Why Use Translucent Polycarbonate on Building Facades?

Fascias are the medium through which architecture is experienced. They can blend in or stand out, reflect transparency or solidity, or express coarseness and softness. It can tell a story and set the tone for interior design. The building’s envelope must not only be visually appealing, but also practical and durable. It must also have the ability to manage natural light and ventilation. It is the building’s point of contact with the exterior. As such, it must be able to mitigate sounds and provide protection from adverse climatic conditions like rain, wind, and heat. When designing a facade, it’s important to balance performance with aesthetics. Many materials can meet these requirements. Translucent polycarbonate panels are unmatched in terms of creating a comfortable, light-filled atmosphere, while also ensuring resistance, ease to install, and versatility.

Polycarbonate creates a soft, diffused light indoors in the daytime and a bright, visible exterior glow at night. It is also known for its light interplay and ambiguous transparency, which all contribute to unique sensory experiences. Polycarbonate is versatile and efficient, and can be used in many different formats, colors and shapes. This material has been eye-catching and expressive for a variety of purposes. This man-made polymer is now a very popular choice for roofing and exterior cladding in many types of architectural projects.

House Unimog / Fabian Evers Architecture, Wezel Architektur. Image © Sebastian Berger

This is why we’ll be looking at the design and installation options for translucent polycarbonate facades.

Transparent thermoplastic 250 times stronger than glass

A polycarbonate, which is a durable, tough and amorphous thermoplastic polymer, is known as. It is produced by distilling hydrocarbon fuels into “fractions” which are then combined with other catalysts to create plastics via polymerization or condensation. After the material has been created, it can then be shaped using different processes such as extrusion or injection molding.

House Unimog / Fabian Evers Architecture, Wezel Architektur. Image © Sebastian Berger

Polycarbonate, in its raw form is transparent and can be used as traditional glazing. It is lighter, more flexible, and more resistant than glass. The material’s strength means it can withstand temperatures, UV rays and impacts, which allows it to meet a wide variety of performance requirements. It is also fully recyclable, flame-resistant, cost-effective, and insulation.

Simple, quick and efficient installation

Polycarbonate sheeting has another advantage: it is easy to install in facades. Polycarbonate sheeting is half the weight of traditional glass panels. It’s easy to transport and manipulate. It is important to choose the right type of panel before installation: twin-wall polycarbonate with two layers or multi-wall, which has three or more layers. These panels have different properties. The thicker the panel the better. Although installation methods can vary, the most common is to place frame profiles on the substructure of the building and then simply place each panel one by one.

Östermalm's Temporary Market Hall / Tengbom. Image © Felix Gerlach

We spoke to Taiga Kasai, an architect from KACH who designed House in Yanakacho. The panels are supported by double-T steel profiles.

Two lines support the polycarbonate on the frames’ upper and lower sides. To create an abstract floating image, we tried to hide the substructures and metal fittings behind polycarbonate. This gave enough wind pressure resistance while still allowing for sufficient wind pressure resistance. We used deep waved polycarbonate with a depth of 500mm and the right height to avoid horizontal substructures in the middle of our enclosure. – Taiga Kasai

House in Yanakacho / Taiga Kasai + Chong Aehyang Architecture / KACH. Image © Vincent Hecht
House in Yanakacho / Taiga Kasai + Chong Aehyang Architecture / KACH. Image © Vincent Hecht
Translucent Polycarbonate enclosure detail / House in Yanakacho. Image Courtesy of Taiga Kasai + Chong Aehyang Architecture / KACH
Translucent Polycarbonate enclosure detail / House in Yanakacho. Image Courtesy of Taiga Kasai + Chong Aehyang Architecture / KACH

Versatile design possibilities: some inspiring examples

Translucent polycarbonate is versatile and easy to install, and it offers architects many creative options. These filtering surfaces transform direct sunlight into a pleasing diffused glow, which can be adjusted to suit any mood or atmosphere. They are often used to create calm and tranquil environments. However, they can also reduce people and objects to subtle silhouettes at varying intensities. This material creates layers of brightness, movement, and ambiguity which enhance the project’s aesthetics, while still delivering the high functionality of polycarbonate facades.

Streetmekka Viborg / EFFEKT. Image © Rasmus Hjortshøj - COAST

House in Yanakacho is an example of this. It separates the surrounding area with a floating polycarbonate enclosure. This was after architects had studied several materials, including membranes and perforated steel. Kasai states that transparent polycarbonate was the best material to achieve the right balance of transparency, and translucency. The thermoplastic panels hide the private space and filter the sunlight, giving the room a lovely ambiguous appearance.

Translucent polycarbonate is capable of creating the illusion of abstraction. Translucent polycarbonate allows light to pass through it and conceals certain objects. – Taiga Kasai

House in Yanakacho / Taiga Kasai + Chong Aehyang Architecture / KACH. Image © Vincent Hecht

This is possible due to the material’s versatility. To further explore the material’s diverse aesthetics, we have below a collection of inspiring translucent facades taken from a variety of buildings, including homes, schools, art galleries, and markets.

Nathalie Mauclair Gymnasium / Schemaa

Nathalie Mauclair Gymnasium / Schemaa. Image © David Foessel
Nathalie Mauclair Gymnasium / Schemaa. Image © David Foessel

New Casa Triângulo / Metro Arquitetos Associados

New Casa Triângulo / Metro Arquitetos Associados. Image © Leonardo Finotti
New Casa Triângulo / Metro Arquitetos Associados. Image © Leonardo Finotti

Charvot House / Hérard & da Costa

Charvot House / Hérard & da Costa. Image © Philippe Ruault
Charvot House / Hérard & da Costa. Image © Philippe Ruault

Seasonless House / Casos de Casas

Seasonless House / Casos de Casas. Image © José Hévia
Seasonless House / Casos de Casas. Image © José Hévia

Lan Din / Sher Maker

Lan Din / Sher Maker. Image © Chaiyaporn Sodabunlu
Lan Din / Sher Maker. Image © Chaiyaporn Sodabunlu

Rooftop Sauna in London / Aalto University – School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Rooftop Sauna in London / Aalto University - School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Image © Valentina Casalini
Rooftop Sauna in London / Aalto University – School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Image © Valentina Casalini

Polycarbonate Neverland – Aranya Kid’s Restaurant / Wutopia Lab

Polycarbonate Neverland - Aranya Kid's Restaurant / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images
Polycarbonate Neverland – Aranya Kid’s Restaurant / Wutopia Lab. Image © CreatAR Images

Östermalm’s Temporary Market Hall / Tengbom

Östermalm's Temporary Market Hall / Tengbom. Image © Felix Gerlach
Östermalm’s Temporary Market Hall / Tengbom. Image © Felix Gerlach

Streetmekka Viborg / EFFEKT

Streetmekka Viborg / EFFEKT. Image © Rasmus Hjortshøj - COAST
Streetmekka Viborg / EFFEKT. Image © Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST

House Unimog / Fabian Evers Architecture, Wezel Architektur

House Unimog / Fabian Evers Architecture, Wezel Architektur. Image © Sebastian Berger
House Unimog / Fabian Evers Architecture, Wezel Architektur. Image © Sebastian Berger

Cascade High School Expansion / Neumann Monson Architects

Cascade High School Expansion / Neumann Monson Architects. Image © Integrated Studio
Cascade High School Expansion / Neumann Monson Architects. Image © Integrated Studio