Thomas Phifer’s bespoke approach to facade design

Architecture East Facades+ News Sustainability
Corning Museum of Glass expansion. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

Corning Museum of Glass expansion. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

For Thomas Phifer, director of New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners, there is no one best way to design a high performance building envelope.

Madison House. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

Madison House. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

Phifer, whose recent work includes the Corning Museum of Glass expansion, will deliver the afternoon keynote address at next month’s Facades+NYC conference. “Each facade has to do with the particular spirit and ethos of the building,” said Phifer. “They each have a particular climate that they have to respond to; they each have a particular way of dealing with the context.”

As a result, he explained, the firm employs a wide array of materials, from large concrete blocks to reclaimed brick or window walls with exterior sunshades. “Our work doesn’t focus on one particular material or one attitude toward dealing with the environment,” explained Phifer. “We just take each particularity and put them together to try to make an enclosure.”

United States Courthouse, Salt Lake City. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

United States Courthouse, Salt Lake City. (Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners)

As an example, Phifer cited the United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City. “We wanted the building to be all about light, since light can foster that sense of enlightenment,” he said. The architects aimed to flood the building’s interior with natural daylight, moreover, “so that all of the occupants had a sense of the changing atmosphere of the day.” They designed a calibrated louver system for each facade to reduce the radiant heat entering the building while enhancing the building’s aesthetics. The shades were “developed in such a way that the louvers hold light,” said Phifer. “It’s not about reflection or absorption; [the facade] embodies light through the design of the micro-louver. It glows during the day with what turned out to be a kind of metaphor for enlightenment.”

To hear more about Phifer’s recently-completed and pending projects, and to catch up with other leaders in facade design and fabrication, register today for Facades+NYC.

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