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A@W Newsletter

Beautiful from the inside out

30 September 2021

The ‘inside out’ revolution can be traced back to when the Georges Pompidou National Centre of Art and Culture opened in Paris in 1977. It marked the beginning of an architectural style which used mechanical systems – such as pipes, channels, valves and fittings – to embrace a building’s envelope. Here we trace the movement’s evolution. 



Centre Pompidou’s vertical path of exterior escalators.
© Nora Santonastaso / design outfit 



When we think of mechanical systems, it is usually when we are trying to figure out how to conceal them. Minimalist interiors without bulky air ducts or electrical circuitry are testament to this. In direct contrast, when a building’s exoskeleton becomes a feature, it is considered a statement on high-tech performance


The origin of this seen/unseen divide goes back to Centre Pompidou. Designed by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, the celebrated cultural complex was the first of its kind to expose the building’s inner workings as part of the architecture, turning its facades into a colourful, well-organised skin: yellow piping for electricity, red for elevators and escalators, green for water and blue for air. These functional elements are a key part of its aesthetic. 


Fast forward 40 years and the Pompidou’s radical embrace of function as form has become especially prevalent in buildings championing cutting-edge green technology. Copenhagen’s International School designed by C. F. Møller Architects is one such project. Completed in 2017, the school integrates an array of energy-efficient features that encourage a dialogue between the building and its users.



The Copenhagen International School by Danish firm C.F. Møller Architects. The entire façade is covered in photovoltaic panels.
© Adam Mørk



Its cladding is made up of 1,200 solar panels that cover multiple facades. They not only supply more than half of the building’s electrical needs but also provide a visually harmonious three-dimensional design characterised by a recurring geometric pattern. The Kendeda Building at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, has also won accolades for its ‘inside out’ approach. Like C. F. Møller’s international school, it showcases integrated ecosystems as possible and is a benchmark for green buildings.



The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design in Atlanta uses just one-third of the energy of a comparable building.
© Catherine Osborne



Many of its features are purposefully bold such as an oversized solar panel canopy that also funnels rainwater into holding tanks for the irrigation system and other building functions. Signage indicates the toilets are composting, and the atrium’s wooden flooring is made from salvaged off-cuts. The bees that live on the building’s rooftop apiary enjoy the surrounding landscape of floral gardens.



Pipes and mechanical systems inside the Kendeda Building are clearly labelled to allow visitors and students to understand how they operate.
© Catherine Osborne



One cannot underestimate the learning potential about how a net-positive building works for students using this building as the next chapter of inside out buildings takes shape. 


Written by Catherine Osborne, based on an article by Nora Santonastaso of design | outfit with additional translation by Helen Parton

Beautiful from the inside out
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