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Hello Neigh-bor

The Longchamp Racecourse goes for the gold with a metallic facade
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In 2011, Dominique Perrault Architecture (DPA) was chosen by France Galop, the governing body of horse racing in France, to redesign and modernize Paris’s venerable Longchamp Racecourse. Located in the city’s second largest park, Bois de Boulogne, the design of the 160,000-square-foot project seeks to connect to the surrounding landscape—the racecourse’s most prestigious events occur during the fall—with a luminous gold-yellow aluminum and steel facade. Construction of the project was completed in January 2018.
  • Facade Manufacturer GKD (metal mesh), Saint Gobain (glazing), LCD Pose (mesh frames),          Bysteel
  • Architects Dominique Perrault Architecture
  • Facade Installer Bouygues Bâtiments Ile-de-France Ouvrages Publics, Bysteels (curtain walls)
  • Facade Consultants Terrell Group
  • Location Paris, France
  • Date of Completion January 2018
  • System Metal and glass curtain wall
  • Products GKD AISI Type 316 SS,SGG PLANITHERM XN thermal comfort double glazing on SGG DIAMANT extra-light glass, LCD Pose mesh frames
Opened to the public in 1857 as part of Haussmann’s civic improvement schemes, the Longchamp Racecourse has undergone significant transformations over the course of its century-and-a-half existence, including the destruction of two historic grandstands in favor of mid-century concrete pavilions that dwarfed their surroundings. DPA's update stripped away these bare concrete additions, built a new 10,000-person capacity grandstand, and restored surrounding historic structures, with the goal of boosting year-round use of the facility and its overall cohesion with the surrounding city. The new 525-foot-long grandstand has a polished golden hue, which contrasts with the bright white coloring of adjacent historic structures. Aluminum and steel in a variety of treatments and configurations clad a steel and concrete structural system. For the curtain wall, DPA opted for sliding, 10-foot tall stainless steel mesh panels stretched within a frame by a simple pin and rod mechanism. Produced by metal fabrics manufacturer GKD and framed by LCD Pose, the operable panels are a subtle kinetic element that facilitates natural ventilation and light filtration. An aluminum rainscreen, produced and installed by Bysteel, courses across the complex in flat rectangular panels to create a protruding chevron frieze. Below the cantilevered top balcony, the iridescent cladding serves as a semi-reflective soffit that distorts the scene below. Glass panels, measuring approximately six feet in width and four feet in height, line the grandstand as a semi-translucent balustrade. To ensure visibility of the racetrack for the audience, glass manufacturer and glaze specialist Saint Gobain provided low-iron SGG Diamant panels, facilitating greater light transmittance and minimal green tint. The panels were screen printed with pixelated patterns evoking foliage across the facade. The massing of the grandstand is meant to represent the motion of a galloping horse: the top floor dramatically cantilevers 65 feet over a steel-and-concrete console and inclines toward the adjacent racecourse. With open-ended terraces—referred to as "transparent shelves" by DPA—and a design that faces outward, the crowd is afforded vistas of the stables below and the city beyond.
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The Future of Retail?

Amazon is bringing its seamless automated grocery store to New York
Imagine a world where artificial intelligence tracks your every movement. A world where buildings have minds of their own, learning your behaviors, and collecting data from you as you come and go. While existing technology has not yet reached sci-fi levels, a visit to an Amazon Go grocery store can offer you a peek into this possible future of retail design. This week Amazon announced its plans to open a new store in New York, the first of its kind on the East Coast, before opening nearly 3,000 more nationwide by 2021. The company has already built out six Amazon Go stores in Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. The cutting-edge stores, as shown within its first locations, are characterized by visual simplicity, clarity, and hyper-functionality. Through the stores' structural elements, including minimalistic facades, geometric configurations, and exposed raw materials, such as wood veneer and polished concrete, the interiors assume an industrial feel. They feature muted colors and black merchandise racks that give the stores a clean appearance as well. Meanwhile, ceiling cameras monitor shoppers as they wander through the aisles. The stores are unique in that they are void of cashiers, cash registers, and self-service checkout stands. Customers only need to walk in, take what they need, and leave. As they swing through the turnstiles on their way out, Amazon automatically bills their credit cards. Within minutes, a receipt is sent to the Amazon app, giving customers a summary of what they bought, what they paid, and the exact amount of time they spent in the store. The stores, which depend on highly sophisticated image recognition software and artificial intelligence to function, are expected to drastically transform the retail experience in unexpected ways. Amazon began working on retail stores five years ago with the goal of eliminating consumer criticisms and complaints, such as struggling to find products and waiting in long lines. Since the first Amazon Go store opened last January in Seattle, it has received tremendous praise and success. According to CNN, highly automated retail stores like Amazon Go are expected to become the norm within as little as 10 to 15 years. Research has shown that up to 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk of automation in the next decade, which will save retailers money on labor, as well as boost profits, but obviously cost retail workers their livelihood. Automated stores can facilitate the ordering and restocking process as cameras and AI track inventory in real-time. The removal of cash registers provides more space for inventory. Customer data can also be uploaded to the servers of each building, where retailers can present them with personalized discounts, offers, and other incentives. While Amazon has confirmed plans to open an Amazon Go store in New York, its location has yet to be determined.
