When Professor Michael Garrison, the Cass Gilbert Centennial Teaching Fellow in Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks about how students are pushing the cutting edge in design, three developments come to mind. First, said Garrison, who will participate in the “Form Follows Performance” panel at the upcoming Facades+Dallas conference, is a heightened attention to materiality. “Our students are keen on new materials, the embodied energy of materials, smart materials,” he explained. This new awareness is largely the result of students’ exposure to the school’s University Co-op Materials Lab, a multidisciplinary space for hands-on exposure to more than 27,000 materials samples. Second is the question of craft. “We find it very interesting that naval architects and NASA call their works craft, but we in architecture don’t know such things,” said Garrison, recalling Buckminster Fuller’s question, “How much does your house weigh?” Thanks to developments in digital design and fabrication, he said, “the old idea of tool and die mass production characteristic of modern thinking in the twentieth century has really changed. Students are able to make something of a more unusual shape.” Parametric design is the new normal in the design-school classroom. Finally, Garrison points to a “new and profound” evolution away from “the hermetically sealed box of the Seagram Building era” to a focus on “thick skins.” These multi-layered facades typically involve a sunshade or other external component, which “creates an interstitial space between the traditional envelope and the new envelope,” said Garrison. Increasingly, students are focused on incorporating adaptive technology into building envelopes, often patterning facades along biomimetic lines. “Whereas the first two decades of the twenty-first century were about unusual shapes, [with] parametric design, we are now moving toward intelligent shapes that are more responsive,” he concluded. Catch up with Garrison and other top AEC industry professionals at Facades+Dallas. Seating is limited; register today.
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Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can turn an architectural challenge into an opportunity. Such was the case for Dallas-based GFF, which hired a crop of new design school graduates earlier this decade—just in time to deliver an innovative solution to a seemingly prosaic problem. The problem involved enclosing a bridging element between two parts of a Burnet Marketplace, a mixed-use project in north Austin. The solution, courtesy of one of the new hires, was to streamline design and fabrication using Rhino’s parametric modeling capabilities. Upon seeing the young designer’s presentation on some of the digital design skills he had learned in school, recalled Design Director Brian Kuper, GFF’s more experienced staff thought “this is an opportunity to use parametric design, and Rhino specifically, to not only design a sun control and space-capturing system that we could model in-house for the client, but to go straight to fabrication with our documents rather than take a more traditional approach.” Kuper plans to tell the story of the Burnet Marketplace project in a panel on “Getting it Built: Overcoming Design, Time, and Budget Concerns” at next month’s Facades+ Dallas conference. GFF completed the design work and sent the documentation directly to the fabricator in Austin. The fabricator then water jet cut the aluminum components. Relatively speaking, the entire cycle was complete in a snap. “Something that could have taken a lot of time and effort was really seamless,” said Kuper. “It also gave the message that younger folks have the ability to participate in and impact the design process.” Hear more from Kuper and other facades pros at Facades+ Dallas. See the conference website to register for the symposium and a lab or dialog workshop of your choice.
Heitmann & Associates President and CEO Glenn Heitmann is surprised that more developers do not take advantage of one solution to the demand for new residential or commercial space: retrofitting an existing building. Like other cities in the United States, said Heitmann, Kansas City, Missouri is home to a surfeit of buildings constructed during the 1950s and 1960s “that have gone through a useful life cycle as it relates to the facade.” But while these structures might not meet contemporary demands for efficiency and comfort, “Rather than tear them down and start over, we can say there are choices,” said Heitmann. Heitmann, who will participate in a presentation block on “(Re)designing Downtown” at the upcoming Facades+AM Kansas City symposium, sees existing buildings as “clean canvases” onto which builders can project just about anything, from surface rehabilitation to a complete aesthetic update. That said, a few facade-related factors outside the design and construction teams’ control can help determine the scope of the retrofit. The first is that renovated buildings must meet current building codes. “A building built in the 1950s was constructed for that code,” said Heitmann. “But keep in mind that your new building skin has to comply [with contemporary codes]. That means anything we do now needs to be airtight and thermally efficient.” Second, explained Heitmann, would-be retrofitters must consider the condition of the anchors holding up the existing cladding. If they are in good shape, the team can opt to keep them in place. But if “over the years air or water infiltration has compromised structural integrity,” said Heitmann, they may need to start from scratch. Asbestos can also present a challenge. “Most people think about asbestos on the interior,” said Heitmann. “What I’m talking about is sealant or byproducts that make up the exterior facade.” In bringing up asbestos, he said, his intention is not to “use scare tactics,” but instead to encourage architects and builders to think through every facade renovation “clearly and holistically.” Whether of an occupied or a vacant building, said Heitmann, retrofitting can be a powerful tool by which to improve a property’s financial value—not to mention occupant comfort. One example he cited was an office building in prime location that, through renovation, catapulted from Class B to Class A. Another concerned a “very high end” residential structure constructed in the 1960s. “People were frustrated,” said Heitmann. “They loved it, they loved the views, but they saw their investment dwindling” due to inefficiencies. A revamped skin, including new glazing and framing, brought the property up to snuff. Learn more from Heitmann and other facades experts from Kansas City and beyond at Facades+AM Kansas City. Register today to secure one of the few seats remaining.
