A tight budget and short timeline inspired an innovative concrete and terra cotta facade.BNIM and Moore Ruble Yudell approached the design of the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Missouri-Kansas City with two objectives. The first was to express the creative spirit of the university’s program in entrepreneurship, which at that point lacked dedicated support spaces. The second goal was to tie the contemporary structure to its historic surroundings. Moore Ruble Yudell, who developed many of the project’s interior concepts, tackled the former, creating flexible classroom and laboratory spaces and a multi-story amphitheater that doubles as casual seating and a venue for school-wide gatherings. As for the latter, BNIM designed a multicolored terra cotta envelope that balances singularity with connection. “The idea was to create a building that sat by itself, but somehow bring it into context in terms of materials,” explained BNIM senior project architect Greg Sheldon. Because so much of the existing campus architecture featured masonry construction, the architects “had a desire to use a fired earth material, but to try to do it in a more contemporary way,” said Sheldon. Inspired by a project in London that combined different colors of terra cotta to blend it into its surroundings, BNIM began working with architectural terra cotta manufacturer NBK to design a rain screen for Bloch Hall. But budget and time constraints soon intervened. To cut costs and enclose the building as quickly as possible, BNIM approached Enterprise Precast Concrete about the possibility of casting the terra cotta components directly into insulated concrete panels. “There was a lot of back and forth between Enterprise Precast Concrete and NBK,” said Sheldon. “This was one of the very early projects to use this technique.” To further streamline construction, BNIM and Moore Ruble Yudell decided to integrate the concrete into the interior aesthetic, so that the inside face of the panels required no additional finishing beyond sandblasting. General contractors JE Dunn Construction “loved that if we could pull this off, the insulation’s in place and the inside’s finished,” said Sheldon. “They bring it out, put it on the building, and that’s it.” For glazing, the design-build team ordered a YCW 750 XT high performance curtain wall from YKK, sized to slot into the opening between the building’s masonry components. Together, the insulated concrete-terra cotta panels and high performance glass helped put the building on track to earn LEED Gold certification. The patterns in the terra cotta “weren’t accidental, but were studied and studied,” said Sheldon. The south end of the building is a deep red, like the adjacent Bloch School Building. To the north, the colors fade to a buff yellow, reflecting the lighter tones of the nearby student center. To perfect the patterning, the designers first looked at the range of colors available through NBK and chose the six most compatible with the surrounding buildings. They then unfolded the elevation of the building and plugged the different shades into their digital model. BNIM experimented with different combinations, printing each and pinning it to the wall before making adjustments. “I don’t know how many iterations they did,” said Sheldon. “It just went on and on.” The final scheme achieves the desired effect. In color and materials, it creates a dialogue with the older buildings around it. Yet the bold patterning simultaneously marks the facade as a 21st century creation. Upon receiving the $32 million gift from Henry W. Bloch that made building the new Bloch Hall possible, then-Dean Teng-Kee Tan observed that “the path of innovation is never a straight line.” The architects manifested the analogy in the building's architecture and landscaping, carving the interior into a series of curvilinear spaces, and connecting the building to its neighbors via a meandering path. But the statement applies equally to the design process itself, in which a tight budget and 14-month construction timeline encouraged an innovative combination of concrete, terra cotta, and high performance glass. A successful sublimation of limitations into opportunity, the story of Bloch Hall’s envelope is the story of entrepreneurship in microcosm.
