a result, the building’s lifetime costs improve both from lower initial expenses and from lower energy consumption over time.

Choosing and Building a Modern Building Facade

As these examples highlight, modern building facades present several unique opportunities to optimize building designs and performance. Making the most of these opportunities starts with an analysis of your project goals and needs.

First, determine what’s most important for the building. Are aesthetics your client’s main concern? Is it sustainability or energy consumption? Costs — both immediate and long-term — should be a factor for every facade considering only 8.5% of construction projects finish on time and within budget.

These considerations pose both a challenge and an opportunity. Innovative facades can solve multiple problems simultaneously. If you can prefabricate solar shading facades, you can lower a building’s environmental impact while minimizing project costs and timelines, for example.

Be sure to compare multiple materials when designing your facade. Even within the same design, different materials can have a considerable impact on costs, efficiency and sustainability. Design should be a collaborative effort between all departments and experts in multiple fields to account for all of these factors.

Modern Building Facades Serve Multiple Purposes

These modern building facades highlight how much you can accomplish through just a project’s exterior. When you think of a facade as more than just a support structure, you can optimize it to create impressive benefits for the project as a whole.

Facade design, like architecture in general, can be complex, but the more thought you give it, the better the results. Pushing building envelopes beyond their conventional uses can unlock your project’s full potential.