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HelioTrace Robotic Facade

I was intrigued by a rendering featured in the latest newsletter from SOM, which came across my desk a few weeks ago. So I wrote the firm for more information. Turns out this new invention—a kinetic, solar-responsive curtain wall system—is still in development and won't be available on the market for a few years still. But it's an intriguing concept, so I figured I'd share.

HelioTrace close

The HelioTrace Façade System is a collaboration between SOM, who designed the system and performed the environmental analysis; Permasteelisa North America; and the Adaptive Building Initiative. The system is designed to significantly increase daylighting while reducing solar heat gain effects for building occupants—up to 81% annually. When analyzed in situ, the system achieved a 42% reduction in total energy consumption for a New York City office tower.

An exploded view of the three-part system. © SOM.
An exploded view of the three-part system. © SOM.

As a kinetic curtain wall system, HelioTrace can literally trace the path of the sun over the course of a day and over the course of a year. Three components comprise the system: kinetic shades on the exterior of the building; a prefabricated, thermally-efficient building envelope; and interior chilled ceiling panels (more energy efficient than other air conditioning solutions). The shades are operated by  'computer-driven ecological models,' which factor in the building’s seasonal climates and daily sun paths as well as the building’s programmatic use and operating schedules. This means it can be deployed anywhere in the world and allow a building to respond to solar conditions in different climates and orientations.

You can watch the system in action in an animation on Popular Science’s website: www.popsci.com/bown/2010/video/video-heliotrace.

Each HelioTrace shade works independently, so an infinite range of combinations is possible; individual shades can respond to specific conditions along the face of a building. © SOM.
Each HelioTrace shade works independently, so an infinite range of combinations is possible; individual shades can respond to specific conditions along the face of a building. © SOM.

The system was featured in the magazine's annual “Best of What’s New” issue. The editors wrote: "Building designers often try to reduce the daytime use of electric lights with daylight, and air-conditioning with natural airflow, but doing so tends to introduce unwanted heat from direct sunlight. HelioTrace ensures the right balance of shade and sun. Moveable external sunshades block out the rays as needed, window frames withstand thermal change, and chilled ceiling panels circulate cold water to cool the space without air-conditioning. Architects can tailor the system to climate, sun path and operations schedules."

Three stages of shade deployment, from fully open to nearly closed. © SOM.
Three stages of shade deployment, from fully open to nearly closed. © SOM.

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