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Nice to Meat You

Raw facade hardware gets spotlit in this flagship in New York's Meatpacking District
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Since the construction of the High Line’s first section in 2009, Manhattan’s Meatpacking District has undergone a dramatic transformation from a declining industrial district to a burgeoning site of development attracting leading national and international firms. Now, California’s Backen & Gillam Architects has stamped its presence in the neighborhood with a modern aluminum-and-glass screen wall inserted atop a restored historic reddish-brown brick warehouse.
  • Facade Manufacturer Ahlborn Structural Steel, Inc
  • Architects Backen & Gillam Architects
  • Facade Installer Steadfast Development & Construction
  • Facade Consultants Jacqueline Pue-Duvallon Historic Preservation Consulting
  • Location New York
  • Date of Completion 2018
  • System Pre-fabricated aluminum screen wall
  • Products Custom-designed black aluminum frames
Located on the corner of Little West 12th Street and 9th Avenue, the nearly 100,000-square-foot project for the retailer formerly known as Restoration Hardware, now known as RH, is within the stringently-protected Gansevoort Market Historic District. The building itself was constructed over a century ago as a retail warehouse, and ultimately transformed into a garage for the renowned Astor family. For project lead Jim Gillam, the constraints set by the Landmarks Preservation Commission pushed the design team to draw upon the neighborhood’s prevailing historical elements: the bolts, splices, and rivet patterns found on steel and cast-iron awnings, as well as elevated infrastructure. The new black aluminum frames primarily consist of a set of prefabricated components. Each frame is composed of two aluminum cross braces which are fitted to a set of turnbuckles, allowing for the adjustment of tension across the screen wall. T-frames studded with bolts are the primary vertical and horizontal elements of the screen wall. These can be split into two categories: structural members that run the length of the elevation and drive into the building below, and beams supporting the overall rigidity of the frame. This entire system is connected to an array of vertical mullions through existing steel brackets and a new screen wall connector. For the project, Backen & Gillam worked closely with the manufacturer, Ahlborn Structural Steel, to produce a kit of parts that was easy to assemble on site. Every component shipped from Santa Rosa, California, was designed as a three-piece unit set to maximize space on the convoy of flatbed trucks that carted them across the country. Each aspect of the screen wall, down to the bolts, were numbered and classified to ease their installation. In total, the design and construction teams were able to erect the entire addition in approximately two weeks. Gillam's interior spaces maintain the structure's historical bones while providing room to breathe for the new. The central and defining moment of the internal spaces is the light-filled, six-story atrium extending the full height of the complex, with successive rows of fluted Corinthian columns bordering aluminum-and-glass balconies.
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Sandu Attitude

The Shui Cultural Center connects to traditional life through copper and concrete
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Opened to the public in December 2017, West-Line Studio’s Shui Cultural Center is an imposing complex located in a valley within China’s rugged Sandu Shui Autonomous County. The complex, consisting of three single-gabled halls and a monumental tower, is a formidable display of timber-pressed concrete covered in pitched copper plates.
  • Facade Manufacturer Changsha Di Kai Construction Engineering Co., Chongqing Zhongbo Energy Conservation Glass Co.
