Known for their playful, cutting-edge facades, Rojkind Arquitectos are adept at transforming obstacles into opportunity. Founded in 2002, the Mexico City–based practice is regularly challenged with delivering a sense of cohesion to unplanned urban chaos. As the literal and metaphorical mediator between a building's interior and its context, the envelope is a crucial starting point for any such endeavor. "Our first approach is through digital design and local fabrication, depending on the geography of the project, time, budget, etc.," explained founding partner Michel Rojkind, fresh from the July 7 groundbreaking of the firm's Foro Boca concert hall in Veracruz, Mexico. "We research local craftsmanship to enhance the final results." Besides considering the more pragmatic elements of design and execution, said Rojkind, "We also try to question what a facade is, in terms of performance or how it can produce other areas that blur the line between building and [exterior]." For him, the most intriguing question facing contemporary designers and fabricators is: "How can facades bring added value to the project—not only in economic terms, but also as social innovation?" Rojkind will deliver the opening keynote September 10 at Facades+ Miami, the South Florida debut of the popular conference series on high performance building enclosures. Speaking of architectural conditions in the conference's host city, Rojkind—himself an old hand at designing for a hot, sunny climate—said, "I think there are great opportunities to really push for interior/exterior living connections and blur those boundaries. [We can] learn from the past while embracing future social interactions as a design [guide]." Hear more from Rojkind and other movers and shakers in the AEC industry, and participate in exclusive local field trips, at Facades+ Miami this fall. For more information or to register, visit the conference website.
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Miami is on the rise—literally. The local AEC industry is booming, with dozens upon dozens of projects, including 79 towers, currently under construction and 92 projects in pre-construction. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [pdf], 105,600 Miami-area workers were employed in the construction trades as of April 2015, a 6.7 percent increase from the previous year. Downtown Miami, in particular, is a hotbed of activity, thanks in part to Miami Downtown Development Authority's 2025 Downtown Miami Master Plan. The plan, which aims to transform the urban core from a business district into a thriving live-work neighborhood, calls for residential growth, tourist-friendly local transit, and ground-floor and outdoor dining and retail. Prominent mixed-use projects underway or set to break ground imminently include Brickell City Centre and the 10-block Miami Worldcenter. Want to learn more about Miami's present and future built environment? Hear expert analyses and gain access to exclusive site visits September 10–11 at Facades+ Miami, the premier conference on high performance building envelopes.
The motto of Houston architecture, civic art, and product design firm METALAB is "finding new and better ways to build things." In addition to forming the core of his professional practice, this mission aptly describes principal Andrew Vrana's work with the Texas digital design and production network TEX-FAB. "We align emerging designers working with contemporary digital design techniques with companies who are experts in digital fabrication to build experimental architectural assemblies that push the capabilities of all parties," he explained. At next week's Facades+AM Houston symposium, Vrana will share his perspective on new techniques and materials in high performance building envelopes through the lens of TEX-FAB's annual design and fabrication competition. The theme of each TEX-FAB competition reflects the community's commitment to exploding the limits of conventional architecture practice. "We have recently been interested in materials that allow for plasticity in form and performance," said Vrana. Hence the title of the 2014 competition, PLASTICITY. The winning project, by computational design specialist Justin Diles, is called Plastic Stereotomy, and explores the use of composites in construction. After taking first prize in the small-scale prototype round, Diles teamed up with Kreysler & Associates to build a full-scale pavilion for this year's TEX-FAB conference in Houston. (The pavilion also traveled to the AIA convention in Atlanta.) Past competition winners have similarly paired with industry experts to bring their concepts to fruition. For the 2013 SKIN competition, for instance, TEX-FAB put the winning team—a group associated with the University at Buffalo, with materials sponsor Rigidized Metals—in touch with Zahner "to construct an innovative facade prototype using patterned sheet metal folded into complex origami-like modules," explained Vrana. Hear more about TEX-FAB's approach to digital design and fabrication at Facades+AM Houston June 18. Register today and see a full list of presenters on the event website.