Posts tagged with "High-Performance Facades":
According to Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, president of Chicago-based JAHN, contemporary facade design neglects one of the building envelope’s foremost responsibilities: storytelling. “There is a focus now on using the building massing to convey the key message,” he said. “However, I think it’s through the facade that we can bring a more compelling narrative about how the building functions.” As an example, Gonzalez-Pulido pointed to Mies van der Rohe’s One IBM Plaza, which he can see from his office. “When you look at the mechanical floors, they’re treated differently,” he said. “In the lobby, the glass is different. This is actually the responsibility of the facade—it’s more than a piece of glass and metal to cover the building.” Gonzalez-Pulido, who will deliver the afternoon keynote at facades+ Chicago later this month, framed the problem in terms of lightness. “Lightness is not only a physical property but a metaphysical property,” he said. “There’s been a tendency of loading skins with unnecessary elements for the sake of aesthetics. The facade is regulating so many important things that we have to be more conscious of it. If we are, the impact of buildings on the urban environment will be much more positive than it has been.” Architects should take their cue from the automobile and aircraft industries, he said, and discard homogeneity in favor of innovative materials and assemblies. The tendency toward standardization, Gonzalez-Pulido said, does not just have aesthetic consequences. It also sacrifices environmental performance. “It bothers me that buildings are so passive when the environment is changing constantly,” he said. “By facades being so mundane, as they are in a lot of buildings right now, we’re relying more on internal systems as opposed to the skin itself to really improve performance.” In the best-case scenario, the building envelope should facilitate “invisible acclimatization,” explained Gonzalez-Pulido, “creating ideal conditions of comfort and energy consumption without you being an active regulator or manipulator.” One key to correcting the imbalance between form and function, Gonzalez-Pulido argued, is convincing clients that high-performance facades are worth the initial cost. “That’s part of the reason why we’re creating this very boring look to buildings, because clients are so aware of what it takes to make a building inexpensive,” he said. “They’re pushing architects to the cookie cutter. This is dangerous—we’re not inventing things, we’re trying with aesthetics to make a difference.” Luckily, some clients can be talked out of a preference for glass boxes. This is what happened at the Veer Towers in Las Vegas (2010), where JAHN convinced an initially skeptical MGM that external shades were essential in a desert environment. “This is a remarkable story of how we were able to turn around the destiny of a building in its context, through collaborative effort, integrated design, and a committed client,” Gonzalez-Pulido said. Ultimately, it is up to architects to realize the building envelope’s full potential, Gonzalez-Pulido said. “Only if we push our boundaries, remove our preconceptions, and respond to the different context where we’re actually influencing through our design will we be able to make real progress,” he said. “It’s not just a technical question, but a moral question.”
Like our skin, a building's facade is a critical intermediary between its interior functions and the outside environment. High-performance envelope design thus incorporates a variety of concerns, from aesthetics to sustainability. Next month, leading AEC industry professionals will gather in the Windy City for facades+ Chicago to discuss the future of facade design through the lens of the conference theme: resilience. For more information or to register, visit the facades+ Chicago website.
KieranTimberlake has long pushed the boundaries of conventional facade design. The Philadelphia-based firm started using pressure-equalized rain screen systems in the 1980s, well before other architects brought the technology on board. Their Melvin J. and Claire Levine Hall, at the University of Pennsylvania (2003), was the first actively ventilated curtain wall in North America. The designers at KieranTimberlake have introduced new materials and assemblies, such as the SmartWrap building skin deployed at Cellophane House, part of MoMA’s Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling exhibit. One of the firm’s latest projects, the Embassy of the United States, London, incorporates an outer envelope of three-dimensional ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) panels with integrated photovoltaic cells. Thus founding partner James Timberlake speaks from experience when he calls out the American AEC industry for a lack of attention to high-performance building envelopes. “We see performance—not only of the building, put particularly the facade—as being a critical element of architecture, and of the long-term sustainability of not only architecture but building in general,” said Timberlake. “We think that architects, manufacturers, and contractors need to be thinking innovatively in that way as they help build the future of not only North America, but China and Europe as well.” For Timberlake, who will deliver the keynote address at next month’s facades+ Chicago conference, the missing link is production. “I think the United States and North American market has abrogated its duty to produce high-performance, sustainable, and affordable facade choices over the last four decades,” he said. “The last time we produced anything that was innovative was in the late 1960s. Since then, all of that production went to Asia and Europe. I think it’s now time to make that stuff here.” Moving facade manufacturing back to the United States would benefit manufacturers and designers as well as the economy in general, says Timberlake. “The President of the United States has, in the last few weeks, put out a clarion call for manufacturing to return to the USA rather than offshoring. I think we can be competitive; I think we should be producing innovative wall strategies here,” he said, noting the potential impact on unemployment. “There have always been [American] companies that have been innovative with bespoke strategies, but at this point they are considered niche constructors. In the long term we would like to see those niche manufacturers expand their market reach to be the distributors for some of these other types of facade strategies, or even return to producing the kinds of curtain walls that made the Lever House and Mies van der Rohe’s buildings in Chicago, and made the gleaming skyscrapers of LA.” Architects, said Timberlake, would benefit from greater integration and lower labor and shipping costs were facade manufacture to relocate from abroad. The key to reintegrating facade manufacture and production, argued Timberlake, is demonstrating the existence of a market for cutting-edge envelopes. “They need to see that the design and engineering capability is here in the United States,” he said. “Three-dimensional design used to be the purview of Europe and Asia, but over the last five to ten years American architects and engineers have become quite capable of working three dimensionally. We’re turning out three dimensional designs and engineering solutions that are unique and innovative in terms of their technology, and also are affordable solutions and quite sustainable.” As proof that it can be done, Timberlake points to auto companies, including Volkswagen and Tesla, that have recently set up production centers in the United States. “I don’t see curtain walls and facades any different from that,” he said. “There’s a robust labor market ripe for that to be rolled out here.” Timberlake admitted that his concern with the building-products supply chain might strike some as unusual. “What architect thinks about that? We do,” he said, referencing KieranTimberlake’s history of integrating design and research. “We see economy as a part of design; design incorporates economy. You have to think about the market, sustainability, affordability, production, and manufacture. You have to think about how good it looks, and you have to think about whether you can get it to the marketplace.”
