Story at a glance:

  • Ceramic, or terra-cotta, facades offer durable and aesthetic options for buildings old and new.
  • Natural stone panels are ready for installation when the supporting structure is complete, are lightweight, durable, cost-effective, and versatile.
  • Closed cavity facades are made with two types of glass for the exterior and interior with a cavity between them to prevent condensation.

With growing standards for construction, it is important that a building’s facade design should not only comply with local regulations, but also to comply with a client’s needs for maintenance, aesthetics, and sustainability.

“A facade is far more than the protective shell of a building. Its design not only characterizes the building itself but also influences the urban environment,” said Lisa Burling, national sales manager at Agrob Buchtal, in a previous gb&d story.

Here are six types of modern facade design to consider for your next project.

1. Ceramic facades

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At 91 Leonard Street in NYC, developers used KeraTwin and KeraShape ceramic facade systems to complement the 19th-century warehouses and lofts of the surrounding neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Agrob Buchtal

The ceramic facade, also known as terra-cotta, has seen a resurgence in its use as a building facade. Experts say the entire process of manufacturing, construction, operation, and deconstruction for terra-cotta is exceptionally sustainable. It also helps provide an additional shell for buildings, proving beneficial in terms of energy efficiency.

Ceramic cladding is most attractive to clients who want a distinct and attractive facade that can withstand both time and weather while undergoing little to no maintenance, according to Craig Dudley, sales manager for the Innovative Building Products division of Acme Brick.

One of the best uses for terra-cotta facades are in historic renovation projects, as terra-cotta facades can be installed directly on any existing facades, though experts say they’re also easy to incorporate in new construction.

2. Stone composite panels

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Architect Lena B. Keilegavlen of Cubus says this facade is inspired by the Norwegian mountainside. “As a contrast and identification, each house has a main color inspired by the colors of leaves during shifting seasons.” Photo courtesy of Arkitektgruppen Cubus AS

Steni Colour panels are stone composite panels that come in more than 60 standard colors with three gloss levels, or they can be custom-ordered to contain any color based on NCS or RAL. Their pre-cut formation allows them to be of variable dimensions and offer very little wastage.

These panels can be seen in the Solheimslien Housing Project in Bergen, Norway. The colorful facade was chosen due to its easy installation any time of year with minimal maintenance requirement. They can be cleaned with common household materials, while their durability makes them impact-, frost-, and water-resistant.

“The buildings are located in a moist climate, close to a mountain side, and do not have much sunlight,” Architect Lena B. Keilegavlen of Cubus previously told gb&d. “In the wet climate of Bergen this location is exposed to growing of moss and fungi. The new facades needed to be smooth and hard to prevent growing, and easy to clean.”

3. Precast concrete panels


Shutterfly’s Customer Care and Design Production facility show how precast concrete can stand out with color. Photo courtesy of Fabcon

Fabcon’s precast concrete panels are known for their quick and easy installation, resilience to weather, and as an affordable, sustainable option in new builds. Fabcon says it prides itself in taking a “functional aesthetics” approach, meaning performance should not come at the cost of appearance. By mixing four primary colors—light red, dark red, yellow, and black—they can create many different matrix colors.

Fabcon aims to lower costs for clients by sourcing the materials for its aggregates locally. “We can utilize a combination of two colors of cement, gray, or white in the concrete mix, and over 50 different limestones, quartzes, and granites for stones and sands to create different colors and looks,” said Rich Mantel, Fabcon’s materials engineer, in a previous gb&d interview.

4. Natural stone panels

Biesanz Stone

The BJC Institute of Health at Washington University School of Medicine has more than 90,000 square feet of Biesanz Natural Stone Panels with stone from Indiana Limestone Company. Photo courtesy of Biesanz Stone

Natural stone panels from Biesanz Stone aim to be an affordable, sustainable option in the world of exteriors. The prefabricated panels are built under optimal conditions, are ready for installation when the supporting structure is complete, are lightweight, durable, cost-effective, and versatile in design.

Biesanz says its mission is to enable customers to use the natural, low-energy product at a competitive price—with prefabricated natural stone panels that enhance a building’s facade or add flair to an interior.

Stone comes from the ground, reducing production costs, too. “We don’t have the cost associated with creating the product, and we aren’t using the substantial amounts of energy it takes to create cement-based products, much less to cut it to size and shape it,” said Darrell Stahlecker, president of Biesanz Stone, in a previous gb&d article. “It’s a stand-alone resource.”

5. Closed cavity facades 

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Photo courtesy of Permasteelisa

A variation of the traditional curtain wall system, closed cavity facades (CCFs) are a type of facade made with two types of glass for the exterior and interior with a cavity between them to prevent condensation. Inside the cavity, solar shading devices and controls monitor exterior conditions, control the shade, and regulate the flow of dry air into the cavity.

CCFs allow for excellent thermal performance in the transparent areas, provide a high degree of solar protection by the automated blind system, lower maintenance costs, result in lower degree of asymmetric temperatures at the building perimeter, improve acoustic performance, and increase the life expectancy of the glazing units, according to experts. In fact, Derick Koprek, lead concept designer at Permasteelisa Group, told gb&d that CCFs are the future of curtain walls.

6. Green facades

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Green facades can define a streetscape or walkway. Photo courtesy of greenscreen

Green facades might be an unexpected category, but this modern facade design idea is capable of giving life to any space or structure. Vertical trellis panel and planter combinations can divide spaces and provide a planted alternative to plastic and concrete barricades, plexiglass, or other hard surfaces. The “tree” and column wraps from greenscreen can create shade, filter light, and cool the surrounding air.

These facades are great for establishing different areas and settings in a physical space. They are often used on rooftops and courtyards to screen mechanical equipment, while restaurants use them to create boundaries between outdoor seating spaces and public walkways. These can be customized to fit any need by cutting at angles, notching, and curving.