  • Architects West-Line Studio. Lead Architects—Haobo Wei, Jingsong Xie. Architecture and Landscape Design–Hanmin Dan, Yudan Luo. Interior Design–Martina Muratori
  • Facade Installer Changsha Di Kai Construction Engineering Co., Ltd
  • Facade Consultants Changsha Di Kai Construction Engineering Co., Ltd
  • Location Sandu County, Guizhou, China
  • Date of Completion December 2017
  • System Concrete system clad in copper panels and glass
  • Products Custom made double-sided copper plates, and glass
The Shui people, concentrated in the county and the larger Guizhou province, are a distinct ethnic minority with a unique language and logographic writing system. For West-Line Studio, the project was an ambitious attempt to translate local customs into a cohesive design for a cultural center campus nearing 150,000 square feet. Placed atop an expansive concrete podium, the halls are of varying size, height, and function. They are unified by relatively hidden wall openings and approximately 4,000 perforated copper cladding panels. Each half-inch-thick panel, measuring four by two feet, was subjected to a multi-stepped anodizing process to overcome corrosion in the acid rain–drenched province and to boost iridescence. The perforations, numbering just under 50,000 in total, fulfill three functions. Structurally, gaps in the copper plate significantly reduce the dead load placed on cantilevered concrete trusses and the screen wall fastening system, composed of galvanized steel corners, sheets, and expansion-and-burst bolts. Aesthetically, the perforations create a patterned brise-soleil for the halls’ east and west elevations, filtering light through the narrow, rectangular glass panes that line the hall. Symbolically, the gaps are a nod to the Shui character for rain, which consists of tiered vertical bands. The interiors of the complex, marked by exposed concrete structural systems, are imprinted by the surrounding landscape through the use of pine panel-formed concrete. Sandu, relatively isolated from the country’s principal economic centers, is known for its dense Huashan pine and Chinese fir forests. The concrete detail effectively softens what could be considered an ominous space, transforming them into grey, oversized versions of the region’s traditional timber vernacular forms. The triple-glazed glass panels, produced 350 miles north in the megalopolis of Chongqing, largely insulate and guard the complex from the elements. However, West-Line Studio inserted two details that add color and symbolic depth to the cultural center. In the complex's ritual hall, glass panels are dyed to resemble typical batik tapestry patterns, blanketing the concrete walls and flooring with ever-changing color. Additionally, box-like concrete appendages marked with traditional Shui logographic characters protrude from this same hall. With a glance of sunlight, the characters are beamed downward, further tying the symbolic and material. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the cladding panels as being made of bronze rather than copper.
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Brick Breaker

Brixels open up new possibilities for kinetic facades
New York–based multi-disciplinary studio, BREAKFAST, has unveiled a groundbreaking kinetic facade product dubbed "Brixels." The use of kinetic panels for facade and interior design has rapidly grown in popularity both domestically and abroad recently, animating visuals and opening new paths for natural ventilation. Each display is composed of an array of brick-sized pieces that are fully customizable in terms of massing, material, and finish. Through a central cavity, each individual piece is latched onto a central support shaft, which allows the objects to rotate in either direction. At the base of each central support shaft, BREAKFAST has inserted a series of printed circuit boards that are in turn connected to a Linux control computer. Through visual sensors, the installations can track and respond to adjacent physical movement or can be controlled directly through a web-based application. The multidisciplinary studio tested out their new technology with the 19-foot wide by 6-foot tall installation dubbed Brixel Mirror. Made of polished aluminum and matte-black steel, the pieces are capable of achieving 60 rpm via an app or one-on-one control. While Brixel Mirror is the most significant application of the technology-embedded material to date, Andrew Zolty, BREAKFAST’s co-founder and head of design, has big ambitions for the product. According to Zolty, the customizability of the interactive blocks allows them “to become part of the space, rather than an add-on, used to outfit or become interior walls, room dividers, fences, railings, or even building facades.” Brixels have been tested to withstand the elements outdoors; a building can be entirely clad in sprawling, perpetually moving paneling.
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Let me tallinn you something

An Estonian office block receives a splash of color with an aluminum mesh facade
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Estonia-based architectural practice molumba has enlivened a suburban office block with a unique concrete and aluminum screen assembly. The project was commissioned by AS Elering—the nation’s largest transmission systems operator for electricity and natural gas—as a dramatic, three-fold expansion of the preexisting structure in Mustamäe, a southwestern neighborhood in the nation’s capital of Tallinn.
