11 Buildings with Unusual Facades

The facade is the front-facing outer surface of a building and therefore the first abstract representation of its architecture. It is designed as a creative element that reinforces or disrupts its neighbourhood identity. Automatic interpretation of buildings and, particularly, their facades is inevitable and this is why this outer surface is of great importance to an architect.

New technologies, however, have created opportunities and challenges in the facade environment that help increase the energy efficiency of buildings making it much more than an aesthetic element. These are unusual yet outstanding facades that are remarkable either on efficiency or sustainability.

What were your first impressions? Which one did you like most?

Click on images to make them larger.

1. Endesa Pavilion

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Endesa Pavillion BarcelonaVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Endesa Pavillion Barcelona IaaC
Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Endesa Pavillion Barcelona- Detail- Detalle constructivo -Seccion
ENDESA Pavilion is a self-sufficient solar prototype installed at the Marina Dock, within the framework of the International BCN Smart City Congress. Over a period of one year, it was used as a control room for monitoring and testing several projects related to intelligent power management. The facade is composed by modular components, like solar brick, that responds to photovoltaic gaining, solar protection, insulation, ventilation, lighting… Self-sufficient solar prototype. Read more here

Location: Barcelona (Spain)
Architect: IaaC
Year: 2011

2. Fuel Station + McDonalds

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Mc Donalds by Giorgi Khmaladze

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Mc Donalds by Giorgi Khmaladze Inside Detail

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Mc Donalds by Giorgi Khmaladze Section Detail

The project is located in one of the newly urbanized parts of the seaside city of Batumi, Georgia. It includes fuels station, McDonald’s, recreational spaces and reflective pool. Spaces are composed in such way, that two major programs – vehicle services and dining are isolated from one another. The vegetation layer of the facade, which covers the cantilevered giant canopy of the fuel station adds natural environment and acts as an “ecological shield” for the terrace. Read more here.

Location: Batumi (Georgia)
Architect: Giorgi Khmaladze
Year: 2013

3. Al Bahar Towers

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Al Bahar Towers Origami Architecture

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Al Bahar Towers Origami Architecture Detail Render

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Al Bahar Towers Origami Architecture Detail

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Al Bahar Towers Origami Architecture SectionCompleted in June 2012, the 145 meter towers’ Masharabiya shading system was developed by the computational design team at Aedas. Using a parametric description for the geometry of the actuated facade panels, the team was able to simulate their operation in response to sun exposure and changing incidence angles during the different days of the year. The responsive facade  takes cultural cues from the “mashrabiya”, a traditional Islamic lattice shading device. The facade operates in response to sun exposure and changing incidence angles during the different days of the year. Read more here.

Location: Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
Architect: Aedas Architects
Year: 2012

4. PixelVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Pixel Building-MelbourneVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Pixel Building-Melbourne Detail

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Pixel Building-Melbourne Section Water
The Former CUB Brewery site is the location for one of Melbourne’s most significant and ambitious developments. Located at a key urban site, the project has been the subject of long discussion and speculation, culminating in the multi-faceted and multi-authored scheme we now see today. The facade is a system of perimeter planters, fixed shading louvres, double glazed window walls and solar panel shading is Australia’s first carbon-neutral office building, generating all its own power and water on site. Read more here.

Location: Melbourne (Australia)
Architect: studio505
Year: 2010

5. Hesiodo

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Hesiodo hierve DiseñeriaVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Hesiodo hierve Diseñeria Detail 2Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Hesiodo hierve Diseñeria Section

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Hesiodo hierve Diseñeria DetailThe building stands on a small street in a residential neighborhood in Mexico City. Although it is located in a residential area, the street is very close to a busy commercial thoroughfare. This allows the building to be immersed in the peace and quiet of its street, and at the same time confront the urban alienation that pervades the commercial zone. The facade is made up of 7,723 blown glass spheres made by craftsmen at a workshop in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Each sphere is supported by a disk of EPDM (a kind of rubber used in the automobile industry, with excellent resistance to weathering). Read more here.

Location: Mexico City (Mexico)
Architect: Hierve-Diseñeria
Year: 2005

6. Ravensbourne College

© Philipp Heer

Foreign Office Architects have completed the new tile-covered campus for Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, located on the Greenwich Peninsula in London. The façade is composed of 28,000 anodised aluminium tiles in three different shapes and colours. The tiled façade is perforated with round windows of varying sizes, with two rows of windows per floor to provide views of the surrounding city. The pattern of the tiles is determined by the size and positioning of window openings, while the size of windows depends on the corresponding interior function. Read more here.

Location: London (UK)
Architect: Foreign Office Architects
Year: 2010

7. Glass Farm

Glazen BoerderijVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- MVRDV- Glass farmVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- MVRDV- Glass farm Interior

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- MVRDV- Glass farmSchijndel’s market square suffered badly from WWII bombing; the Glass Barn is MVRDV’s seventh proposal for the site. The maximum envelope for the structure had the form of a traditional Schijndel farm. An image of the typical farm was composed and then printed using fritted procedure onto the 1800m2 glass facade, resulting in an effect such as a stained glass window in a cathedral. The print is more or less translucent depending on the need for light and views. Read more here.

Location: Schijndel(The Netherlands)
Architect: MVRDV
Year: 2013

8. House in Travessa de PatrocinioVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- House In Travessa Do PatrocínioVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- House In Travessa Do Patrocínio SideVirginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- House In Travessa Do Patrocínio

From a small lot with it’s unique implantation, this project has raised early on a couple of challenges. The box housing deviates from the gable to create a vertical yard (glass box), with a straight ladder connecting all floors, an allusion to the famous stairs of Alfama, running between the all 4 floors walls and linking the various dimensions. Its facade walls are completely covered with vegetation creating a vertical garden so, short levels of water consumption are guaranteed as well as little gardening challenges. Mini lung and an example of sustainability for the city of Lisbon. Read more here.

