On November 9, Facades+ is headed to Boston for a full-day conference. The conference features a range of facade specialists and manufacturers, ranging from stone fabricator Quarra Stone to Boston's very own designLAB Architects. Chris O'Hara, founding principal of Studio NYL, and Rishi Nandi, associate at Perkins + Will, are co-chairing the event. With decades of experience across the globe, both firms have been recognized with design awards for their advanced enclosure systems and finely executed architectural preservation projects. To learn more about what the two practices are up, AN interviewed the two co-chairs on the complexities of architectural preservation, environmental performance, and digital fabrication. The Architect's Newspaper: Both Perkins + Will and Studio NYL have been involved in numerous preservation projects. Could you expand on the difficulties of bringing historic structures up to contemporary standards, blending new design elements with the old, and the opportunities present with these projects? Rishi Nandi: The revitalization of historic buildings is challenging but pays great dividends. These buildings often represent something well beyond the program they house to their communities. Approaching the projects in a manner that is responsive to the neighborhood’s needs is critical since the structures often embody the resilience and stability of the communities they are embedded within. The most difficult part of any restoration is making sure the improvements you are making do not have any unintended consequences. For instance, many historic structures breathe differently than today's facade systems. This becomes a significant issue when one considers improving the performance of the envelope through insulation and air barriers. Understanding the hygrothermal properties of the walls is critical to ensure that potential compromising events like freeze-thaw do not occur. Matching old with new is also critical. We simply do not make component pieces the same way they were when many of these buildings were built. For example, no one is field fitting and assembling windows on site to conform to glazing dimensions that are all slightly off. The good news is that mass manufacturing is changing rapidly and customization options that did not exist in the 1980s have proliferated. We are often now able to work with fabricators in a hands-on way to create matching components that can replace those that we have to. By this, I mean that the first option in our approach is to rehabilitate as much as we can. Some of this is driven by the aesthetic. The majority of this, however, is driven by the consideration that the reuse of the existing structure and envelope has a significant environmental and social benefit. In these scenarios, we are able to keep intact the community's connection to the identity of the structure while significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the building through the reduction of primary materials. Chris O'Hara: Existing and historic buildings are a fantastic challenge. As we are always discussing sustainability, and it generally focuses on energy performance and recycled materials, it pales in response to what we can do by saving the embodied energy of an existing structure and breathing new life into it. Taking that existing structure that is either of an age where insulation was not considered and thermal comfort was managed through thermal mass and passive means, and mixing it with modern mechanical systems relying on a reduction of air exchanges–or worse yet a building designed with modern mechanical systems but an ignorance of envelope due to cheap energy–requires more analyses and more clever solutions. Management of the thermal performance of the existing building while trying to take advantage of the systems' drying potential is fun. Getting these buildings to perform at a high level is likely the most good we can do as a facade designer. What do you currently perceive to be the most exciting trends in facade design that boost environmental performance? RN: There are a lot of great products on the market including nanogel insulations, fiber reinforced polymer (FRP), and advances in glazing. That being said, as an architect, I have a tough time understanding the environmental impact of our products. We need better data from manufacturers that tell us clearly the waste stream. We need to know how much water is being used to make the products. Manufacturers should be required to help us better understand the life cycle carbon footprint of the products we are using. This information should be mandatory and should be directly influencing the way we make product selections and decisions. We can then have a more informed discussion on environmental impacts and, hopefully, then come up with a strategy on how to begin to address the concerns addressed within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent report. CH: Fiber reinforced polymers (FRP) and vacuum insulated systems. For the FRP, our ability to more cost-effectively thermally break and structure our faces with nearly thermally inert materials opens up possibilities in how we build. Vacuum insulated glass and vacuum sealed nanogel insulation are offering the ability to drastically improve our system U values while thinning down our assemblies. Although these technologies are still new to the market and come with a cost, like all other advances we have seen in the last 20 years or so I expect that cost to come down as we find how to use these systems more efficiently. Digital fabrication offers incredible possibilities for the mass production of individual facade components. In your experience, how is this technology reshaping the industry and your projects in particular? RN: Technology is reshaping our approach. Digital fabrication workflows are being created that are beginning to bridge the gap between documentation and fabrication. Working from a common platform has a number of benefits including allowing for a more detailed conversation on material applications and efficiencies. Robotics and digital printing allow us to create the right responsive materials that maximize the material return while minimizing waste. This increased communication is pushing more and more early involvement from manufacturers. We have employed modified delivery methods such as the integrated design process and design assist to help engage fabricators earlier to better our designs, drive a level of cost certainty and work within proprietary systems that help minimize team risk. The result is a blurring of traditional lines. The next step to me is a disruption in the way we work. We are already starting to see it with companies like Katerra, who with their digital platform are looking for ways to deliver entire projects at all phases from design to construction completion using prefabricated components and an integrated approach not yet seen by the industry. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next 15 years and the types of efficiencies that may be gained and what it means for the way we all work and deliver projects. CH: The use of digital fabrication seems to have found its way into most of our current enclosure projects, although the aesthetic is not always driven by the technology. We have found that the speed and precision it affords makes it an important part of our toolbox. Whether it is used for an elaborate cladding geometry or for the precise fabrication of repeated parts, it has really opened up the possibilities of what we can achieve while still being conscious of the parameters of schedule and cost. To do this the designer needs to understand the craft that goes into this work. Many do not understand that even with the technologies available there is still craft. The difference between this and a carpenter is simply what is in the tool belt. Further information regarding the conference can be found here.