Image credit: James Ewing/OTTO When it comes to using computational tools to predict the energy and cost savings associated with high performance facade design, explained Paola Sanguinetti, Professor of Architecture at The University of Kansas (KU), AEC industry professionals often leave out a critical factor: the user. "My recent research explores how we can model the relationship between the comfort of the users and their perception of the space, and how that affects [environmental performance]," said Sanguinetti, who will participate in a presentation block on "Parametric Facade Optimization at All Scales" at September’s Facades+AM Kansas City symposium. "Depending on the kind of facade utilized, the way the user modifies the space really impacts the envelope and thus the overall performance of the building." Another research priority at KU, said Sanguinetti, has to do with modeling building performance at different scales, "from thermal bridges to how the facade [as a whole] aids in energy reduction." The focus on scale, she said, is part of "a more holistic view of building environments," which considers individual buildings as components of a broader network, such as a university campus or neighborhood. "How you can look at metrics for evaluating performance on the urban scale is very relevant for Kansas City," given its smart city aims, said Sanguinetti. According to Sanguinetti, Kansas City’s design and building communities exemplify an integrated approach to modeling and fabrication. "Zahner has pioneered the collaborative approach to design specification and manufacturing," she said. The city’s sports architecture firms, too, "have a very strong collaboration with consultants." At KU, the architecture program emphasizes "sustainability, but also understanding the entire process, and the importance of collaboration," explained Sanguinetti. In 2014, for instance, the design/build program Studio 804 created The Forum, an addition to the university’s historical School of Architecture building Marvin Hall. Graduate students worked with Transsolar to evaluate the addition’s double skinned facade, including performing a survey of student use. There is, of course, always room for improvement, said Sanguinetti. The local AEC industry could do a better job of sharing data on projects. In addition, "embedding risk analysis is important to help have a good conversation about building envelopes," she said. "Any simulation is an estimation; again, the human variable is critical to understanding building performance." Meet Sanguinetti and other leading lights of Kansas City’s facades scene at Facades+AM September 15. Seating is extremely limited; register today!
As Chief Resiliency Officer for The City of Dallas, Theresa O'Donnell spends a lot of time thinking about the challenges faced by the nation’s fourth-largest metroplex. O'Donnell will bring her experience to bear on the conversation at Facades+ Dallas October 13-14, setting the stage for a deep dive into high performance facade design and fabrication with her opening remarks at day one's symposium. "Dallas is a great place to be if you're in the development community," observed O'Donnell. This has been a banner year for growth, with the city on pace to issue a record 40,000 building permits. O'Donnell is rightfully proud of Dallas' record on permit turnarounds: 81 percent are issued in three days or less. "In terms of just pushing work out the door, we have an incredibly efficient system," she said. "We really see the development community as our partner. We want to keep this golden goose laying eggs as much as we can." As O'Donnell and her colleagues craft Dallas' resiliency plan, one challenge at the front of her mind is the gap between the broader economic picture (bright) and the experience of the city's bottom-rung workers (less so). Despite the region's low unemployment rate, "this rising tide is not lifting all boats," said O'Donnell, noting a 42 percent increase in the poverty rate since 2000. "One of our major challenges is how to expand this economy to be more inclusive, and help those folks who’ve been excluded from the traditional labor force," she said. Her office is looking, in particular, at skills training, child care, and language instruction. Two other challenges are affordable housing and transportation, said O'Donnell. Despite the metro area's relatively low housing prices, "because wages are low, it's still a reach for some families to get into safe, decent, quality housing." Luxury condominium developments are booming, she added, but affordable housing "is identified as a market failure; it doesn't pencil." The city is looking at how it can combine government, philanthropic, and institutional resources to expand the supply of homes for low- and moderate-income households. Regarding transportation, explained O'Donnell, "Dallas is a very auto-centric city." Suburban sprawl leads to high transportation costs, which only increases the burden on low-income families. "Our public transit system right now is not very efficient in helping people get to work in a timely manner," said O'Donnell. "A lot of that is just the physical layout." Replacing the current hub-and-wheel system with a grid-based transit network would be a good place to start, she said. Hear more from O'Donnell and other local officials, academic, and AEC industry professionals at Facades+ Dallas. Register today to secure a space at the Day 1 symposium and in a lab or dialog workshop of your choice on Day 2.
