With its combination of warm temperatures, low humidity, bright sun, and vulnerability to earthquakes and fires, Southern California presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges to facade designers and builders. “It’s way more forgiving here than in most places,” said Larry Scarpa, principal at Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa. “I’ve been on design reviews in various parts of the country where you have to do things much differently with the building envelope. In Southern California you have a lot of freedom to explore things that you don’t in other parts of the world.” Scarpa and other AEC industry movers and shakers will gather in early February at Facades+ LA to discuss possibilities and trends in building envelope design, both in Los Angeles and beyond.
Scarpa, who will deliver the afternoon keynote at the Facades+ conference series’ Southern California debut, says that Los Angeles’ temperate climate allows architects to simplify building envelopes, shifting resources from insulation and humidity control to lighting and materials. “Condensation is a big concern, but it’s less of an issue here,” he explained. “Generally speaking, we can be a lot less high tech with the actual wall construction. We then tend to spread it out: you still make it perform, but in a way where it’s more like a rain screen.” Southern California architects need not incorporate large thermal cavities, as at Herzog & de Meuron‘s Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis. The attendant freedom “becomes a way to deal with light in a much more significant way—how facades harvest light, or shade the building, or how you can make them function as public or private,” said Scarpa.
Brooks + Scarpa also use the flexibility engendered by their location to experiment with materials. “The materiality is a big thing for us,” explained Scarpa. “We tend to use a lot of non-traditional building materials.” The firm’s Broadway Housing project, for instance, features a building skin partially clad with building blocks made from recycled aluminum cans. Benchmark Builders Showroom similarly incorporates an outer wall constructed from industrial brooms. “Because we have a certain amount of freedom here, we look to use ordinary materials in a way we’re not used to seeing them,” said Scarpa.
Of course, Los Angeles is not all sunshine. Multiple active earthquake faults in the region place constraints on architects and builders. Earthquake codes require particular structural systems, which in turn impact the buildings’ facades. “You wind up with large amounts of columns or moment frames. If you have glass or curtain walls, they’re going to be exposed—you’re going to see it. It’s very hard to conceal it in a wall.”
To learn more about designing and building high performance facades in Southern California and worldwide, register now for Facades+ LA. More information, including a list of speakers and the complete lineup of hands-on dialog and tech workshops, can be found on the conference website.