  • Facade Manufacturer Metal-Disain Oü (metal sheets), Talot AS (concrete panels), JU-Metall Oü
  • Architects molumba, Eeoo Stuudio Oü (interior)
  • Facade Installer Oma Ehitaja
  • Facade Consultants Novarc
  • Location Tallinn, Estonia
  • Date of Completion 2018
  • System Steel frame with prefabricated concrete panels and metal sheets
  • Products Metal-Disain Oü PW keevisrest
Over 140 turquoise mesh piers ring and visually buttress each elevation, a play on historical castellation and Gothic design found throughout Tallinn’s Old Town. The piers are built of full-length aluminum strips measuring 12 to 41 feet, which are in turn welded to a series of connecting bars. Each pier possesses its own steel support structure consisting of two internal, vertical columns fastened to the welded connecting bars. The design of the complex references the spindly and bundled power line, a ubiquitous feature across urban landscapes. AS Elering operates a multi-acre electrical substation next door. According to design lead Karli Luik, molumba envisioned the project as “the brain of the electricity and gas transmission network, monitoring and administrating their vitally important circulation.” As a vitally important aspect of Estonia’s energy infrastructure, the entire 40,000 square-foot complex is ringed by a perimeter wall fashioned of the same turquoise aluminum screen. For molumba, the bigger question was how to give the mesh triangles a truly functional quality outside of their aesthetic elements. The two planes of the piers form an acute isosceles triangle: the two congruent sides measure just under four feet while the base is approximately three feet. This shorter edge is placed atop the building’s 20 by 10 foot black precast concrete panels and wedged between window openings. With a 41-degree circumcenter angle, the piers function as effective passive sun shades for office functions within. Additionally, the mesh frame serves as an industrially-produced lattice screen for future vegetative growth to coil up the facade. The interior, designed by Stuudio Oü, features a design that similarly echoes the building's utilitarian function. Spiraling stairwells, built of concrete and steel, vertically course through the east and west elevations of the headquarters, while exposed pipes, cables, and pendant lamps made of recycled insulators line the ceiling and walls. A central vegetated courtyard and a two-story, wood-paneled stairwell, with steps of varying size, are the office block's principal communal areas. At the core of it all lies the "Brain," where the nation's energy transmission network is surveilled through a hippodrome of monitors.
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Making Waves

The Global Hub's undulating facade turns toward Lake Michigan for inspiration
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The newest major addition to Northwestern University in Chicagoland, the 415,000 square-foot Kellogg School of Management’s Global Hub, establishes a formidable cornerstone for the campus’s border with Lake Michigan. KPMB Architects, a Toronto-based firm with a significant background in sustainable institutional design, addressed the region’s weather extremes with a well-executed layout and an undulating triple-glazed glass curtain wall.
  • Facade Manufacturer Guardian Glass, Interpane Glass, Coil (aluminum mullions), Bison (wood decking)
  • Architects KPMB Architects
  • Facade Installer Ventana Design-Build Systems, Power Construction
  • Facade Consultants Thornton Tomasetti
  • Location Evanston, Illinois
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System A concrete system with glass curtain wall panels
  • Products Guardian Glass SNR-43, Interpane Glass 46/31
According to Senior Associate Kevin Thomas, the first inspiration for the building’s six-story curvilinear form is the rolling movement stemming from the adjacent Lake Michigan. The nearby shoreline stabilization system, composed of boulders and precast concrete, has been consistently smoothed over by wave patterns. For KPMB, “the use of glass helps break down the mass of the large structure while maximizing visual connections to the adjacent lake and Chicago skyline." The 160,000 square-foot curtain wall is designed with horizontal and vertical anodized aluminum mullions, and a reflective glass coating. While sections of the facade are curved, the design team worked closely with the manufacturer to incorporate narrow curtain wall modules and vertical glass fins at every frame to blur hard edges. Each triple-glazed glass panel is tied to the structural frame with modified steel angles painted to match the curtain wall and aluminum anchor hooks. The result is a sweeping surface that simultaneously reflects other wings of the building and the ever-changing environmental conditions. Although glass panels of various sizes are the primary material element, KPMB Architects added certain details to diversify the dominating blue-green color palette. The elevations are unified by reddish-brown Brazilian walnut soffits that crest and wrap around the building. Brazilian walnut, a hardwood, was chosen for its durability and minimal maintenance. The Global Hub’s layout consists of four wings, perceived by the design team as independent buildings, rotating around a centrally placed atrium. Swooping white balconies, interconnected by pale-yellow wood bridges and an expansive two-story stairwell, are the main conduits of interior circulation. The glass curtain wall and a band of rooftop clerestories, clad with high-performance translucent glazing, flood the interior with natural light without significantly producing thermal heat. The project, part of KPMB Architects' long-running collaboration with Transsolar KlimaEngineering, was designed with a number of features to boost environmental performance. These measures include a geothermal energy system embedded beneath an adjacent football field, a ventilation system that circulates fresh air, and an automated shading system. In 2018, the Global Hub received LEED platinum certification.
