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  • Giacomo Chiarani



The first topic of this research is form follows interactionism. Through the analysis of case studies we are trying to open a discussion on the hypothesis that buildings are not determined only by functions(1) or by finance(2) but also by interactionism, e.g facade-user interactions. In other words, the hypothetical research question would be: Can we trace a different path in the history of architecture that doesn't necessarily follow a "time-style category" but instead analyses the buildings from the role of user-facade relationship no matter what decade they belong to? Or, Is it possible to include in a "user-facade category", buildings that belong to completely different ages but have a similarity in how the user-facade affects the design of facades?

So, to celebrate the launch of our blog, we have decided to select one of the most incredible and yet unknown buildings that for many decades has been neglected for its role in the history of architecture by many historians. Of course, it comes with no surprise that this building has been, in the last 20 years, studied and analyzed by many scholars before and widely published.

Still, looking at the pictures of this 1903 teddy-bear factory, it's impossible to not feel a sense of joy and incredulity.

It was in 1903, long before Gropious designed the super celebrated Fagus Factory when Margaret Steiff and his nephew completed the construction of her visionary and beautiful factory in Geingen an der Brenz, a small town in Germany.

The facade has been recently recognized as the first ever example of curtain wall.

Margaret Steiff wasn't an architect, she simply cared about her workers and she wanted to build an elegant and sustainable factory, designed around the users' needs.

The facade consists of two glass layers divided by a 250 mm gap and it's a filter to provide thermal and acoustic insulation for the users, provide a diffuse light on the workers benches, and privacy. It's a true curtain wall as it's a continuous non load-bearing enclosure attached to the main steel frame.

Natural cross ventilation was provided via box windows, manually opened, through the two glass layers. Cross ventilation with adjustable louvers during summer months were keeping the internal environment cool during the warm summer months. (4)

If we analyse the facade from an interactionism perspective the users have an active control of this selective facade through the windows and through the adjustable internal louvers. The facades is an active filter as it filters the light and privacy of the workers.

This is the first form of interaction: between the users and the facade. A second form of interaction is outside, between the environment and the facade. Again, the facade filters the hot, cold and wet weather and creates a beautiful movement of silhouette and shadow from outside its skin.

As Blanca Lleo underlines in her article (1):

"The movement of persons and goods in constant circulation

on this innovative inclined plane that embraced the façades

contributed to a new perception of architecture, changing and open,

that is manifested by means of its innovative transparency in the

vivid presence of actors and objects within an intermediate space

between the interior and the exterior of the factory".

The facade becomes an external interactive facade not just because it is a climatically interactive facade through the double layers of glass and the users control but also because, through the external stairs and the translucent facade the external viewers enjoy the vision of shadows and silhouettes behind the curtain wall. When the internal environment is lit by the lights, the vision of this "lantern" becomes even more magical.

Lleo also adds in the note at the bottom of the paper that the same idea of facade it's visible in the Centre Pompidou, seven decades later.

Seven decades later, the Pompidou building would

employ this strategy on a large scale with its famous escalators

that, full of visitors and passersby, symbolised a new culture of

masses: “the ornamental crowd” as the generator of a façade in constant change.



Credit photo: Scott Murray, 2013, p.52

Renzo Piano, Sketch of the Pompidou.



Photo credit:


(1) Sullivan's famous line, Form Follows Function

(2) Carol Willis, Form Follows Finance, 1996

(3) Scott Murray, Translucent Building Skin, 2013


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