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.
Posts tagged with "sunshades":
Red-rock mountains and the saguaro cactus inspired the Health Sciences Education Building's rippling copper facade.Downtown Phoenix, observed CO Architects’ Arnold Swanborn, looks a lot like downtown Minneapolis. That feels wrong, given the two cities’ contrasting environments. So when it came to designing the Health Sciences Education Building (HSEB) at Phoenix Biomedical Campus (which won honorable mention for facades in AN’s Best of Design Awards), CO Architects went back to nature—to the Sonoran Desert in particular. “We’re building in a desert. We really, in the outset, wanted to understand what it’s like to build in a desert environment, to really go back and investigate the people who first moved there, or even some of the [American] Indians who lived [there],” said Swanborn. “The skin is really a response to some of the lessons we learned from going out to the desert, being out there and seeing how plants and animals adapted to that environment.” HSEB’s undulating envelope, comprising 5,972 copper panels and more than 10,000 copper parts, echoes two of the defining features of the Arizona desert. First is the omnipresent saguaro cactus, which evolved a folded skin as a self-shading structure. Second is the layered soil of the nearby mountains. “[T]he [building’s] skin folds in a way that’s similar to the saguaro cactus,” explained Swanborn. “How we emulate the mountains beyond is by creating a shadow pattern by folding and articulating the metal panels.” Copper was a natural choice for the exterior cladding. HSEB went up during the recession, said Swanborn, “when everyone was very sensitive to making sure everything was local.” Copper is one of Arizona’s “five C’s”: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. In addition, copper is highly conductive, meaning it responds quickly to the region’s aggressive swings in temperature. “Because it’s a rain screen technology we innovated into a sunscreen, there’s a space between the copper skin and building envelope,” said Swanborn. “There’s a 2 ½- or 3-inch air cavity that essentially acts as a chimney. The air gets superheated, and it essentially creates a vertical convection effect, which wicks heat away from the building.” On a 100-degree day, the copper skin keeps the interior a (relatively) cool 70. Finally, copper ages well. “Over time it patinas beautifully,” said Swanborn. “It’s easy to take care of; it kind of takes care of itself.” Phoenix’s climate informed every aspect of the exterior design, starting with the massing. CO Architects worked with Transsolar to determine a shape that would maximize shading. The building is arranged around a narrow courtyard running from east to west, which the architects modeled on the Sonoran desert’s slot canyons. The courtyard is topped with a polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE) shading structure, which “allows daylight to filter through—sort of like a big lightbulb,” said Swanborn. “It filters, diffuses, and bounces off the interior’s light-colored walls.” The courtyard walls are faced in Trendstone ground face masonry units by Trenwyth, a light block rain screen used as a veneer. The courtyard helps bring light to HSEB’s east and west faces, which CO Architects left windowless in order to reduce thermal gain. On the south side of the building, they installed cantilevered copper sunshades over the windows. Vertical copper fins on the north elevation shade occupants from the rising and setting sun. Like the building’s copper cladding, the sunshades and fins were fabricated by Kovach. To open the ground floor on the west end of the building to the adjacent campus green, CO Architects took a cue from early desert dwellers. “When the [American Indians] first settled, they built underneath these carved rock formations, which again becomes self-shading,” Swanborn. The ground floor is glazed, but set back under the building to reduce direct exposure to the sun. Swanborn relished the challenge the joint University of Arizona/Northern Arizona University project provided. “To me the story’s really about the idea of creating a new urban vernacular for the desert,” he said. “The more restricted things become, [the more] architects have to become inventive. The skin of the building is really a pointer to that: it’s inventive, it’s innovative. I think it’s very fitting for that area.”