More Than Skin Deep

The 2019 Facades+ Conference in Los Angeles discussed high-performance envelopes in depth

MVRDV’s Crystal Houses facade is designed to appear like the brickwork common to buildings in its area of Amsterdam using exclusively transparent materials. (Courtesy MVRDV)
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Now in its seventh year, the Facades+ Conference in Los Angeles was held on November 14 in the California Ballroom of the L.A. Grand Hotel and offered a wide range of lectures, symposia and networking opportunities for top professionals from the worlds of design, fabrication and construction. The subjects addressed over the course of the conference were sprawling to suit a wide range of interests yet unwaveringly focused on the importance of high-performance envelopes in the growth of cities, civic pride, and the reduction of the industry’s carbon footprint.

A concrete concert hall with solid windowless forms

Michel Rojkind’s Foro Boca concert hall was constructed by a team of local dedicated craftsman. (Courtesy Rojkind Arquitectos)

The day began with an opening keynote lecture from Fokke Moerel, a partner at Dutch firm MVRDV, whose personal focus is on global public and cultural works, transformations, and interior design. Moerel’s lecture, The Skin is the Message, elaborated on the unique challenges the firm has met developing unique facades in the pursuit of uncompromised architectural expression. Crystal Houses, for instance, featured an entirely transparent ground-floor glass facade made to appear like the brickwork common of buildings in its area of Amsterdam. By developing a novel technique for combining glass bricks, glass window frames, and glass architraves, the firm challenged the structural and aesthetic limits often assumed of the materials to “offer the store a window surface that contemporary stores need, while maintaining architectural character and individuality, resulting in a flagship store that hopes to stand out among the rest.”

Moerel then highlighted the luxurious facade of the Bulgari flagship store MVRDV designed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was developed in collaboration with Technical University Delft, with Tensoforma as the facade production team. To achieve the illusion of overscaled marble, Glass-Reinforced Concrete (GRC) was cut into a marble-like pattern, with its crevices filled in with resin and illuminated with LEDs. After her lecture, AN executive editor Matt Shaw joined Moerel on stage to moderate a discussion on the relationship between criticality and sense of humor present in the firm’s facade designs.

A four-person panel, Reducing the City’s Carbon Footprint through Facade Design, elaborated on the role high-performance envelopes can play in the global initiative to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions. Given that the global building floor area is expected to grow to approximately two-and-a-half trillion square feet by 2060, more than double the current worldwide building stock, Fabian Kremkus of CO Architects advised members of the audience to “be willing to learn and get into the science” of sustainable construction techniques. The moderated conversation that followed considered how building manufacturers could develop methods that reduce material extraction, site demolition, manufacturing emissions, and the need for active heating and cooling within large-scale buildings.

Michel Rojkind provided the afternoon keynote speech titled Transmutation: From Digital Design to Local Fabrication. “Where does craft sit in a world,” Rojkind asked the audience, “ruled by technology, and where digitized, mechanized fabrication is becoming more sophisticated?” He then elaborated on how he has employed hand craftsmanship “to slow things down” in his own practice, most notably with the Foro Boca concert hall in Veracruz, Mexico. Using a concrete facade “able to withstand and respond to the harsh conditions of the site,” the concert hall was constructed by a team of local dedicated craftsman.

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