CallisonRTKL Vice President Brendan O'Grady views Dallas' hot climate as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, when it comes to facade design. "With the intense summer heat there are numerous opportunities to integrate both passive and active facade design solutions that can reduce the overall environmental impact our buildings have," said O'Grady, who will co-chair October's Facades+ Dallas conference on high performance building design. The city's architects working abroad, moreover, are able to bring lessons learned in other high-heat areas to bear on the local AEC industry. "These firms have the opportunity to take this global perspective and intelligence and apply it to local problems related to facade design and fabrication," he said. Architects, engineers, fabricators, and builders working in the Dallas area excel in digital design and analysis, explained O'Grady. "I would say this is a direct result of the emphasis we are seeing on building performance over pure aesthetics in facade design," he said. On the flip side, "Hearing comments from a recent design awards jury, I would have to say that there is room for improvement in the way a building's program or specific use is reflected in the design of its facade," said O'Grady. "When you look at a building you should be able to tell if it is a hospital versus an office building or an apartment tower." Network with O'Grady and other movers and shakers in the facades world at Facades+ Dallas, October 13-14. Learn more about the first day symposium and the workshops offered on the second day at the conference website. Register today!
For el dorado Principal Josh Shelton, facade design and fabrication are simultaneous, rather than sequential, practices. "el dorado was founded on the premise that design and fabrication were a unified act," he explained. The firm often prototypes or constructs physical components of its project in its in-house fabrication shop. "Our approach to facade design evolves from that hands-on rigor and sense of craft that we've developed over the last 20 years of being a practice," said Shelton. Shelton will participate in the "Materials + Surfaces" presentation block at the upcoming Facades+AM Kansas City symposium with A. Zahner Company's L. William Zahner and Paul Neidlein, of JE Dunn Construction. Shelton is particularly intrigued by opportunities to combine new technologies and traditional materials. As an example, he cites an el dorado project in Denver's LoDo district. Faced with strict contextual constraints, the firm is taking "a very high tech approach to the design of brick facades, using computational design to pixelate bricks," said Shelton. "We're meeting historical guidelines in fresh, innovative ways. We're using a refined sense of craft to take a material that evolved from an artisan material to a very vanilla material, back to a more artisan approach." In Kansas City, noted Shelton, el dorado is not alone in exploring the synergy between design and fabrication. "We've got a deep bench with regard to good architects," he said. "There's also a rich tradition of craft and making. It's on that tradition of great architecture and smart fabrication that we've molded our practice." Hear more from Shelton, Zahner, and Neidlein, plus other experts in facade design, engineering, and fabrication, at Facades+AM Kansas City. Register today on the conference website.
