Dezeen Magazine

Exterior of Houston building

Modu clads Houston building with "self-cooling" exterior

Brooklyn-based studio Modu has employed a series of techniques that lower ambient air temperature in order to help cool the interior and exterior of this Houston building.

Modu inserted pocket gardens, vertical fins, trellises and fluted concrete walls along the length of the exterior in order to create "outdoor comfort" and reduce Houston heat.

A white exterior with vertical fins and trellis
Modu has created a "self-cooling" exterior for an office building in Houston

The Promenade building is a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 square metre) centre which will host wellness and health clients throughout several offices.

Each tenant will be provided with both an interior and exterior space.

A building with a trellis attached over an exterior walkway
The studio employed several techniques to cool the ambient air around the building

"Houston is a very hot climate with a lot of rain," Modu founding director Phu Hoang told Dezeen. "So what we were trying to do is to think about how you can design for that climate and specifically, an idea of designing to lower the heat of the air that's around the building."

"In hot climates like that, if you can lower the air temperature, then it would require less air conditioning because the air around the building is cooler."

White building with pocket gardens
Pocket gardens create shade and outdoor space for tenants

Modu used a series of cooling techniques in order to achieve this effect. This included adding a fluted concrete exterior in accordance with the building's sun exposure.

"The self-cooling concrete walls are cast with patterns that, when passed over by the wind, dissipate solar heat more quickly," said the team.

According to the studio, this pattern can reduce the temperature of the walls by up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit (7.7 Celsius).

A building with vertical fins
Vertical fins create shading on the west-facing facade

In addition to the concrete walls, the studio created several pocket gardens along the exterior that act as outdoor space for each tenant while also creating shaded alcoves.

"The idea is to provide opportunities in thresholds between inside and outside that people would want to spend more time in," said Hoang.

"We actually pushed the wall in to create the space for these green thresholds that had gardens. These are the spaces that were designed for outdoor comfort."

Large glass doors
Some fins are enclosed in climbing cages for plants to grow on

Each garden features species from a different local ecology in order to create a "multi-sensory" experience for passersby, including a Texas rock garden, a tall grass garden, a pollinator garden and a desert garden. A bamboo grove will also provide additional shade.

Vertical fins distributed along the facade also help to cool the exterior, with some covered by planting screens that will eventually host climbing Jasmine and other plants.

The fins are meant to create shade on the west-facing facade and some feature climbing cages for plants.

Signage will also be placed on the fins as a "vertical element for a horizontal building", according to Hoang.

Fluted concrete walls
Fluted concrete walls cool the exterior as the wind passes over the textured material

A horizontal trellis at the building's end also cools an exterior passageway.

Modu is an interdisciplinary design studio founded in 2012 by Rachely Rotem and Phu Hoang. The studio focuses on work at the intersection of design, ecology and research.

Dezeen included other projects that seek to mitigate heat in this round-up, including reflective paint and water-filled windows.

The photography is by Leonid Furmansky and Naho Kubota

Project credits:
Architect: Modu
Project team: Phu Hoang, Rachely Rotem, Tom Sterling, Brenda Lim
Developer: Anh Gip
Climate engineering firm: TransSolar
Local architect: Identity Architects
Local landscape: Kudela & Weinheimer
Structural engineer: CJG Engineers
MEP: ASEI Engineering
Civil engineer: ALJ Lindsey

More images

Modu site plan drawing
Modu plan drawing
Diagram of cooling techniques
Indoor/outdoor wall section
Facade cooling studies
Material study
Planting diagram
Planting microclimates diagram
Overhanging trellis
A building with concrete wall exterior
A curved trellis
Tall floor to ceiling windows
Doors and windows
A small garden