 
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Creating Kultur

Herzog & de Meuron releases new renderings for Berlin's Museum of the 20th Century
Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron has released revised renderings for its four-story addition to Berlin's Kulturforum (Culture Forum) complex. The firm's winning entry for the Museum of the 20th Century, first revealed in 2016, is intended to increase gallery space for the Mies van der Rohe–designed Neue Nationalgalerie, store artworks, and connect the different cultural institutions in the area. The design is developed in collaboration with the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Berlin State Museums, and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The building nods to the nearby Matthew Church in both its materiality and form, with its pixelated brick patterning and a vernacular gabled roof profile. The design also references warehouses, barns, and train stations. News renderings show a building with distinct facades on each side and multiple entry points that open to different parts of the cultural complex and the city, with a central area for showcasing large-scale modernist art. The multiple-entry design also allows for events to take place in a screening theatre outside of regular museum hours. Overall, the museum demonstrates a decidedly urban ethos in fully embracing its surrounding context, from the architecture by van der Rohe and Hans Scharoun to much older structures. According to Jaques Herzog, "Our urban planning concept for the Kulturforum is a concept of density, not of emptiness. It organizes an interplay of buildings put into precise relation with each other, and it also initiates the interaction of the cultural institutions established in those buildings."
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Yucatán Believe It

The Palace for Mexican Music sings with local stone and dramatic steel ribs
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Completed in June 2018, the Palace for Mexican Music is a bold intervention in the heart of historic Mérida, Mexico, that establishes a relationship with the surrounding century-old architectural milieu through lightly detailed limestone and dramatic matte-black steel ribs. The design team consisted of four local practices: Alejandro Medina Arquitectura, Reyes Ríos + Larraín arquitectos, Muñoz Arquitectos, and Quesnel Arquitectos.
  • Facade Manufacturer Sistema Masa, WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV, PROSER, Mayabtun Marmoles
  • Architects Alejandro Medina Arquitectura, Reyes Ríos + Larraín arquitectos, Muñoz Arquitectos, and Quensel Arquitectos
  • Facade Installer WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV,
  • Facade Consultants WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV
  • Location Merida, Mexico
  • Date of Completion 2018
  • System Limestone slabs fastened with aluminum clip and rail system connected to the steel structure
  • Products PF-ALU-5800/60-GR-HPL60-ARTIC by Sistema Masa
The provincial capital of Mérida is located on the northern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula, a region noted for its distinct Mayan culture, and nearly two-thirds of the city’s population is indigenous. Mérida’s Spanish core consists of a broad range of colonial architecture built of locally sourced limestone, much of it ripped from Mayan structures. Seen from above, the nearly 100,000-square-foot Palace for Mexican Music is organized around a U-shaped courtyard, called the “Patio of Strings,” which faces the rear elevation of the four-century-old Church of the Third Order. A series of newly constructed alleyways rhythmically break the solid stone mass to provide routes of entry between the courtyard and the complex’s library, museum, and concert halls. Mayabtun Marmoles, a local stone supplier, harvested local Yucatán limestone, referred to as Crema Maya or Macedonia Limestone, for the project’s cladding and flooring. The panels, measuring 4 feet by 1.5 feet, are embellished with a polished or hammered finish. Each panel is fastened to the complex’s steel frame with aluminum holding brackets produced by Sistema Masa While the use of local building material is a direct visual nod to the physical character of the Centro Historico, the design team went a step further with the facades' stone and fenestration pattern. The vertical bands of stone are meant to serve as notational bars while the glass panels are notes from the popular Yucatan folk song, Esta Tarde Vi Llover. The 444 matte-black steel ribs are the defining element of the north elevation and courtyard. In both areas, the 30-foot hollow-steel ribs are fastened to an exterior rail that is in turn soldered to a series of corbels that protrude from the floor plates. Corridors within the courtyard are semi-open to the elements, wrapped by a glass balcony and sheltered by the stone-clad steel frame. To shield this area from sunlight, the steel ribs break into two planes, one vertical, the other slanted. For the four-firm team, the design of the Palace for Mexican Music is an attempt to "establish a new precedent for a public building to contribute to the revitalization of its surrounding space" through the use of contextual contemporary design and accessible public space. After a rigorous research and design process, their final execution has achieved that goal.  
