Technological innovation and architectural design represent an ever closer union in which the outer covering of buildings is seen as common ground for these two concepts. Nowhere is this more so than in the field of energy efficiency and over time the outer shells of buildings have been transformed into technological, dynamic and multifunctional elements capable of managing and controlling flows of energy and mass, storing and releasing energy and becoming sources of energy themselves, able to actually understand the concepts of heating, cooling and lighting.

Seen in this light, the outer shell or skin has discarded its traditional function of pure protection and has become a genuine interface through which the building receives and transmits information in a “smart” way. The skin has now become an intelligent exterior that knows how to protect and contain but also to express itself.

Materials such as reinforced concrete, steel and glass have contributed to the transformation of construction cladding and the architectural façade.

One of the trends identified in the research and development of cladding technologies recently highlighted by UNICMI deals with the growth of cladding and façade systems in terms of physical dimensions along with the development of increasingly smaller and thinner materials along with components that are moving in the direction of nano technologies. Moreover, increasing dimensions and heights require extremely high mechanical performance from façade components. Energy efficiency also demands an in-depth development of the interaction between systems and exterior shell while thermal efficiency itself is increasingly becoming more secure in use.

One example of a building that represents the contemporary evolution of outer shells is the Zaha Hadid tower which forms part of the CityLife complex in Milan. It is made of reinforced concrete, steel and glass and stands out for its transparency, dynamism and changeability.

The outer skin follows the torsional geometric surface of the tower and is characterized by irregular quadrilateral geometric cells whose shape changes as their position varies, and not being repeatable along the building. In order to follow the twist of the tower, the façade cells all have a different vertical inclination, varying along the perimeter of the layout and rising with the height of the building to form angles that are never the same.

Another example of a building whose façades represents the most recent architectural developments is the new headquarters of the 3M multinational designed by Mario Cucinella in Basiglio near Milan.

The load-bearing structure of the building in the form of columns and slabs is made of reinforced concrete which stops just short of the edge of the façade. This latter is suspended from the slabs and consists of a double structural system in glass with aluminium box-section uprights that support fixed and movable double glazed windows and opaque panels. The panels are in layers with the internal one made of wood-fibre thermal-acoustic insulation material while the transparent outer section is instead composed of tempered monolithic sheets. A system of sun screen louvres in painted aluminum profiles designed for the control of solar radiation is mounted on the façade’s load bearing system, adding the finishing touch to a design that combines aesthetics and functionality.

Among these futuristic materials there is still space for an evergreen classic like wood, which was used for example as a material  for combining architecture, pedagogy, psychology and anthropology in the design for the new nursery school in Guastalla (Reggio Emilia). Another project by Mario Cucinella Architects, it was created to replace two schools seriously damaged in the 2012 earthquake and  it is in the form of a structure on a single level consisting of the reproduction of 50 lamellar wood portals separated by large windows.


Projects of this type, in line with the most recent architectural trends can clearly be seen as the undeniable proof that the outer skin of new buildings will have an increasingly central role in the future.

•    Performance efficiency of outer shells through the optimization of materials and production technologies, UNICMI report at BSMART, 9th  March 2017
•    The outer shell of the Zaha Hadid Tower at CityLife, Enrico Sergio Mazzucchelli, Alice Ancillotti, Modulo 404/2016
•    Milan Order of Architects, Mappe/Milano che cambia, 3M Headquarters
•    The nursery at Guastalla by Cucinella, Abitare, 30th November 2015