What is a facade?

Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas contemplate the emotions behind architecture at Facades+ New York

East Facades+ News Professional Practice
As leaders in innovative and sustainable building envelopes, Studio Fuksas explain the inspiration behind buildings such as the Rome-EUR Convention Center at Facades+ New York. (Roland Halbe)
As leaders in innovative and sustainable building envelopes, Studio Fuksas explain the inspiration behind buildings such as the Rome-EUR Convention Center at Facades+ New York. (Roland Halbe)
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As two of the foremost contemporary Italian architects, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas know a thing or two about the trends reshaping international architecture today. As the day-one morning keynote speakers at AN’s Facades+ New York conference on April 4, the veteran design duo spoke about their four decades of experience creating boundary-breaking projects across the globe, why the right materials help evoke positive emotions in their buildings, and why they reject the term “facade.”

Over 500 AEC practitioners gathered inside the Metropolitan Pavilion to hear the Fuksases, founders of Studio Fuksas, present the details behind 20 structures that for them, define the firm’s design sensibilities and best demonstrate its vast portfolio of building typologies and structural forms. “What is a facade for us?” Massimiliano Fuksas asked the crowd. “We don’t like the name ‘facade.’ We’ve never done a facade in our lives, much less just a plan.”

Fuksas explained that a building’s exterior is simply something that the architect discovers as the project concept develops with the design. He said a piece of architecture is like a sculpture that is drawn from a mass and is formed through research, trial, and error until a final work of art is realized. To Massimiliano Fuksas, the end result is something mysterious.

One thing that the architects do aim to have control over is emotion.

Exterior shot of white blob-like building

The Admirant Entrance Building in Eindhoven, Netherlands (Rob ‘t Hart)

In the case of Studio Fuksas’s projects located in dense urban environments, such as the 2010 Admirant Entrance Building in the Netherlands or the 2010 Rome-EUR Convention Center, the light and surrounding contexts reflected through the glass curtain walls project a happy tone for visitors both outside and inside the buildings. They expose the buildings’ skeletal envelopes, which allow people to clearly see the structures’ raw materials. “For the convention center, we built a container using a steel structure and a double glass facade that encloses the cloud, which you can see from the outside,” said Massimiliano.

Studio Fuksas’s 2009 St. Paolo Parish Complex in Foligno, Italy, though a concrete cube, still utilizes light through unique cutouts that don’t fully brighten the entire interior, but instead create a thoughtful, soft environment for reflection. Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas noted that the facade of the chapel is sliced at the bottom with a glass entrance. A visitor’s gaze moves from one side to the other side of the building in an effort to understand the windows across the various faces.

Photo of concrete cube church

St. Paolo Parish Complex in Foligno, Italy (Moreno Maggi)

Prior to designing the church in Central Italy, the Fuksases completed the massive, New Milan Trade Fair of Rho-Pero, which features pavilions of glass and mirrored stainless steel. The “veil,” an undulating spinal column that covers 505,000 square feet atop the elongated building, is reminiscent of natural landscapes like waves, dunes, and hills. “Here we used a different kind of facade on the central axis,” said Massimiliano Fuksas. “When you pass through the stainless steel parts of the building to the glass, you feel happy. This is like sunshine.”  

One of the most important components of Studio Fuksas’s work is sustainability. Details are designed to boost energy savings and reduce carbon emissions throughout buildings’ lifetimes. Of course, this is a key aspect of designing advanced facades, and one that all of the Facades+ New York speakers showcased through their work.

Image of undulating glass roof of convention center

New Milan Trade Fair building in Milan, Italy (Courtesy Studio Fuksas)

The Gensler team behind the recently completed renovation of Manhattan’s Ford Foundation building, along with Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers, spoke about how to best maintain and improve the envelopes of mid-century icons. Representatives from Columbia University, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, and Permasteelisa Group discussed the newest additions to the university’s Manhattanville campus, all which have vitreous skins.

Toshiko Mori, who gave the day-one afternoon keynote speech, challenged the crowd by expanding the topic of facades to the greater building envelope and the importance of the fifth facade, the roof. All these exterior elements, she explained, have a monumental impact on the performance and identity of a piece of architecture.

Other symposium talks featured experts in net-zero building enclosures, climate responsive facades, and the changing international regulations in envelope construction. Juergen Riehm, founding principal of 1100 Architect, served as the co-chair of Facades+ New York and moderator for every panel.

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