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Clay Everywhere

Morris Adjmi gives classic New York terra-cotta cladding a modern twist
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Morris Adjmi Architects has just completed its wedge-shaped 363 Lafayette mixed-use development in New York City. The project is located in the heart of the NoHo Historic District, a context known for its mid-rise store-and-loft buildings clad in detailed cast iron and stone.
  • Facade Manufacturer Boston Valley Terracotta, Belden/Tristate Brick, Vitro Glass, Tristar Glass
  • Architects              Morris Adjmi Architects
  • Facade Installer PG New York (terra-cotta), IHR1 (brick), TriStar Glass
  • Facade Consultants Frank Seta & Associates
  • Location New York
  • Date of Completion Fall 2018
  • System Terracotta rainscreen on a frame wall system flanked by brick piers
  • Products Win-vent series 850 frames, Solarban z60 glass, custom-made rainscreen produced by Boston Valley Terra Cotta, and installed with TerraClad clip system
363 Lafayette’s site is prominent, with three visible elevations to the north, south, and west. The ground floor of the building is dedicated to commercial space and extends from Great Jones to Bond Street. Due to zoning and site constraints, the massing of the west facade is set back, with eight floors of office space rising midway through the elevation. The development’s facade is defined by horizontal and vertical bands of white brick, produced by Belden/Tristate Brick, which frame a charcoal-colored terra-cotta curtain wall. For the color scheme and materiality of 363 Lafayette, Morris Adjmi reinterpreted the area’s historically narrow terracotta mullions, window surrounds, and brick piers, into a much wider layout. Designed by the firm and crafted by Buffalo’s Boston Valley Terra Cotta (BVTC), the geometric pattern of the terra-cotta reliefs was conceived by the design team as an abstraction of neighboring Classical and Richardsonian Romanesque detailing. The custom-made terra-cotta rainscreen was installed on BVTC’s TerraClad clip system that attaches to a perimeter concrete beam and a medium-gauge framing wall. A series of gaskets and isolators allow the system to adjust to thermal expansion while reducing wind-induced vibration. Elongated rectangular windows, fabricated by TriStar with Win-Vent frames and Vitro Glass, are placed between chamfered terra-cotta mullions. Why does the building twist? Lafayette Street used to proceed north from Great Jones Street until the end of the 19th century when the street was excavated from the IRT subway. The excavation of the street led to the creation of odd-shaped sites, such as 363 Lafayette. According to the design team, “the building’s twist serves to reflect the cut of the street and to architecturally engage the setback with the lower portion of the building.”
