Nice Shades: Bogotá School is Clad in a 'WonderFrame'

The sun shade panels use William McDonough's WonderFrame technology.

EAN exterior corner view


American architect William McDonough, co-author of the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy and a green building pioneer, completed "Project Legacy" for Universidad EAN in Bogotá, Colombia. The 20,000-square-meter academic building features a space-frame-like installation, according to William McDonough + Partners.

A press release by William McDonough + Partners notes:

"Standing as a new icon for the city, and a beacon of sustainability in the Americas, the University’s new center for technology and entrepreneurship was created through regenerative, circular economy-inspired innovations in architecture and construction, materials sourcing, and collaborations across the country."
view above trees


In 2002, McDonough co-authored "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things." In an interview, he told Treehugger's Michael Graham Richard that the "remaking" part of the title was translated into Chinese as “The Design of the Circular Economy.” These days, the circular economy is taught in schools, including this one.

“We designed this school to be like a living, breathing organism, native to and a part of its environment," McDonough said in a press release about the Colombian building. "The design elements that make up the building mirror the ambitions of the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs learning how to design and execute business plans guided by Cradle to Cradle and the Circular Economy. What an astonishing privilege to have a building that embodies the principles of the actual pedagogy that is taught in the university’s curriculum.” 

Bogotá has a lovely oceanic climate and a temperature that is almost always between 46 degrees and 66 degrees, so natural ventilation makes a lot of sense. It is promoted by the local Green Building Council as part of LEED.

Cristina Gamboa, CEO of Colombia GBC explains that "natural ventilation systems are widely used and very suitable for building projects in Colombia, due to our location in the tropics and the mild and fairly constant temperatures and weather conditions we experience throughout the year." 

space frame window covering


But then you have to keep out the sun, so McDonough has developed a brise soliel system for the exterior. It is a form of space frame that he has branded WonderFrame—a trademark of McDonough Innovation, LLC.

Space frame looking up


It's described as "a  perpetually reusable and/or recyclable space-frame-like installation devised by William McDonough. Constructed by a local Hunter Douglas factory, the UEAN WonderFrame is a  modular, multi-functional building system designed for quick assembly and constructed of commonly available materials. The metal frame is clad with multi-colored perforated panels,  metaphorically invoking tree leaves."

window detail


It does an effective job of shading the building while permitting natural ventilation. Air is admitted through filtered grills above the windows and exhausted inside via solar chimneys: "The technique sharply reduces  the need for mechanical ventilation, and together with the window glazing, is responsible for  nearly 40% of the anticipated 575 MWh annual energy savings."

interior open office


One problem with the natural ventilation of buildings is the quality of the outdoor air. According to IQAir, Bogotá has moderately good air thanks to its altitude and winds but suffers from lots of automobile exhaust. IQAir notes: "There are large numbers of cars and trucks on the road, many with extremely outdated engines running on diesel fuel that would be spewing out higher amounts of pollution."

This is one reason that natural ventilation of buildings, which a decade or so ago was considered to be the future, has fallen out of favor. If McDonough has developed a WonderWall with filters that admits enough air for natural ventilation, then that deserves a trademark.

The project was also "an exercise in Circular Economy thinking throughout the construction process," as 99% of the construction debris from removing the existing building was diverted from landfills and reused. “Instead of spending $80,000 in disposal fees, we received $55,000 for our residue,” said Miguel Orejuela Duarte, the project leader for  Universidad EAN. 

Office interior


Treehugger has been running posts with "Nice Shades" in the title for years, promoting the idea of stopping solar heat gain before it gets into buildings instead of electrically removing it after. Brise Soliel were common in modern architecture before air conditioning became common and it became cheaper just to cool it mechanically. Even where air conditioning is required because of temperature, humidity or air quality, they still make sense, so I hope we see a lot more of this WonderFrame and other systems like it.