Location: Lisbon (Portugal)
Architect: Luís Rebelo de Andrade + Tiago Rebelo de Andrade + Manuel Cachão Tojal
Year: 2012

9. Aqua Tower

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Aqua Tower Exterior

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Aqua Tower

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Aqua Tower Plan

The skyline of Chicago can be seen as the timeline of skyscraper history, which started in 1885 with the Home Insurance Building. The new Aqua Tower by Studio Gang is a highlight along this timeline, not just because of its height (250m tall) but also because of its sculptural condition. The facade design was inspired by the striated limestone outcroppings common in the Great Lakes area. But this sinuous shape is not just a mere formal gesture, but it is also a strategy to extend the views and maximize solar shading. Read more here.

Location: Chicago (U.S)
Architect: Studio Gang Architects
Year: 2009

10. Can Cube

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Can Cube Building

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Can Cube Detail

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Can CubeCan Cube’s facade is a system of aluminium carbonated drink cans which are enclosed in an aluminium frame. The façade saves the energy wasted during recycling processes by reusing the cans in their current form, without the need for recycling or further processes. By utilizing several ecological and renewable systems the building is highly efficient and sustainable. The entrance level and below ground level are both occupied by office space, while levels two and three are recreational and private living quarters. Read more here.

Location: Shangai (China)
Architect: Archi Union Architects Inc
Year: 2010

11. Kolumba Museum

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Kolumba Museum

Virginia Duran Blog- Unusual Facades- Kolumba Museum Plan SectionSituated in Cologne, Germany, a city that was almost completely destroyed in World War II, the museum houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years. Zumthor’s design delicately rises from the ruins of a late-Gothic church, respecting the site’s history and preserving its essence. The facade fragments include the remaining pieces of the Gothic church, stone ruins from the Roman and medieval periods, and German architect Gottfried Böhm’s 1950 chapel for the “Madonna of the Ruins.” Read more here.

Location: Cologne (Germany)
Architect: Peter Zumthor
Year: 2007


47 thoughts on “11 Buildings with Unusual Facades

  1. Another fascinating collection. I do like the Aqua Tower. I wonder if you would be interested in trying to put some of your work to our local newspaper The Press? These examples of different facades and your post on modern places of worship are so relevant to the changes needed in our city after the earthquake.


    • Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t know this project either but it is indeed interesting. They did an “all you can drink” day on site for collecting the cans! It looks like a fun construction.


  2. How weird and wonderful. I would love to live in a city surrounded by such varied, unconventional designs. Today’s structures are so casual and often only considered remarkable for suggesting a former time or a different place. Only the daring claim originality, it seems. A great post. Thanks.


    • Amazing thoughts as always! I hope the future of architecture looks like this since they are very sustainable (besides the curious shapes and forms). Thanks for stopping by!


    • Yes! All this projects are built and can be visited. I am sure any of these locations would be amazing for spending a vacation.


  3. Brilliant Designs .Architect at its best.Remarkable pictures. Thank you for liking my post ( Our Anniversary Wishing you the best.jalal


  4. Hi Virginia, this is a fabulous post! I can’t believe I was recently in Melbourne and missed Pixel – how fascinating. I guess I’ll just have to go back. All the best, Terri


    • Really? Then you’ll have to go back and visit! So many things are going on around Melbourne recently 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Terri!


    • Great share Clara! I didn’t know about this project. Congratulations, you’ve been selected for a free business card design. You will get all the details by email!


  5. Love this post. I’ve seen some of these designs and/or concepts before, and others are completely new to me. Some, like the glass farmhouse-echo in the Netherlands, are quite simply revelatory. Together they’re a wonderfully thought-provoking group and give me hope that architecture continues to evolve in interesting, useful and often beautiful ways whether it embraces the past or leaps away from it in bounds (or finds a happy medium somewhere). Thanks for sharing!


    • Kathryn, thanks for your kind words and your insight. I agree with you that with new technologies, architecture is evolving in very interesting ways. This group of building is especially interesting to me for this reason.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂


  6. Virginia, another creative topic; unusual, beautiful & innovative facades as well as their in-depth descriptions, thank you. What was my favorite? Well actually I have 3 favorites:
    1) Agua Tower (Chicago): amazing, incredibly moving & the location between 2 other fabulous buildings is superb; 2) Endesa Pavilion (Barcelona): love the idea of not perfectly square or round; and 3) Tinshed (Australia): totally original, raw & honest as described.


    • Bonnie, so glad to see you around here. Thanks for your kind words. Those three are among my favourites too although if I had to choose one, the Aqua Tower would win. It is so magnificent and the balconies are all different so you get the feeling that “your space” is actually yours. Maybe I get this feeling because I was able to visit it. What about you? Have you been in any of these?


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  9. I put the Kolumba Museum for my Köln plan: always appreciate when the old parts are integrated in the new whole. Checked Ravensbourne University and how to get to Laban Theatre from there – it was already in the list of H&dM. (Philipp’s your photo is wonderful!)
    Alfama seems to be pleasant to see and comforting after returning from the city centre.
    Aqua Tower seems to be very stylish among its dull-flat neighbours – next generation?
    Wonderful idea of the Can Cube!
    Pixel is funny! In Bilbao noticed similar attempts to avoid the dullness of streets in the same style, though not so bright.
    Thank you for this bright page that is so necessary now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve been to so many of these places, it’s amazing. I have never been to the Kolumba museum but next time I am in Germany… there I’ll go. I lived in Chicago for 2 years and had some friends living at Aqua Tower, truly amazing 😀 Would you enjoy living in such a tall skyscraper?


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