Facade Design, Explained


Designing a façade is a process that involves many iterations and a flow of ideas – adding, subtracting, refining, and blending. The design is influenced by site history, landscape forms, proportion, rhythm, precedent ideas from other projects, material availability, and cost (from materials to labor).  Digging into the available site and context history we pull out the meanings hidden in the landscape, the people, the client, and the purpose. Then we follow the leads.

At Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, MA, our research revealed the geomorphology of the site. The location of ledge, wetlands, and water table height drove the siting of the building and really shaped the project. The study of scientific drawings illustrating the way ledge forms and moves influenced the desire to create a masonry façade which relates to the geology and landscape in which it sits, thereby grounding the design in its site.

The geologic influenced masonry pattern we developed for the façade parallels the movement and growth of students throughout their years spent in the building. Material constraints and opportunities influenced patterning, proportion, and rhythm. The masonry pattern was designed to start small on the lower school wing (grades k-6), and grow on the upper school wing (grades 7-12). The 8”x16” unit of the masonry allowed the design to have smaller imagery fit into a larger pattern (like pixels), yielding different perceptions from afar, than up close.

Original sketch - tamar.png

In short, the design process looks like this:

  1. Create a 3D massing of the building (See concept sketch above)
  2. Research and study the site context and landscape
  3. Assemble sources of influence and inspiration outside of architecture (geomorphology, for example)
  4. Define budget constraints and material options are narrowed (certain trades may be more cost effective in certain regions, for example)
  5. Assemble architectural precedents ideas for inspiration
  6. Develop a concept, a story
  7. Illustrate the main facades
  8. Present the initial concept to the client with design options
  9. Respond to feedback from the client, refine, and apply the developed concept throughout the building’s elevations

Below are some examples of our design process for Atlantis Charter School, from the inspiration images to the many iterations we went through to arrive at the final design. There are lots of options for mixing and matching colors and patterns. The last images are of the final renders and the built result.

Facadedesign-history-allprocess Page 001

Facadedesign-history-allprocess Page 002

Testing colors and patterns

Facadedesign-history-allprocess Page 003

As we narrowed in on a pattern, we played with color options

Facade design

Here is the final design rendering


The courtyard after a storm


Upper School on left, Lower School on the right, in construction


Some link the pattern to the surrounding treeline. It’s a versatile concept!


The unit “pixels” echo the variable cloud formations


Upper School Entry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s