Posts tagged with "DesignLab Architects":
Transparent addition puts historic Brutalist library on display.When designLAB architects signed on (with associate architect Austin Architects) to renovate and expand the Claire T. Carney Library at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, they faced a particular challenge: addressing the college's changing educational and sustainability priorities while respecting the legacy of the campus' original architect and planner, Paul Rudolph. "We never intended to try to preserve the building 100 percent," explained designLAB's Ben Youtz. "It was more about understanding Rudolph's goals for the project, then re-presenting them to meet current needs." At the same time, he said, "the reality was we were never going to compete, architecturally, with the form of this building." Instead, the architects conceived of the 27,000-square-foot addition as a vitrine within which to display the master designer's work. The result, a transparent glass box revealed through a curtain of mesh sunshades, pays homage to Rudolph's design without sacrificing either the library's revised programmatic goals or the call for improved environmental performance. Both the renovation and the addition address the changing role of the library on college campuses. "Libraries today are much less about the book, and much more about engaging with your peers, both academically and socially," said Youtz. designLAB moved much of Carney Library's collection from the stack floors to below-grade compact shelving, transforming the reclaimed space into a variety of lounge and group study environments. "It was about creating a more collaborative, public experience," said Youtz. "In that sense, the addition was thought of not just as a new front door to the library, but a new front door to the campus." Located along one of UMass Dartmouth's primary circulatory spines, the transparent addition, which accommodates a browsing area, group study spaces, and a cafe, visually connects the parking areas to the west with the main campus green to the east. Sustainability was a key concern for the clients. "The existing building was a behemoth in terms of its energy consumption," explained Youtz. In renovated portions of the building, designLAB achieved substantial savings through the introduction of insulated glass and thermally broken glazing systems, a super insulated roof, and a high efficiency mechanical system. With respect to the addition, the vitrine metaphor as well as the desire to foster connectivity and collaboration called for a high degree of transparency. "To do that you want to have a lot of glass," said Youtz. "But of course this has challenges in terms of heat gain." The architects chose high performance glass and a thermally broken curtain wall system for the open-plan space, which wraps under and around an existing second-story bridge to the science and engineering building. To further reduce solar gain, they introduced a frit pattern on the west side of the addition as well as glazing on the west and south facades of the original structure. The pattern recalls the weft and weave of fabric, a nod to the college's historic connection to the local textile industry. Stainless steel mesh sunshades provide another layer of protection against the sun. designLAB derived the spacing of the mesh fins on the east and west facades of the addition from the system of CMU elements on the library's third- and fifth-floor cantilevers. The material, in turn, looks to the mesh shades originally installed in the atrium spaces scattered around campus. "Our treatment of the addition was spinning off this mesh idea that Rudolph introduced on the inside—we took it and put it on the outside," explained Youtz. "One of the ideas is that this is a curtain of diaphanous stainless steel mesh wrapping the stage on which Rudolph is presented." The fins, which are deeper, more tightly spaced, and pulled farther from the building on the west side of the addition, produce a play of shadows and light as the day progresses. "When the sun tracks across the elevation, the quality of the shadow is always changing," said Youtz. "It's really quite beautiful." At either end of their metaphorical vitrine, the architects confronted the challenge of engaging with the original concrete structure. "It was a big struggle about how we did that and did it well," recalled Youtz. "We didn't want to introduce more CMU in ways Rudolph didn't use it." They opted instead for a greenish-grey zinc system that complements both the cast-in-place and the CMU elements. "We have these bookends where the vitrine meets either the library or the science building, where zinc is expressed on both the outside and inside," said Youtz. "You get the sense that this is where we're transitioning from the original exterior to a new condition." For Youtz, the opportunity to work on the UMass Dartmouth project was "truly an inspiration. It's phenomenal to think that when Rudolph was visioning this campus, he was building 1.5 million square feet in the middle of the farm fields." But beyond its sheer size, Rudolph's work at the college is remarkable for its focus on the student experience. "One of his major guiding principles was about the collective—so he created all these different spaces where students could share ideas," said Youtz. "That's why we wanted to reinvent the library as a social and intellectual hub at the heart of campus, to make it a space where students want to hang out and work."
The Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced yesterday its shortlist of design firms to rehabilitate the Walter Gropius-designed US Embassy building in Greece, known as the Athens Chancery. The four firms were selected out of an applicant pool of 56 submissions, and include: Ann Beha Architects, DesignLab Architects, Machado Silvetti / Baker, and Mark Cavagnero Associates. “The shortlisted submissions presented projects that were well-conceived and well-executed, displaying a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitations of complex modern structures,” the OBO said in a statement. While in keeping with a modernist aesthetic, the building, completed in 1961, is also a nod to the Parthenon with its white columns and marble facade. Following the selection, the four firms will be expected to establish their technical teams and provide more detailed information on their work and experience for the next phase of consideration.