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Second Skins

Morphosis founder Thom Mayne on the future of facades
From October 25 to October 26, The Architect's Newspaper is hosting its Facades+ conference in Los Angeles for the fourth year in a row. The conference features leading architects based in Los Angeles including Heather Roberge, principal and founder of Murmur Architects; Tammy Jow, associate director of AC Martin; Thom Mayne, founding principal of Morphosis Architects; and Stan Su, director of enclosure design at Morphosis Architects. To learn more about emerging facade technology, wider industry trends, and what's on the boards at Morphosis, AN sat down with Thom Mayne in the firm's New York office. The Architect's Newspaper: When did you start getting interested in facade innovation, and what do you find most interesting about it today? Thom Mayne: It started in the early 2000s; we were working on a project in Seoul, on the Sun Tower. We were investigating the possibility of a second skin, an artifact that was much more connected to an aesthetic formal exercise because it freed us of the norm of a window curtain wall and the whole notion of facade. We had a continuous surface and that allowed us a lot of freedom in a completely different direction. After that, we were working on the Caltrans project in Los Angeles and the General Services Administration (GSA) project in San Francisco. Both were very distinct projects that required real thinking on performance, using facade openings and scrim walls to take advantage of natural light and exterior temperature conditions. The whole thing became a huge exercise in environmental performance. We saw it as part of our responsibility to represent architecture within a state-of-the-art context in terms of its use of energy. It is not something we're focused on, but there's nothing that comes out of the office that doesn't require some level of environmental facade performance. When we opened the GSA building, Nancy Pelosi was there and she didn't like it. She likes Victorian architecture, and I said, “Nancy, actually this is how it works, and you have to understand its performance,” knowing that she’d agree that our values are parallel. In fact, that’s interesting too, that the average person relates to a building just in terms of its appearance. It's fairly straightforward. In reality, the skins had to do with weight and their ability to move and their technological performances. It wasn't about the metal; we didn't start it by wanting to do a metal building. It's a result. In terms of the metals, I think the Bloomberg Center at Cornell Tech was quite successful. We're experimenting with textures and imprints on metal, and in that case, it resulted in a set of random pieces and it looks like it's dynamic, in a perpetual state of movement based on the reflection of the sun. The facade’s 500,000 perforations are stationary, but if it looks like its moving, it’s moving. We used metal skins at Cornell Tech, but we are sort of done with the whole metal thing; we want to move on since people link us with metal buildings. What are you working on and what do you think we'll see in five years? TM: We are pursuing a couple other projects making the skin active and literally dynamic, which presents another set of possibilities. It just keeps changing the whole notion of facade. A large segment of the profession today is recognizing completely new opportunities. We really pushed environmental performance with our recent work, the Kolon One & Only Tower [in South Korea]. It's a state-of-the-art research and development center with a sophisticated west-facing fiber screen wall. We found much more aggressive subcontractors in Korea and China. Here [in the United States] they just think, “Haven't done it, can't do it.” Outside of the United States, contractors and clients are more willing to experiment with new materials and techniques? TM: It is really weird as we're still the wealthiest economy in the world; we're in a place that’s affecting architects for sure, but creating very timid architecture. You're staying competitive if you are creating intellectual capital. We couldn't have done it in the States or for an American client; it would’ve been too aggressive or too risky on their end. [The Kolon tower] was very much moving the ball forward just advancing kind of this notion. Again, it's this one single element, the exterior wrapper that you see in the work. Unlike other projects, we never set out to make a stainless steel building, even though it withstands weather and it'll be around in 100 years. The response [for Kolon] was to various performance demands. What it does is allow a completely different reading of the work because you get singularity of the surface. What facade and construction innovations do you think we’ll see in the forthcoming years? TM: Without question, there'll be a continuation of technologies that produce more efficient envelopes. New materials and increased performance characteristics will drive a lot of it. Design becomes less of a focus of your work. I would also question the question. I think today, there isn't a lot of attention to the future since it's hard enough to grasp the present. The whole idea of the future is also that it is kind of unknown. And the answer is, I don't know. At Cornell Tech’s Bloomberg Center, we were discussing where they are going with the program, and they responded, “We don’t know; we are going to put a biologist, a poet, and a mathematician together and invent projects.” And you go and talk to Google’s design group and ask what they are doing? Same thing, “I don’t know.” We are going to put certain people together and find something interesting. There's more of that process going on and it makes sense; continued thinking and progressions in material and integration. Construction techniques and the ways we build other large complex objects, such as automobiles, are open to significant investigation. Advances in prefabrication allow for the efficient mass production of “handmade” pieces and the continual reworking of materials. For certain contemporary projects, like Kolon One & Only Tower, to get the desired form, shaping, and performance of the facade components, metal