Kansas City, Missouri's hot, humid summers and cold winters pose a special challenge for AEC industry professionals when it comes to facade design and construction. "We deal more with vapor control through our building skin, making our building more efficient from that standpoint—adding more insulation, but also trying to not create problems with that," explained Helix Architecture + Design's Miranda Groth. "We haven't been able to be as experimental with our facades as, for example, Seattle or even Boston." Groth, along with Anthony Birchler of A. Zahner Company, is a co-chair of the Facades+AM Kansas City symposium September 15. In addition to grappling with the city's unique climate, said Groth, "We've been slow on the uptake with energy [efficiency] because energy's been cheap in the Midwest. It's harder to make the case to clients." One workaround comes of collaborating with fabricators like A. Zahner Company. (Zahner VP Anthony Birchler is the other Facades+AM Kansas City co-chair.) In those cases, factors including aesthetics can help tip the scale in favor of green design. In terms of innovative facade design opportunities, said Groth, Kansas City is a hotspot for adaptive reuse. "Right now there's a huge shift to go back downtown," she explained. "Even buildings as recent as those built in the 1960s have hugely inefficient envelopes. We're now going in and trying to retrofit them to be more energy efficient." The city is also a center for sports architecture. "I see a lot of those firms pushing new innovations on what to do with building skins," said Groth. Groth has nothing but praise for her fellow Kansas City-based design and building professionals. "I feel like we're excelling or at least keeping up with coastal cities in new ideas," she said. "The technology is there. The architects in town will set a new standard." Meanwhile, "we have amazing structural engineers in town. It's exciting that we have all that locally." Hear more from Groth and other facades experts at Facades+AM Kansas City. Space is limited; register today to secure a spot.
Richard Askin, Director of Planning and Design at W/S Development Associates, has had his eye on Boston's burgeoning Seaport District for about a decade. During that time—as Askin's firm planned and initiated construction on a multi-block mixed-use development called Seaport Square—the local AEC industry has increasingly focused on designing for resiliency. The chief concerns in the low-lying Seaport District are rising sea levels and severe storms. "Because we started before Superstorm Sandy, before there was the remapping of the flood plain, I've seen us go from not understanding what we should want to do, to more proactively coming up with design solutions for the risks that are instigated by floods and/or sea level rise," said Askin, who will participate in a presentation block on "The Seaport District Reconsidered" at Facades+AM Boston June 17.
Increased awareness around rising water levels dovetails with W/S Associates' traditional area of expertise: retail. Both involve a focus on the ground plane. "We've done a host of things that have to do with both occupancy and infrastructure" in response to the need for more resilient designs, explained Askin. One example has to do with the buildings' electrical transformers. These are typically positioned on the ground floor and covered by a utilitarian facade. The result is both vulnerable to damage during a flood and aesthetically displeasing. "It essentially becomes a blank wall, and typically very large," said Askin. "The problem for us is that retail wants to be at the ground floor—it's in direct conflict with conventional placement of the transformer."
Askin relishes the ways in which the attention to resiliency in the Seaport District has stretched his own approach to a development problem. "I've never had to figure out these micro-level details before, to invent ways of doing things on the facade that's not conventional," he said.
Learn more about the Seaport District and other Boston-area development hotspots at Facades+AM Boston. To learn more or register for one of the few remaining seats, visit the symposium website.
High performance building envelopes have the potential to play a crucial role in reshaping Boston's architectural identity, explained Andrea Love, Director of Building Science at Payette. "A number of buildings of the past were all glass boxes that could be located in any climate anywhere. I think we have an opportunity to create climate responsive facades that reflect the location they are in." Love will expand on the theme at this month's Facades+AM Boston symposium, where she joins NADAAA Principal Nader Tehrani and Studio NYL Founding Principal Christopher O'Hara in a presentation block on "Boston's High Performance Skyline." Happily, Boston's AEC industry professionals have a head start when it comes to designing and building environmentally-efficient facades. "I think that because of the Stretch Code and current energy code in Massachusetts, Boston leads much of the country in terms of high performance envelopes," said Love. Aggressive code requirements encourage rigorous evaluation and creative problem-solving. At the same time, she explained, "many local clients in the Boston area also have environmental and climate commitments which further reinforces the need for high performance facades."
This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. Even Boston lags behind much of Europe, for instance. Love points to triple glazing as an example of a facade component that, while more or less standard in Europe, has only recently become more common in New England. In addition, she said, architects, engineers, and contractors must work to further their understanding in issues including thermal bridging and the relationship between facades and occupant comfort. "As an industry, I don't think we focus enough on how our building envelopes impact visual and thermal comfort in the spaces that are being created," explained Love.
