Perforated steel and translucent glass balance privacy and pop.For their Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI) in Monterrey, Mexico, Metalsa, a global manufacturing firm that specializes in automobile and truck chassis, did not want just another factory. Rather, the laboratory and testing facility, located in a state-sponsored research park adjacent to the Monterrey airport, was to be a "showpiece," explained Brooks + Scarpa Architects principal Lawrence Scarpa, "not just for their clients but from a work environment point of view, and a sustainability point of view." Despite the many challenges inherent to building across the United States-Mexico border, the Los Angeles architects succeeded in delivering a LEED Platinum design wrapped in a striking double skin of translucent glass and perforated steel panels. The facility's uneven sawtooth profile is the product of both historical and contextual references. "They are an industrial company, and I always loved the old warehouses with the north-facing clerestories, designed back when there was no electric lighting," recalled Scarpa. "That was what I was thinking about before I even went to the site." His first visit to Monterrey confirmed his instinct. "The mountains there are really sharp and jagged like that—it was an immediate concept for the building," said Scarpa. Like their 19th-century antecedents, moreover, the clerestories provide daylight and allow hot air to accumulate high above the inhabited spaces, thus reducing reliance on artificial lighting and cooling. The resulting form had one major drawback, however. "The issue we were faced with was that the primary way you enter the building is from the west, so we would have a broad face in the worst possible thermal position," said Scarpa. To solve the problem of solar gain without sacrificing the sawtooth roofline, Brooks + Scarpa implemented a double skin with an outer layer composed of perforated steel panels. With a wraparound sunscreen in place, explained Scarpa, "we could have a translucent skin behind it, but could modulate light and heat gain." Several factors influenced the perforation pattern on the outer skin. It began as an abstraction of Metalsa's corporate identity, said Scarpa, but evolved to respond to programmatic requirements. Perforations of different sizes and densities reflect the need for more or less privacy. Areas related to proprietary research and development are more opaque, while the office spaces cantilevered over the transparent northwest entrance benefit from the additional daylighting allowed by broader perforations. CMI's translucent inner skin of fluted glass refracts light, preventing glare from interfering with computer-based work. To prevent the occupants from feeling trapped in a windowless box, the architects carefully modulated the distance between the envelope's two layers. "When you're on the interior, it doesn't just look like a blank wall," said Scarpa. "When you're on the inside, you can't see through it, but you can see shadows move on the translucent surface." Designing for an out-of-country client is bound to produce hiccups, and the Metalsa project was no exception. For instance, Brooks + Scarpa had initially imagined that the auto giants would fabricate the perforated metal skin in-house, but turned to another supplier when disrupting the company's manufacturing flow proved cost-prohibitive. The architects nevertheless made the best of the situation, streamlining their vision to fit the situation at hand. "The technology that was available to us in Mexico is not overly sophisticated, so from the get-go we decided to take a more simplistic approach, utilizing a multi-layered skin," said Scarpa. "It was easy to construct, and it's not difficult to understand."
Posts tagged with "Larry Scarpa":
With its combination of warm temperatures, low humidity, bright sun, and vulnerability to earthquakes and fires, Southern California presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges to facade designers and builders. "It's way more forgiving here than in most places," said Larry Scarpa, principal at Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa. "I've been on design reviews in various parts of the country where you have to do things much differently with the building envelope. In Southern California you have a lot of freedom to explore things that you don't in other parts of the world." Scarpa and other AEC industry movers and shakers will gather in early February at Facades+ LA to discuss possibilities and trends in building envelope design, both in Los Angeles and beyond. Scarpa, who will deliver the afternoon keynote at the Facades+ conference series' Southern California debut, says that Los Angeles' temperate climate allows architects to simplify building envelopes, shifting resources from insulation and humidity control to lighting and materials. "Condensation is a big concern, but it's less of an issue here," he explained. "Generally speaking, we can be a lot less high tech with the actual wall construction. We then tend to spread it out: you still make it perform, but in a way where it's more like a rain screen." Southern California architects need not incorporate large thermal cavities, as at Herzog & de Meuron's Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis. The attendant freedom "becomes a way to deal with light in a much more significant way—how facades harvest light, or shade the building, or how you can make them function as public or private," said Scarpa. Brooks + Scarpa also use the flexibility engendered by their location to experiment with materials. "The materiality is a big thing for us," explained Scarpa. "We tend to use a lot of non-traditional building materials." The firm's Broadway Housing project, for instance, features a building skin partially clad with building blocks made from recycled aluminum cans. Benchmark Builders Showroom similarly incorporates an outer wall constructed from industrial brooms. "Because we have a certain amount of freedom here, we look to use ordinary materials in a way we're not used to seeing them," said Scarpa. Of course, Los Angeles is not all sunshine. Multiple active earthquake faults in the region place constraints on architects and builders. Earthquake codes require particular structural systems, which in turn impact the buildings' facades. "You wind up with large amounts of columns or moment frames. If you have glass or curtain walls, they're going to be exposed—you're going to see it. It's very hard to conceal it in a wall." To learn more about designing and building high performance facades in Southern California and worldwide, register now for Facades+ LA. More information, including a list of speakers and the complete lineup of hands-on dialog and tech workshops, can be found on the conference website.
[ Updated 02.08.2011: Added the interview video, a gallery of Scarpa's 502 Colorado project, and more. ] You know you've hit the big time when you're not only invited to appear on Oprah, but you're interviewed by Leonard DiCaprio on Oprah. Such is the case with Larry Scarpa, of Santa Monica firm Brooks + Scarpa, who talked to Leo about his former firm Pugh + Scarpa's 502 Colorado in Santa Monica, which DiCaprio calls the “first green affordable housing project in the country.” Whether or not that’s true, the building does include 200 solar panels on its rooftop, providing much of the building’s energy. DiCaprio doesn’t ask Scarpa about any of the 44-unit building’s other green elements (including strategic orientation, natural ventilation, co-generation, and recycled materials), but that’s okay, he'll dream about it later. At least Scarpa gets to remind stubborn developers that building green can be cheaper than conventional building. By the way, we think Scarpa, who’s already a dead ringer for Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, has earned himself a spot on DiCaprio’s next film, Devil in the White City, about the architects of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Wake up and get that architect an agent NOW.