As EcoServices team leader for Kirksey Architecture, Julie Hendricks spends her days thinking about how to build sustainably without busting a project's budget. On a typical job, whether for Kirksey or an outside firm, "we look at energy use, daylighting, and site analysis," she explained. "We do a lot of different studies to make sure buildings are performing at the highest level." The EcoServices team also conducts non-billable research, primarily focused on comparing actual to projected performance on buildings designed in-house. Hendricks will present an example from her research portfolio on June 18 at the Facades+AM Houston symposium. Achieving sustainability goals is particularly challenging in Houston, said Hendricks. "We feel like we have a unique and especially difficult climate because of the humidity and heat," said Hendricks. As a result, she explained, they have a limited range of passive strategies to work with; yet passive interventions are the most straightforward and cost-effective tools for mitigating thermal gain and moisture transfer. "That's the number one thing we deal with, and have tried to become experts in," she said. The hot Texas sun can be especially hard to beat. Too often, said Hendricks, facades systems are applied counter to their intended use. "One of our favorite games on the EcoServices Team is to drive around and point out ineffective shading devices," she said. "It's ironic, because they're really expensive. It means someone's investing in a device that has a purely aesthetic function." On the flip side, Hendricks is encouraged by the increasing availability of glass products with built-in thermal protections. "When we can [mitigate solar gain] with just glass, those solutions tend to be more affordable," she explained, citing glazing with embedded shading devices, ceramic frit glass, and electrochromic glass as examples worth exploring. Besides the potential to keep costs down, these options better satisfy clients seeking a streamlined curtain wall aesthetic. Catch up with Hendricks and other experts in high performance facade design and fabrication at Facades+AM Houston. Register now on the event website.
As founding principal of Muñoz Albin, Jorge Muñoz has a unique global perspective on high performance facade design. Based in Houston, the firm's earliest projects were located overseas. "In the last 20 plus years, we have worked and continue to work on projects in Western Europe, where there is a tradition of more generous budgets on building envelopes as well as more flexible user and developer demands on efficiency," said Muñoz. Over the course of his career, Muñoz—who will bring his comparative point of view to a panel on "Current Projects Pushing the Envelope" at next month's Facades+AM Houston symposium—has observed the tendency of facade design and construction technologies to vary from one locale to the next. "There are many exceptions to this rule, but in general, a building envelope matches the market expectations and budget allocation of where the building is being built," he explained. "Climate, program, environmental performance, and design challenges are different in different markets." In Houston, said Muñoz, building envelopes have evolved alongside the economy. "One can see double skin solutions built in the early 1960s, and advanced solutions in the 1970s," he said. "While Houston has lived through many years of pragmatic envelopes, in the last few years architects have been pushing for more and more sophisticated solutions." Houston has tended to be "timid" when it comes to adopting advancements in envelope design, explained Muñoz, but is beginning to consider cutting-edge performance solutions. "In time, we will have some of those buildings in our city," he said. As for local projects, Muñoz expressed admiration for HOK's Sysco headquarters phase one building. The building is on the older side, but "the massing as well as the envelope design denotes a sophisticated understanding of performance and aesthetics," he said. Like conference co-chair Kristopher Stuart, he also pointed to Pickard Chilton's Exxon complex in the Woodlands, as "another example of a complex and sophisticated envelope solution that is worth studying and understanding." Muñoz and Stuart also agree that another Pickard Chilton project, the under-construction 609 Main Street, is worth a close look. "It will offer not only a double- or triple-layered skin that also envelopes an eroding and slightly more plastic building massing, the first in the city," said Muñoz. Muñoz looks forward to a productive dialogue among panelists and attendees at Facades+AM Houston. "I think that facade design is a fascinating subject, and one that elicits plurality of thought," he said. "It will be most interesting to hear about the current trends in the city." Visit the Facades+AM website today to learn more or to register.
Thanks to the city's humid subtropical climate, facade designers and fabricators face a special set of challenges in Houston. Unchecked, steady sunshine and high temperatures can permeate the building envelope, leading to a heavy reliance on mechanical cooling systems. Meanwhile, Houston's Gulf Coast location makes it vulnerable to tropical storms. Sanjeev Tankha, principal and director of facade engineering at Walter P. Moore, argues that the solution to performance issues including solar gain and wind lies in a holistic approach to facade design. "All aspects of building envelope performance—from materials science to building physics analysis, structural analysis, research and development, waterproofing and weatherproofing, longevity and life cycle analysis—must be given a platform to engage effectively in the design process," he said. "Our industry must come to terms with and take on the challenge to respond effectively to the elements of solar heat and wind mitigation." Tankha will share his experience responding to the local climate next month at Facades+AM Houston. A half-day spinoff of the popular Facades+ conference series, Facades+AM brings regionally-specific discourse on high performance building envelopes to AEC industry professionals, students, and policymakers. In the real world of building design and construction, observed Tankha, environmental performance is regularly sidelined in favor of other concerns. "Performance of the building skin, in any given project, is often trumped by financial pressures to the detriment of overall building performance," he said. "I would like to see more commitment from AEC stakeholders to make performance issues a core value in our work." The key, he explained, is making performance a priority from the get-go. "The early design work needs to embed these values in the development so they are not add-on features," said Tankha. "This is a philosophical debate that is held on every project, and many times building performance comes out on the losing side." In Tankha's experience, less can be more when it comes to addressing solar gain and wind. "I always encourage the use of passive technologies and passive building systems first before the overlay of active systems," he said, pointing to historical strategies including building form and orientation. "I see some of that design philosophy coming back and now coupled with advancement in materials, coatings, and efficient mechanical systems, we have a palette for a holistic approach towards exploring effective solutions." To hear more from Tankha and other building envelope specialists, register today for Facades+AM Houston.
