6 Examples Of Building Envelopes To Inspire Your Designs


A building envelope is a well-thought-out structural system that protects the structure and everything inside a building.

In a nutshell, it includes all elements that separate the indoors from the outdoors, such as foundations, walls, roofs, windows and doors.

As it plays such a crucial structural role, every envelope must be carefully designed and built to the highest standard. But it’s not just about function either, a building envelope can also be interesting and unique and make the building look attractive.

So, whether you’re working with a professional service provider or designing your own building envelope, we’re here to inspire you. Below, we’ll share six examples of impressive building envelopes to shape your own design.

1. Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Museo Soumaya was designed by the very talented Fernando Romero and was initially deemed impossible to build as a result of the facade design. However, this was not the case.

The museum within houses more than 60,000 pieces of art across six floors, but the building envelope itself was created to look like a work of art.

The facade is windowless but is wrapped in 16,000 shiny aluminium hexagon modules that almost look like they float. This creates a dazzling, mystical feel and also reflects the light for a shiny silver effect.

2. Beijing Greenland Centre, Beijing

Designed by Skidmore Owings and Merill (SOM), the Greenland Centre is a skyscraper in one of China’s fastest-growing tech districts. Covered in glass cladding, two different isosceles trapezoidal modules have been used to create a pattern on the outside. As these modules catch sunlight and refract it, this leads to a fun play of light and shadow.

However, this isn’t just designed to look good, it has a practical application too. As the modules alternate, one tapering up and the other down, the low-E glass panels provide shade and redirect sunlight to better control the internal temperature.

3. Heydar Aliyev Centre, Azerbaijan

The single curving surface of the Heydar Aliyev Centre was created by Zaha Hadid Architects to establish a continuous, fluid relationship with the interior and the surrounding plaza.

The key materials used to create this sleek facade system were glass fibre-reinforced plastics (GFRP) and glass fibre-reinforced concrete (GFRC) panels. In order to achieve a seamless building envelope, a range of different functions, logics and technical systems were required to make the project possible.

4. Malopolska Garden of Arts, Krakow

The Malopolska Garden of Arts was created to establish a new identity for the arts scene in Krakow.

It was designed by Ingarden and Ewy Architekci and has two faces. Every aspect of the building envelope was carefully created to reference neighbouring structures and draw inspiration from the surrounding area.

For example, the building maintains the height and lines of the roofs of surrounding buildings. What’s more, the abstract geometrical composition of the facade mimics the geometry of the roofs of nearby properties.

By choosing this technique, the centre blends seamlessly into the city to be enjoyed for generations to come. But it also adds an abstract look to the area.

5. Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American architect who chose titanium, glass and limestone to make his vision a reality. As the design was so mathematically complex, Gehry had to use software that was initially created for the aerospace industry to make this possible.

The facade is made up of around 33,000 thin titanium sheets. This pairs perfectly with the glass and limestone to create a visually appealing building that has a rough, organic effect. Best of all, the colours of the building envelope change with the weather and light.

6. Water Cube, Beijing

Finally, back in Beijing, the National Aquatics Centre, also known as Water Cube is one of the world’s most exciting sporting venues. Originally constructed for the Beijing Olympic Games, the building has a very distinctive facade that is formed to look like soap bubbles.

The building facade was made of ethyl tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) and was designed to be a sustainable venue. The lightweight materials act as thermal insulators and can trap solar energy for heating. This allows the cube to save up to 55% on lighting energy and makes the building better for the planet.