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Smart façades to save energy

Many glass-fronted office buildings are very energy intensive, requiring extensive heating in winter and cooling in summer to ensure comfortable temperatures for the building’s occupants.

In response to this challenge researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Dresden teamed up with the Department of Textile and Surface Design at Weissensee School of Art in Berlin to find a smart solution to this problem.

They have created a thermally reactive blind made up of individual fabric components shaped like flowers.  Each component contains an integrated shape-memory actuator made of a nickel-titanium alloy that returns to its original shape when exposed to heat.  When the wires are warmed by sunlight they contract to open the textile components, covering the façade and preventing solar gains.  When the sun disappears the flowers close and the façade becomes transparent once again.

“When you bend the wire, it keeps that shape. Then when you expose it to heat, it remembers the shape it had originally and returns to that position. Picture the façade element as a sort of membrane that adapts to weather conditions throughout each day and during the various seasons of the year, providing the ideal amount of shade however strong the sun,” says Andre Bucht, researcher and department head at Fraunhofer IW.

Since the façade relies solely on thermal energy and doesn’t require an external power source it relatively easy to integrate into buildings.  It can either be attached to the external glass or the space in between multi-layer facades.  The design is flexible and different choices of pattern, shape and colour can be used, depending on requirements.

The project is an excellent demonstration of how great inn ovation happens when engineering and the arts work together to solve problems.  A demonstrator piece will be on display at Hanover Messe 13 – 17 April 2015.

The research team is currently seeking industry partners to develop prototypes that will undergo long-term testing on buildings at the institute, with a view to launching on the market in 2017.


Image © Bára Finnsdóttir, Weißensee School of Art BerlinExternalandInternalview