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GSW HQ's sun shades and double-skin


The GSW Headquarters in Berlin by architects Sauerbruch-Hutton is a 22-storey, double-skinned building. Automated shutters inside of the double skin block intense sun during the afternoon; the building is oriented longitudinally north-south by convention of the siting and therefore must still perform efficiently despite this less-than-ideal condition. The facade acts as a thermal buffer and also ventilates hot air out at the top via the chimney effect.  This heat is quickly carried away from the building by convention of a large, cantilevered aerodynamic fin on the roof, which naturally accelerates hot air out.  The narrow width (11m) of the building also permits easy cross ventilation via a specialized system that does not compromise building acoustics.  As a side benefit of the automated shades, which operate based on the amount of direct solar gain, they are brightly colored, and create a beautiful effect in the often-dismal weather of Berlin.


This project in Berlin is in many ways parallel to the project here in Chicago, which is the reason I selected it. The orientation of the cold-storage building is also longitudinally north-south, a problematic issue regarding solar gain, and can be tamed with an automated shading device and double-skin.  While the GSW example uses colorful perforated panels, the concept could be made more parametrically-inclined with different degrees of perforation based on program needs (as per Morphosis’ San Francisco Federal Building and Caltrans HQ). The double-skinned facade is essential in my opinion for this project, as Chicago’s frigid winters and often hot and humid summers mandate some type of thermal buffer.  The GSW HQ reaps a 30% energy savings from its implementation of its double-skinned facade. Aesthetically, a bright, colorful facade would aid in brightening Chicago’s often dismal weather. Exploring the details of this facade will certainly help me with my own intentions for the cold storage building in Chicago.  The video showcases GSW’s double-skin construction.







  1. I LOVE THIS BUILDING! I had the chance to visit this building when they were still finishing up some of the interiors on the upper levels. The ventilation really ensures the comfort of the interior even on a hot day; however, if you stand too close to the windows there is a loud whooosh noise as the hot air rises between the two layers. Though the technology is not the most advanced, the efficient performance and the playful, colorful facade makes this building just brilliant!

  2. This building soundly puts my fears of active systems to rest! 30% is a good chunk of energy on a building this size. I am surprised they got that much with that much facade facing east and west, but I guess it is Germany, so they might not have that much trouble with overheating.