Joshua Prince-Ramus, principal at REX, has a bone to pick with modernism and its legacy. “For the last 100 years, architecture’s been involved in a silly tension between form and function,” he said. While high modernism privileged function over form, some of today’s top designers argue that architecture is about aesthetics and not much else. REX has a different take: architecture, the firm claims, is both function and form. “We really believe that architecture can do things. It’s not just a representational art form,” said Prince-Ramus. “We talk about performance. Aesthetics are part of performance [as is function.]” Prince-Ramus, who will deliver the afternoon keynote address at next week’s facades+PERFORMANCE New York conference, approaches facade design as an integral part of the design process as a whole. That process, in turn, revolves around a concept he calls agenda. “We set out in our projects to figure out what the project’s agenda should be, then we set out to delimit the constraints,” he said. “Then we try to find the embodiment of the agenda that will fit seamlessly within those constraints.” REX’s current projects include a pair of headquarters buildings for sister media companies in the Middle East. The stone-clad towers are covered in retractable sunshades that reference a traditional Arab Mashrabiya pattern. As an example of how constraints can influence facade design, Prince-Ramus cited the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. REX (with OMA) slashed the project’s envelope budget in order to build a theater that changes shape to suit different arts events. The money they were left with, said Prince-Ramus, was about what standard aluminum siding would cost—so they started there. “We made a dummy design where we spent a lot of effort trying to not design something aesthetically, but that we’d put it out to the market and uncover what in the market drove costs,” he said. In Dallas that turned out to be weight, since frequent hail storms require thick siding. REX/OMA developed a facade system of extruded tubes that would protect against hailstones while minimizing the amount of aluminum required. “We made something that was very beautiful and very unique,” said Prince-Ramus. “Certainly if we’d come back to the client with flat aluminum siding they would have said, ‘Put the money back into the facade.'...The success of the facade is why we were able to build a building that’s renowned for its ability to transform.” While the Wyly Theatre facade was shaped by financial constraints, the client’s particular vision informed the envelope for the Mercedes Benz Future Center in Stuttgart. “Part of the collective agenda was that the building should be very transparent, as opposed to museums, which tend to be very cloistered,” said Prince-Ramus. But the automaker also wanted the Future Center, which will display its vision for the future of automobile technology, to be “a beacon for sustainability.” REX’s current solution (which may change as the design develops) is to create a curtain-like sunshade that wraps around the all-glass building. The shade is opaque on one side of the building and nearly transparent on the other, and rotates with the sun’s movements. The curtain is a metaphor for the unknowability of the future: Prince-Ramus recalled the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, which says that it is impossible to simultaneously determine the value of certain variables. “The more you know of one, the less you know of others,” he said. “In discussions about the future, that idea seemed really inherent in what they’re doing [at Mercedes Benz].” Whatever the origin of a particular facade design, for Prince-Ramus it always comes back to performance, the standard that for him encapsulates both function and aesthetics. “The more we’ve used the word performance, the more I’m convinced it does have that dual meaning,” he said. “When [they] talk about a high-performance auto, they don’t just mean it goes from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds. They mean it’s sexy, too.” To hear Joshua Prince-Ramus speak next week, visit the facades+PERFORMANCE New York conference website.