For Kristopher Stuart, design director and principal at Gensler, Houston's rapid evolution is exactly what makes practicing architecture there exciting."Houston is a city of change and a great testing ground for new ideas," he said. "The past decade has been particularly robust for design and construction, so we've developed some excellent benchmark projects representing the current state-of-the-art for facade design. The new projects focus on sustainability and resilience with our often extreme local weather in mind; wellness and connectivity that improve the quality of life for people; and performance and innovation that make buildings smarter, more efficient and more cost effective for owners and managers." Next month, Stuart will co-chair Facades+AM Houston, a half-day version of the acclaimed Facades+ conference series. The morning seminar comprises three panels featuring three experts each on topics relevant to AEC industry professionals, observers, and students in Houston and beyond. The June 18 event marks the symposium's Energy City debut. Facades+AM Houston attendees will not have to look far to find examples of innovative envelope design and construction. Stuart cited several recently-completed projects in the city's "energy corridor," plus high performance buildings for Anadarko, ExxonMobile, and Southwestern Energy north of downtown. Downtown, construction is presently underway on Skanska's Capitol Tower and 609 Main, developed by Hines. "It will be exciting to see this next generation of buildings emerge, iconic buildings that will raise the performance bar while enhancing the human experience within the urban environment," Stuart noted. He also pointed to some of the Midway Companies' recent or planned work including CityCentre and Kirby Grove, describing them as "more contextual, urban infill projects that are looking at facades from an experiential as well as a performance perspective, projects that will impact the way we think about facades in the Houston design community." In Stuart's view, Houston's challenging climate has pushed the local AEC industry to a deeper understanding of how design decisions affect performance. The community has also been successful in cultivating relationships with facades consultants and fabricators to execute efficient envelopes. "One might say that we've mastered the basics, and now need to shift our focus to innovative materials and fabrication techniques as well as unique collaboration relationships in order to achieve more dramatic performance enhancements that will be executable and affordable," he said. Stuart looks forward to the June 18 conversation with other movers and shakers in the field of high performance envelope design. "Facades+AM Houston is a unique opportunity to share some outstanding work that has been executed recently either in Houston or by Houston design firms, to hear about facade innovations from academic and industry experts, and to engage in a conversation about the future of building facades in the Houston market," said Stuart. To learn more or to register for Facades+AM Houston, visit the event website.
They say "everything is bigger in Texas." So it goes for Houston's skyline, the fourth largest in the United States. Big, too, are the names behind Space City's most iconic skyscrapers. The city's tallest, the 75-story JPMorgan Chasetower, was designed by I.M. Pei in 1981. A number of other internationally-renowned architects and firms have left their mark on Houston, including César Pelli, Philip Johnson, Robert A.M. Stern, Renzo Piano, SOM, and Gensler. Today, Texas' most populous city is home to TEX-FAB, a network of academics and practitioners pushing the boundaries of computational fabrication. On the urban front, Houston is making strides away from its car-centric past. The city's light rail system, MetroRail, opened in 2004; in 2013, Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order outlining a Complete Streets policy. Last year, Mayor Parker directed the planning commission to create a General Plan—the first in Houston's history—with a special focus on walkability. And if a panel of advisers from the Urban Land Institute have their way, the disused Houston Astrodome could be transformed into a massive public park in time for 2017's Super Bowl LI. Both Houston's architectural legacy and its potential for urban transformation make it a natural fit for Facades+AM, the quick-take version of the popular Facades+ conference series on high performance envelope design and fabrication. On June 18, AEC industry leaders will convene at the historic Hotel Icon (formerly the Union National Bank, designed in 1911 by Mauran, Russell & Crowell) for a look at the latest developments in the world of building enclosures. Chaired by Gensler's Kristopher Stuart, the half-day event will feature three sessions with three speakers each, to conclude by 12:30 pm. Register for Facades+AM Houston or learn more at the symposium website. Check back frequently for updates on presenters and panel topics.
