Huge metallic mesh façade helps shield French theater from weather damage

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The Grand Théâtre d'Albi's mesh façade can be tightened or loosened in different places (Photo: Georges Fessy / DPA / Adagp.)

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Building façades are often designed solely with the intention of being aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes, though, their aim is to deliver a function on top of their form. The Grand Théâtre d'Albi has one such façade, designed to be both good looking and to provide some shelter from the elements.

The façade is a huge curved copper-colored metallic mesh that rises above the top half of the building and extends hangs most of the way down it. Building designers Dominique Perrault Architecture liken the cover to a theater drop curtain and say that it's aimed, in part, at softening the brick-covered concrete structure of the building itself.

It's also designed to protect the building from sunlight, heat, wind and rain. The mesh can be tightened or loosened in different places depending on what the space behind it requires. The mesh can be loosened in front of areas where the public gather, such as a bar for example, in order to let light in and provide views out of the building. In contrast, it might be woven tighter to hide structural walls.

The Grand Théâtre d'Albi sits on a site of 34,000 sq m (366,000 sq ft). It houses eight cinemas with a total capacity of around 1,500 seats and a 900 seat theater auditorium.

Other examples of buildings with a façade that's been designed with a functional purpose include the BIQ in Hamburg, with its electricity-generating algae. The Palazzo Italia in Milan, meanwhile, had an air-purifying façade fitted as part of the Milan Expo 2015. The façade of the Grand Théâtre d'Albi may not be quite as high-tech as those examples, but it's certainly compares with the stunning Palazzo Italia in terms of looks.

Design work on the building began in 2009 and construction started in 2010. The building opened to the public earlier this year.

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