A high-performance facade weaves a diverse program into a single volume.The School of Law at the University of Baltimore was founded nearly nine decades ago, but for most of that time its classrooms, offices, library, and clinics were scattered among several downtown buildings. That changed last year, with the opening of the John and Frances Angelos Law Center. Designed by Behnisch Architekten with Ayers Saint Gross, the Angelos Law Center unites a diverse program within a single 12-story structure. Its checkerboard envelope, which won Best Facade in AN’s 2014 Best of Design Awards, weaves the building’s three principal components—a classroom and office wing, the library, and a central atrium—into a single volume. In addition, the facade positions the university on the cutting edge of sustainable design. Its integrated approach to energy efficiency has helped the Angelos Law Center win several green-building prizes, and set it on track to achieve LEED platinum status. Behnisch Architekten took a tripartite approach to the design of the facade. The architects wrapped the portion of the building dedicated to offices and classrooms with an aluminum plate and punched window system. “This is the kind of facade that works very well with the kinds of spaces behind it, because those tend to be a bit more regulated and modular in the way they are allocated,” said partner Matt Noblett. For the library, the uppermost of the building’s two L-shaped volumes, the designers chose a frit glass with a pattern they call a basket weave. “The library, from a program perspective, is kind of a big soup,” said Noblett. There are group study spaces, offices, and, of course, the stacks. “[W]e wanted to find a way in the facade to do [something] more neutral, less specific,” he explained. “The basket weave is less specific in how the articulation of the facade related to the program behind it.” The third segment of the facade, transparent glass enclosing the building’s atrium, draws the two other volumes together. The architects developed a unique sustainability strategy for each section of the building. For the office block, National Enclosure Company fabricated a unitized curtain system comprising the window surface, exterior blinds, and a glass rain screen. The Hunter Douglas Nysan blinds move up and down according to an automated program that operates the top one-third and bottom two-thirds of the windows separately. “It’s remarkable to look at the specific data, to see how much more of the year you’re able to maintain comfort without excessive amounts of air conditioning when you have an exterior sunshading system,” said Noblett, whose firm worked with Transsolar on the building’s climate engineering. Outside the blinds is a low-iron laminated glass rain screen mounted on aluminum brackets. While the architects initially designed the rain screen to protect the blinds, it also solved an architectural problem. “It had a tendency to reunify all of the facade into one building,” he explained. “The more you perforate, the less you read as one volume. By essentially shrink-wrapping [the offices and classrooms], you start to read it again as a [single] volume.” The library at the Angelos Law Center is faced with frit glass from Viracon. “We did a lot of study with the manufacturer” to determine the gradient pattern, said Noblett. “What we wanted it to read was as purely white as possible. We wanted the ceramic as close to the surface as possible.” The goal was to reduce solar gain to the bare minimum. “If you were designing the building and didn’t care how it looked, you would just build a solid wall,” said Noblett. “The idea to add frit to make the wall essentially solid, [but] from the interior of the library it still feels like it’s open.” Outside the atrium, Behnisch Architekten installed a fixed brise soleil by National Enclosure Company on the south and west sides. The north side they left uncovered. All of the Angelos Law Center’s windows are operable, which, while not unheard of, is still unusual in a non-residential setting. “It’s hard to argue with a building where you can get comfortable by opening windows versus sealing up and running the air,” said Noblett. Noblett describes designing a high-performance facade as “this game you’re constantly playing between how much light comes in and how much solar gain [results].” By that analogy, the Angelos Law Center is a check mark in Behnisch Architekten’s win column.
Architect Gordon Gill has one simple rule for facade design: seek performance first, and beauty will follow. Gill, who will give the opening keynote address at next month’s facades+PERFORMANCE conference in New York, is a founding partner at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, a firm known for pushing the boundaries of what architecture is and does. Gill and his team start by “establishing a language of architecture that’s based in the performance of a building,” he said. “We’re trying to understand the role of the building in the environment it’s being built in, then shape the building in order to benefit it the best way. Once we take that approach, the facades play a pretty rich role in either absorbing or reflecting the environment.” Gill titled his keynote talk “Skin Deep” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to what facade design ought not to be. “A lot of times facades are treated that way, as just a wrapper to make the building look good, when in fact we find their roles to be much deeper,” said Gill. “The role of the facade is really an amazing opportunity to change perceptions of space, to change thermal compositions of space, to change experiences of space on either side of that fence.” Gill has plenty of experience designing high-performance facades for challenging climates, from the heat of Dubai to the cold of Kazakhstan, where, he said, the air was so frigid and dry that he saw ice on the floor of the car that picked him up from the airport. “It’s amazing the environments that we have decided to occupy, and in doing so then we turn to these envelopes to protect us, everything from our coat to our building,” he observed. Gill embraces technology as a means to the end of high performance. “I’m a big fan of trying to get the most out of everything, and the technology plays a pretty big role in that for me,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a whole host of factors, including massive wind loads, movements of buildings, safety and protection in something that’s one kilometer tall, you’ve stretched the boundaries of conventionalism, you’ve gone beyond the normal expectations of materials. So now it becomes this combination of things you have to do to solve the problems.” Balancing performance and sensitivity in a facade, said Gill, is “like conflict resolution at the threshold of the built environment”—and technology can be an important mediator. “I would just put out a little call to arms for everyone who’s out there in this business, because we do have a responsibility to improve the environments that we design and work in,” concluded Gill. “I think beauty [has] a pivotal role and [is] a quality we all want to pursue, however, it shouldn’t be at the cost of intelligence, performance, and all the other things that make our environments valuable to us. I look forward to seeing more of that in the architecture that’s being produced—from us, too.”