KPF architect Shawn Duffy examines trends in London facade design

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Shawn Duffy and other facades experts will discuss London building trends at Facades+NYC. (Davide D'Amico / Flickr)

Shawn Duffy and other facades experts will discuss London building trends at Facades+NYC. (Davide D’Amico / Flickr)

A specialist in large-scale projects with over 20 years of experience, Kohn Pedersen Fox principal Shawn Duffy is a keen observer of trends in London‘s commercial and residential building markets.

Next month, Duffy—who served as managing principal on Aykon Nine Elms and One Nine Elms—joins BuroHappold Engineering‘s Jonathan Sakula in a panel on “London Calling: The Bold New Face of the UK” at the Facades+ NYC conference.

With respect to commercial developments, observed Duffy, one contemporary preoccupation is how to improve the adaptability of the facade by the occupants. “Most often the outer layer of skin simply wraps a traditional sealed curtain wall with no operable panels,” he said. “The control of the blinds in the ventilated cavity is done by a central computer system concerned mainly with reducing heat gain, leaving little or no individual control over daylighting and glare.” Duffy anticipates an increased focus on how to enhance the comfort of individual users without sacrificing overall sustainability goals. “The challenge will be balancing the conflicting issues of natural ventilation and noise, daylighting and glare, fresh air and reduction in mechanical loads,” he said.

Renzo Piano's Central St. Giles mixed-use development. (Rick Ligthelm / Flickr)

Renzo Piano’s Central St. Giles mixed-use development. (Rick Ligthelm / Flickr)

On London’s residential construction scene, meanwhile, one challenge is the fact that “facades in both tower and low rise construction require solid building materials—aesthetically, so they don’t look like office buildings, and in increasing percentages, technically, in order to meet the stringent facade performance requirements,” explained Duffy. Because materials including brick and stone are so expensive, architects are often left few options for cladding other than metal or concrete-composite panels. The situation may soon change for the better, however. “The use of prefabricated, fully glazed facade panels is increasing,” said Duffy. “The benefits of improved quality control in finishes and reduced fabrication/construction time is offsetting the increased cost of quality materials, creating better looking and performing residential facades.”

Albion Riverside apartments, designed by Foster + Partners. (Rick Ligthelm / Flickr)

Albion Riverside apartments, designed by Foster + Partners. (Rick Ligthelm / Flickr)

High performance building envelopes have the potential to help mitigate some of London’s most pressing concerns, including energy waste. At present, London’s commercial market  remains fixated on floor to ceiling glass. “The value of extensive glass facades to office developers and occupiers looks likely to continue as a main driver of office facade design,” said Duffy. But a growing emphasis on environmental performance will eventually privilege more solid surfaces, he predicted. “We will then see more commercial buildings turning the amount and type of glazing to the orientation of the facades, the existing and future context, and the types of spaces within.”

Learn more about the cutting edge in facade design and fabrication in London, New York, and beyond at Facades+ NYC April 21-22. For a full agenda and to register, see the conference website.

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