Eight years ago, in the face of rapidly rising carbon emissions, PlaNYC—New York City's sustainability and resilience blueprint—set a goal of reducing emissions 30 percent citywide by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline. "Enormous progress has been made thus far: the growth has been stopped and emissions have substantially decreased—by 19 percent," observed Laurie Kerr, Urban Green Council's Director of Policy. "But as impressive as that is, we need to do more, faster." Enter One City: Built to Last, the city's ten-year building upgrade plan aimed at helping reach Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious "80 x 50" goal: 80 percent citywide reductions by 2050. Kerr and John Lee, Deputy Director for Buildings and Energy Efficiency at the NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability, will be on hand next week at Facades+ NYC to outline the initiative with special reference to the design and construction of high performance building envelopes. The AEC industry holds the key to the 80 x 50 mission, said Kerr. "There are tricky technical, financial and logistical issues to solve. The cutting edge will need to push the craft and the supply chain to arrive at solutions that are efficient, scalable, and appealing to tenants." But the answer to the environmental challenge will necessarily entail behind-the-scenes work as well as splashy innovation, she noted. "The rank and file will need to become proficient in new techniques, such as PassivHaus, that require dramatically greater vigilance on un-sexy issues like thermal bridging and infiltration." Much of the burden for improved performance falls on the building exterior. "High performance envelopes are going to play a major role in achieving 80 x 50—we're simply not going to get there without them," said Kerr. "This will be true for new buildings, but it will be even more important for the existing building stock, which may need everything from sealing, to better windows, to re-wrapping or interior insulation on some properties." The call for upgrades on a large scale is sure to benefit the AEC industry financially, she pointed out, but its members will have to work for their money. "It will entail considerable creativity and craftsmanship to develop and deliver the cost-effective strategies for each facade type—from midcentury modern to brownstones to brick towers in the park," said Kerr. To hear more from Kerr and Lee on One City: Built to Last, register today for Facades+ NYC.
For Enclos' Alex Barmas, true innovation in facade design and fabrication is about more than the latest technological bells and whistles. Rather, it is about exercising creativity despite the restrictions posed by tight budgets, compressed timelines, and aggressive real estate markets. At Facades+ NYC later this month, Barmas will moderate a conversation on implementing innovation with AEC industry leaders including Cutler Anderson Architects' Jim Cutler, Arup's Tali Mejicovsky, Michael Stein, of Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, and Richard Meier & Partners' Vivian Lee. "My intention is to get the panelists talking about the possibilities of producing truly fantastic architecture while constrained by very real-world budgets and schedules," said Barmas. "They have all worked on projects where an intelligent and responsive approach to design, and an intelligence about materials and tectonics have allowed them to deliver great projects under tight constraints. The panel will focus on the commitment and perseverance required to execute and deliver such projects." New York is a hotbed of facade innovation exactly because of the particular constraints at play there, said Barmas. In much of the United States, he explained, the litigious nature of the building design and construction market tends to discourage integrated project deliver. But "the New York market is actually a counterbalance to this. Due to the complexity of building projects, compressed construction schedules, and the need for coordination throughout the design and construction process, projects must take on a more holistic design mentality." At the same time, said Barmas, the drive to build taller and faster for the top of the market "has meant that there are some very interesting building envelopes either recently built, or under construction." As a case in point, he cited BIG's 625 West 57th Street (W57), calling it "a fantastic example of a really interesting curtain wall." All of this is not to say that new technology is not compelling—especially when made a part of built projects. "I'm very excited about the continuing integration of sensors, actuators, and other electrical components with the building envelope to create active and responsive facades," said Barmas. "This seems to be turning into a virtuous cycle where integrated systems are becoming more robust, system integration is improving, and all the parties to a building project are becoming more comfortable implementing these systems. System intelligence and integration enable us to achieve better performance with traditional building envelope components." To hear more from Barmas and panelists on bringing facades innovations to fruition, register today for Facades+ NYC. More information, including a complete symposium agenda, is available online.
