The first-ever Los Angeles Facades + conference, organized by The Architect’s Newspaper and Enclos, held in the shadow of Bunker Hill’s glassy towers, showcased the city’s technical and creative talent while introducing participants to the building envelope field’s latest technologies and trends.
Keynote speaker James Carpenter set a sophisticated tone, showing off richly complex work that explores both the “cinematic” and “volumetric qualities of light.” His World Trade Center 7 base, he pointed out, uses a subtle shift in plane to create an ethereal glow, while another project for Gucci in Tokyo uses prismatic light to recreate the qualities of a Japanese lantern. Other highlights included his louvered Israel Museum and his new exploration of optical aluminum, thin glasses, and computer etched glass.
This look toward the future continued in the next panel, discussing “Net Zero and the Future Facade.” Panelist Russell Fortmeyer, from Arup, pointed out that by 2030 every building in California will have to be Net Zero, putting pressure on upcoming research. One way to achieve this, said fellow panelist Stephane Hoffman, of Morrison Hershfield, is through better use of computer performance models. Facades will also need to have the ability to change over time, noted Alex Korter of CO Architects.
This ability to change was discussed in detail by the next presenter, Ilaria Mazzoleni, whose talk on “Biomimetic Principles for Innovative Design” stressed natural systems’ ability to be both beautiful and extremely functional. Learning from natural skins, and their regulation of heat, humidity, and communication will help facade manufacturers reap dividends. One example: natural phase change materials, which are already using natural elements to store heat and cold inside building envelopes.
The Preservation and Performance Panel, while focused on historical structures, did not look backwards. Instead panelists discussed updating Modernist facades for present day conditions (including sustainability), while maintaining historic integrity. Historic properties like Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza and William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District building are being updated using sustainable materials and systems that bring the buildings into the 21st century.
Afternoon keynote speaker Larry Scarpa, of Brooks + Scarpa, acknowledged the need for high tech consultants, but stressed his role in combining simplicity and beauty. His firm has employed unusual, basic materials like crushed soda cans, wood shipping crates, and metal mesh to create fascinating patterns of surface subtlety and diffuse light.
On the other end of the spectrum, an excellent example of the future façade—Cornell’s Architecture hall by Morphosis— was discussed in the symposium’s technical panel. And an architect at Morphosis, Kerenza Harris, noted how on that project, and on their Emerson College in Los Angeles, computer technology allows them to keep every panel, every module, in exactly the right place. That means thousands of components; a feat of fabrication and organization that would never be possible without current technologies. Fellow panelist Bill Kreysler espoused the benefits of composite facades, which he said will one day revolutionize construction, without the burdens of studs, metal frames, or other commonplace fabrication components.
The look toward revolutionary technology reached its pinnacle with fabricator Andreas Froech’s panel on “Site Deployed Collaborative Bots.” Some day, he argued, programmable machinery and automated tooling, along with composite materials, will replace laborers and traditional materials. He pointed to the building of automobiles, which is already largely automated.
In order to move into this automated future, pointed out Walter P. Moore’s Sanjeev Tankha, in his discussion of engineering risk, data flow needs to become more seamless between programs like Rhino, Revit, and ultimately into live models. With all these systems of software, hardware, and knowledge in perfect position, and with standards like Net Zero enforced by local officials, the future of the façade looks to be exciting, and remarkably different. Some day, as Gerding Edlen’s Jill Sherman pointed out, Net Zero sustainably and effective performance modeling will be standard, not out of the ordinary. And futuristic facades will not be what participant Alvin Huang of Synthesis called “techno-fetish,” but smart and obligatory.