Love is excited about the multiplicative effect an increase in energy literacy has had on designers and builders. "It's a ripple effect—we are becoming more sophisticated in our understanding of how facades influence building performance," she said. "We're also improving how we incorporate analysis tools that allow us to make more informed decisions [during] our design process. And we continue to optimize the performance of our facades with strategies like increasing insulation, high performing glazing and sunshades that actually impact building performance."
Learn more from Love and other movers and shakers in the facades world at Facades+AM Boston. Sign up today for one of the limited remaining seats.
Mark Pasnik has written the book on Boston's evolving architectural identity—literally. Pasnik, founding principal at over,under and co-author (with Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo) of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, will offer his take on "Facades and Regional Architecture" in a presentation at next month's Facades+AM Boston symposium. "While Boston is often identified as a brick city, its architectural traditions are more complex," observed Pasnik. The city's landmark structures include not just brick but also granite and poured-in-place concrete edifices. "Where there is unity is in the thickness, heaviness, and solidity of nearly all of Boston's most significant buildings," said Pasnik. More recent architectural trends, including the elevation of thinness, contradict this legacy. "Some of the most criticized areas of new development in the city have suffered from paper-thin, inelegant, commercial curtain walls, particularly in the Seaport District," noted Pasnik. (Exceptions include William Rawn Associates and Ann Beha Architects' high-tech, highly transparent Cambridge Public Library). "However, Boston's identity, seen in historical and modernist traditions alike, is almost always on the side of having a thick skin," he remarked. Architects including Kennedy & Violich (Tozzer Anthropology Building at Harvard University) have successfully married Boston's historic heaviness with new technology and materials. Of particular note is the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square (Mecanoo and Sasaki Associates). "What makes a structure like the Bolling Building and its high performance facade so remarkable is that its skin serves to stitch a neighborhood back together, animate its streets, renew a dilapidated historical facade, and in general represent the value of meaningful civic investment—which has become more and more rare in the United States," said Pasnik. "The building has catalyzed improved design ambition and expanded development, but its most important effect is in revitalizing an important urban center." Hear more from Pasnik and other facades specialists at Facades+AM Boston. Space is limited—register today on the event website.
In Boston, local AEC industry professionals face a particular challenge: how to move forward while honoring the past. "Boston is a unique city in terms of architecture, and new versus old," said Ryan Salvas, Design Director at CW Keller & Associates and co-chair of the upcoming Facades+AM Boston symposium. Facades+AM, a quick-take version of the popular Facades+ conference series, makes its Beantown debut June 17. "There are a lot of forward-thinking academic programs in the area, but we also have, I would say, a very practical architecture base here," continued Salvas. "It's really about balancing historical references—and historical facades—but also looking forward to what's new." Now is an especially good time to talk about high performance building envelopes in Boston, said Salvas's co-chair, NADAAA principal Katherine Faulkner. "The city hasn't seen this much development, easily, in a century," she explained. "For Boston, it's been an exciting last five years. But one thing that's resulted is a lot of criticism—that the buildings are not inventive, not-forward thinking in terms of performance, that there's nothing indigenous [to the region]." Nine experts—including academics, designers, planners, developers, and municipal officials—will explore the upside of Boston's rapid transformation (as well as its particular challenges) in three presentation blocks at Facades+AM Boston. Each session is framed around an up-and-coming Boston-area neighborhood. The first, "The Seaport District Revisited," features presentations from CBT Architects' David Nagahiro, WS Development Associates' Richard Askin, and Utile Architecture & Planning's Tim Love. The second session, helmed by Mark Pasnick (over,under), David Carlson (Boston Redevelopment Authority), and Gerard Gutierrez (Sasaki Associates), shines a spotlight on "Facade and Regional Architecture," with special focus on the Dudley Square area. The final group of presenters, NADAAA's Nader Tehrani, Studio NYL's Christopher O'Hara, and Payette's Andrea Love, will zero in on "Boston's High Performance Skyline," especially in and around the tech hub of Kendall Square. In planning the symposium, the biggest challenge Salvas and Faulkner faced was not having too little to talk about—it was having too much. "Any one of these topics could take up a full morning on its own," admitted Faulkner. They nevertheless remain confident that the diversity of experiences represented by the panelists, in combination with the specificity of the sessions, will offer valuable insights to anyone interested in the aesthetics and pragmatics of high performance building envelopes. To learn more about Facades+AM Boston, visit the symposium website. Seating is extremely limited, so register today!