In the constantly-evolving AEC industry, the importance of continuing technical education is difficult to understate. Yet learning opportunities for design and construction professionals tend to occupy two extremes, explained Thornton Tomasetti’s Jonatan Schumacher. “You can take a class, which is a long undertaking,” he said. “Or you can watch online lectures, which require self-motivation.” The Facades+ conference series offers a happy medium in the form of day-long tech workshops, providing hands-on exposure to new tools under the guidance of subject specialists. “The tech workshop is a unique opportunity, especially given how busy AEC professionals are,” said Schumacher, who will co-teach “Responsive Facade Prototypes” at next month's Facades+ NYC with colleague Grace Koerber. “It’s just long enough that you get a good understanding of what the topic is, but short enough that if it’s not for you, you haven’t committed a lot of time.” Schumacher, who has participated in past Facades+ tech workshops both as a student and as an instructor, points out that the courses meet a range of needs and levels of experience. “The workshop we’re about to teach is to explore something new, and hopefully whet someone’s appetite,” he said. “Other workshops are designed to help you freshen up on the topic, or add skills.” As for the tempo of the day, “it’s usually pretty fast paced, such that you get quite a good amount of exposure to the subject,” explained Schumacher. Participants in the tech workshops can expect to learn from each other as well as their instructors. “It’s a real community,” said Schumacher. “You can meet new people in your city that are interested in the same things. It’s nice to create that network, and hopefully stay in touch afterwards.” The facilitators, too, get something out of the courses. “It’s a lot of fun because we can teach subjects that we can’t necessarily do in our day to day jobs,” said Schumacher. “It’s usually something that we’re passionate about. I always enjoy spreading the word.” Other tech workshops on offer at Facades+ NYC include “Photogrammetry: Scanning to 3D Models,” with Justin Nardone and Ben Howes, also of Thornton Tomasetti. SHoP Architects’ John Cerone, Victoire Saby, and John Guilford will lead Parametric Facade Systems & Logic Sequencing,” and Matt Jezyk and Colin McCrone, both of Autodesk, will co-teach “Dynamo Tools for Facade Design in Revit.” For more information or to register, visit the Facades+ NYC website.
As the director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Dr. Antony Wood spends a lot of time thinking about the high-rise envelope, which he calls "its single most important interface to the external environment." For decades, hermetically sealed glass was the gold standard in facade design for tall buildings. With sustainability an increasingly urgent priority, things have begun to change for the better, says Wood. "But we have barely scratched the surface," he argues. "So much more needs to be done." Wood will issue his call to action next month in a talk and subsequent panel discussion at Facades+ NYC, the premier conference on high performance building envelopes. Wood mentions double-skin facades, green walls, and operable facades as among the most promising recent innovations in high-rise envelope design and construction. Double-skin facades like that pioneered in Foster + Partners' 1997 Commerzbank tower (Frankfurt), "perform as environmental 'switches' and provide for natural ventilation, while mediating the indoor temperature to a level that does not require 24/7 conditioning," explains Wood. "Projects like the nearly-complete Shanghai Tower, with its large atria and communal sky gardens, take this idea to the next level, and add to the idea of a 'high-performing facade' a social as well as a highly functional dimension." Green walls offer a range of benefits, from increased energy efficiency to aesthetic appeal and the reduction of the urban heat island effect. "We've also seen sophisticated mechanical, operable facades that adjust to solar conditions, such as at the Al Bahar towers in Abu Dhabi," says Wood. Other cutting-edge facades, like at Jean Nouvel's Doha Tower, incorporate historic building techniques to reduce thermal gain and thus improve efficiency. But while Wood finds the above encouraging, he does not think the AEC industry has gone far enough to meet contemporary social and environmental needs. "It's patently ridiculous that we talk about buildings have a design life of only 50 to 100 years," he says. "We should be designing for the ages, as there is very little practical experience in dismantling tall buildings—not to mention [it being] destructive to the environment and a waste of embodied energy—and modifications can be prohibitively expensive." Tomorrow's facades should incorporate interchangeability and flexibility as fundamental priorities. "We have to start designing and building for a future we cannot fully anticipate," argues Wood. "Durability is important, but adaptability is perhaps more so. Facades are the first line of defense in this cause." Wood identifies "a lack of collective will" as the principal obstacle to true innovation in facade design and construction. But he also envisions a way forward: through more research funding; more holistic design thinking; and a reorientation away from proprietary facade design. "A more sustainable business model would be ongoing consulting engagements that establish a meaningful feedback loop with clients and keep design one step ahead of demand, with an emphasis on interoperability and longevity," he concludes. To hear more from Wood and other experts in facade design and construction, register today for Facades+ NYC.