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New Facade Technology HydroSKIN Promises to Shield Buildings from Flooding and Heat

In light of recent devastating floods and extreme heat events in Germany, researchers at the University of Stuttgart have developed HydroSKIN, a new facade technology designed to protect buildings from these climate-related challenges.

von | 21.06.24

HydroSKIN exterior facade: : Exterior view of the test facade on the adaptive high-rise building on the University of Stuttgart's Campus Vaihingen, with the first hydroactive facade prototypes and extensive measurement technology.
Source: University of Stuttgart / Sven Cichowicz

June 21, 2024 | In light of recent devastating floods and extreme heat events in Germany, researchers at the University of Stuttgart have developed HydroSKIN, a new facade technology designed to protect buildings from these climate-related challenges.

Roads turned into rivers, and cellars were inundated: In recent weeks, Germany has experienced massive rainfall and flooding, resulting in devastating damage worth billions of euros. However, an invention from the University of Stuttgart could prevent such destruction in the future. HydroSKIN, a revolutionary facade technology developed by the Collaborative Research Center “Adaptive Shells and Structures for the Built Environment of the Future,” has the potential to protect buildings and cities worldwide from heavy rain and heat.

Innovative Lightweight Facade Elements for Sustainable Cooling and Flood Prevention

The lightweight facade elements, composed of multiple layers of textiles and membranes, absorb rainwater, alleviating the drainage system and preventing flooding. During hot days, the moistened textile facade cools the building and urban environment sustainably through evaporation, eliminating the need for air conditioning. Their low weight allows for easy installation on both new and existing buildings, available in a variety of designs. Additionally, the textiles are 100% recyclable and made from PET bottle waste.

Since 2022, researchers at the University of Stuttgart have been investigating how facades behave in heavy rain and extreme heat.

“The HydroSKIN facade can absorb more than twice as much rainwater as a roof of the same size on the same building,” explains Christina Eisenbarth, who invented and developed HydroSKIN during her doctoral thesis at the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design. “This helps to reduce the so-called surface runoff – rainwater that runs directly into the drainage system from asphalt and concrete surfaces and causes flooding when the absorption capacity is exceeded – by as much as 54 percent. And that is if only a quarter of a building facade is fitted with HydroSKIN.”

The “excess water” is directed from the facade into the building interior, where it can be used for the washing machine, toilet flushing and plant irrigation, for example. This could save up to 46 percent fresh water in a residential building. “HydroSKIN is therefore more than just a facade – it makes an active contribution to environmental protection and resource conservation in our cities,” says Prof. Lucio Blandini, Head of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design and Deputy Spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1244.

Harnessing Natural Cooling Potential: HydroSKIN’s Impact on Urban Climate

On hot days, the HydroSKIN facade acts like a cool compress for a fever: HydroSKIN cools buildings and the urban space by utilizing natural evaporation processes. While normal building surfaces can reach temperatures of over 90 °C under the scorching summer sun, HydroSKIN reduces the surface temperature to as low as 17 °C. A single square meter of this facade can completely offset the heating of 1.8 square meters of concrete or 1.4 square meters of asphalt. “Imagine if this system was widely implemented, the red, glowing hot spots on a thermal imaging map of our cities would suddenly turn blue-green and cool again, all without losing precious urban building land,” explains Eisenbarth. The cooling capacity of the facade is impressive: 5.7 square meters of HydroSKIN cool as much as an air conditioning system – which also saves energy costs.

“We are working tirelessly to implement this promising technology into construction practices as quickly as possible, aiming to better prepare our built environment for future heavy rainfall events,” says Eisenbarth. “HydroSKIN has been part of the start-up portfolio at the Technologie-Transfer-Initiative GmbH of the University of Stuttgart for over a year, and we are highly motivated to implement our first projects.”

“Two floors featuring the HydroSKIN facade will be constructed on the D1244 demonstrator high-rise this year, to show how conventional facades can be retrofitted with lightweight HydroSKIN elements and showcasing the resulting architectural potential,” explains Dr. Walter Haase, an aerospace engineer involved in the project and Managing Director of the CRC 1244 at the University of Stuttgart.

Research into the technology will continue in parallel.

“In our Collaborative Research Center, we aim to thoroughly investigate the global applicability of HydroSKIN technology across various climate zones and its interaction with various existing buildings in the future,” says Prof. Oliver Sawodny, Head of the Institute of System Dynamics and spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center 1244.

Would you like to support the HydroSKIN research team? Then cast your vote by June 18. The project is among the 20 finalists in the Federal Environment Agency’s “Blue Compass” competition. You can vote online for “HydroSKIN – Building facade elements that protect against flooding and heat” free of charge and without any obligations.

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