is no longer as useful due to its heavy weight. That [investigation beyond metal cladding] is definitely going to continue as we expand our material language. As you work on certain projects within the studio, they take on their own life. So I already know we're interested in pursuing that again with a similar material and technology because it's going someplace that we couldn't in other work. It's giving us a very different look and a different direction at the same time. It's opening up coloration and a different palette, because we wore out metal. We have to say, “After number six or seven, let's move forward.” We're doing it differently because we have to do it differently. It's not that we couldn’t continue to do it in perpetuity, they're actually operational. It's more a desire for something new. You founded Morphosis in 1972 as an interdisciplinary practice. How have the firm’s artistic tangents informed your design projects? TM: As part of the visual culture, drawings, paintings, sculptures, objects of all types, including furniture, all share many types of connections in the design world and in their formal structures, and they're, to me, singular. The artistic tangents are dealing with organizational ideas, compositional ideas that feed directly into the work. If you can look at a lot of [our tangent projects], you're going to be able to see absolute connections between organizational strategy and material connections. It's all part of a visual world that interconnects—the drawings and the abstract work become precursors to the work itself, that is, the architecture. The different mediums allow you to explore different formal ideas free of contingency. It's free of the pragmatic forces whether it be functionalities or economics. It allows you to explore it as a pure idea, which is useful mentally. You need the freedom to explore ideas in a much purer kind of framework outside of contingency, because if there's anything difficult in architecture, it's the limits that restrain a certain amount of freedom necessary to explore an idea. But I would say on the other hand, those same limits are what architecture is about and are useful. It’s a balance between constraint that gives you clear focus on a problem and other constraints which are just annoying or which are just limiting. Going back to our earlier discussion of where certain things can take place, like we discussed with Kolon in Korea, I just need an environment that’s a little freer and open to just explore ideas. It's a constraint I need to remove. This other artistic work is just to think freely, but those ideas absolutely find their way into the work. They're absolutely interconnected. When I come back to my office this artwork is abstract urban design and the strategies of urban thinking. Further information regarding Facades+ LA can be found here.
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Fun Home

A playfully punctured aluminum skin enlivens this Danish school
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On the outskirts of Aarhus, Denmark, CEBRA–a multidisciplinary practice based in Denmark and Abu Dhabi–recently designed a 100,000 square-foot primary school embedded in a forested landscape and influenced by the local architectural vernacular. For the firm, the Skovbakke School is an expression of democratic architecture that engages and opens with the surrounding landscape and creates a multitude of experiences for the diverse student body.
  • Facade Manufacturer Alucoil, Moelven
  • Architects CEBRA
  • Facade Installer MT Højgaard Design & Engineering
  • Facade Consultants MT Højgaard Design & Engineering
  • Location Odder, Aarhus, Denmark
  • Date of Completion 2017
  • System Prefabricated aluminum cladding and wood paneling
  • Products Moelven ThermalWood, Icopal pitched roofing, Alcucoil Composite Aluminum Panels, Troldekt acoustical ceilings
According to CEBRA, the school ties itself to the town aesthetically through a diverse range of pitched roofs; the staggered gables break up the building's mass and extend to shield balconies from the elements with overhanging eaves. Balcony spaces, entrances, and portions of the interior are paneled with Moelven Thermowood. The school's structure is composed of pre-cast concrete walls and slabs. The exterior is largely clad with Alucoil’s prefabricated aluminum composite panels treated with grey, brown, and beige colors. The cladding is mounted on perforated aluminum profiles and fitted to the frames of windows and doors. Segments of color meet at sharp angles, mirroring the panoply of gables above. CEBRA opted for the facade's earthy tones "to reflect how the colors of the sky transform into the colors of the trees, mediating between the two primary elements surrounding the school." The Skovbakke School features physical activity areas in each classroom, fire access routes that double as tracks for exercise, and immediate access to the adjacent public park. Although the roofline possesses a number of peaks and valleys, the plan consists of “four offset fingers.” Circulation across the expansive layout is facilitated by a series of common spaces, notably a natural light-flooded central atrium. The core space is supported by a series of slender grey columns, allowing for a broad range of uses and internal configurations between. Offset stairwells and a wooden amphitheater ring the atrium, providing routes for circulation and a large area for gathering. Playfully arranged windows are scattered across the school’s facade and are paired with the function of individual classrooms and common areas. The seemingly random placement of windows, possible through the use of lightweight facade cladding, also provides lively animation to the complex’s courtyards, allowing multiple view lines between the exterior and interior spaces. Additionally, steel lattice girders allowed the design team to insert skylights across the complex's roofline, naturally illuminating interior classrooms and common areas. CEBRA views “the combination of high-and-low ceilinged, light and dim, small and large spaces,” as a vehicle for “the children to turn to different social situations–large assemblies, smaller groups or alone–depending on their needs and moods.”