The facade is the phenomenological place of architecture, something that has always served a representative role and transmitted communicative content. By looking at the facade, we define styles and movements, an expression over the centuries of the "spirit of the times" and the modern nature of that specific moment in history.
A facade exalts the relationship between structure, infilling and covering and appears as work on the surface. Architecture is produced by simply closing the supporting parts (horizontal and vertical) with supported structures. In this way, the architecture is not generated by the volumetric breakdown produced by the centrifugal movement of the interior towards the exterior (as in Wright's organicism) or by excavation, but is space enclosed by an envelope.
An envelope is the technological content of a facade, something that makes possible the creation of an architecture seen as a place under a membrane that can be freely divided and organised internally, climatised by using heating and air conditioning systems, therefore adaptable to every climate and context and potentially inserted anywhere. The maximum design content is concentrated in the building's “skin” and is the result of integration, in the wall, of the technology needed to perform an activity that is intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of those who live there.
The facade/envelope is what expresses the role of architecture in its relations with the city and Man and the responsibility it has towards society and the context it finds itself in.
Compositional and technological research work aims to create interaction between urban space- architectural space - Man, helped by the envelope/wall. It is a place of tension between inside and outside, often obtained by working on the concept of transparency.
By doing away with the separation between inside and out, the envelope, the wall, no longer serves a purely representative function towards the city externally and a separating function internally; the possibility to pass through the building physically and visually puts new use of the city into motion and discovers new points of view. Places to stop and pass through become very important: entrance halls, corridors, stairways and landings, areas for socialising, places for meeting and creating a community whether it is the one that lives the city or the one that lives the architectural object, in contact with each other thanks to treatment of the internal diaphragms which are also internally permeable.
The interaction should be seen as being with the climatic "environment" and the envelope is once again assigned the role of controlling the passing of light and air, not as an exaltation of the language offered by technology, but to obtain a wider concept of comfort that is not only linked to performance data, but uses this to increase the well-being of those who work inside and the building of the relationships described above.
Transparency and interaction were, especially at the end of the 1990s/the year 2000, the essential concepts used to give form to the explosion of the information society which had become fluid, intangible and "speaking”. A modern development of the themes of Venturi and Scott Brown, architecture and communication merge, the envelopes accommodate technology to transform the walls into screens, signs multiply and the city becomes text.
Recently, this development has gone one step further.
Communicative, symbolic, metaphoric or directly expressed content is no longer applied to the architecture but it is the architecture itself that becomes a symbol, an icon.
Of course, it represents who commissioned it but it also identifies, in a new process of contextualisation, the city itself which uses new places that are representative, no longer just monumental or public, to create its own identity. Buildings that express global production to the greatest extent, become images of places, cities, specific roads by focusing on the urban value of architecture in a new call to the responsibility of the building.
The architecture created for the large retail companies in particular is a prime example that effectively sums up the characteristics of contemporaneity which has gone from production to sales, so much so that it has recently been the subject of architectural theory, something which, with a few rare exceptions, had not happened before. When Rem Koolhaas says that museums, streets, suburban areas, stations and airports are all assuming the commercial logic of the shopping mall, he is saying that that is the model that is applied to all types of building and the city itself.
The brand is both an icon and a sign, it brings together communication and architecture, a symbolic aspect and a function. The envelopes and facades are windows, the design is no longer detached from what it has to display, the goods are what shape the facade. In other cases, on the other hand, this desire for integration is not so great. Once again, the facade becomes a surface onto which the brand is applied and when the brand is removed, the building remains a container.
The importance of the brand and brand recognition influence and modify the development of the design process to such an extent that, in the best of cases, it seeks perfect integration between the design of the architecture, that of the product and that of communication; the same tools, methods and approaches are used for installation of the materials, display criteria, and the logics of communication and sale.
The OMA studio project for some Prada stores (in New York, for example), is based on categories derived directly from commercial process that are used in the definition of space.1. Exclusiveness, like the product, the store must convey the idea that it is unique. 2. Diversity/variability of spaces as well as products. 3. Hybridisation, of the sales outlet with other places in the city, for example, areas for catering or entertainment. In the store, products are not only sold or displayed, but different activities are carried out both during and outside opening hours. These spaces, like the pulpit/platform or the ramp in the New York store, influence internal distribution and the display solutions so that the architectural aspect, which is mostly linked to materials, probably prevails over how goods are displayed due to a desire to incorporate fragments belonging to other places in the city into the sales outlet.