How does material optimisation affect facade design?

Reducing waste is one of the main considerations when designing architectural façades and solar screening systems.

In a nutshell: 

  • Material optimisation makes the most efficient use of expensive materials
  • Designing architectural façades in non-standard widths of aluminium can lead to waste
  • Sheet aluminium is supplied in widths of 1,000mm, 1,250mm, 1,500mm and 2,000mm
  • Remember to take 50mm returns into account for ‘tray-style’ panels
  • For other materials, such as timber, terracotta tiles and expanded mash, it’s best to talk to a façade specialist

Yes, visual impact is important. And systems need to fulfil the functions they’re designed for. But in times of rising material costs and an unprecedented focus on the environmental impact of construction, making the most efficient use of valuable resources has never been more important.

In the architectural façade sector, we’re talking primarily about sheet aluminium, which is supplied in lengths of standard widths. Ignore these standard widths when designing architectural façades and there’s one inevitable outcome: waste.

How does material optimisation work?

  • So, a 1,150mm wide ‘tray-style’ panel with 50mm returns is the perfect use of a standard 1,250mm sheet
  • However, increase the width by just 50mm and you’ll need a 1,500mm sheet – leaving 200mm waste
  • Aluminium is manufactured in coils, so there’s no optimum length – although very small quantities may be supplied as 2.5m or 3m sheets
  • For more complex designs, façade specialists will use optimisation software to get the most components (and the least waste) from a standard width

What about other materials?

Because it starts life as molten metal, extruded aluminium can be used to create bespoke components of any size with next to no waste.

However, because we can’t control the size of trees, timber for louvres and brise soleil is supplied in whatever lengths are available. That can mean a lot of waste.

Terracotta tiles are becoming increasingly popular for architectural façades. But tiles are relatively small and the amount of off-cuts is not usually significant.

Expanded mesh comes in some of the same widths as aluminium sheets, but is installed flat - without folded returns. That means optimum panel widths are 1,000mm, 1,250mm and 1,500mm. However, it’s important that the holes (or eyes) between sheets match up, so there may be some wastage between lengths.

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