27 August 2010

Updating a landmark: from Rome to Illinois

Two architectural masterpieces have been restorated recently or are under a process of restoration: Mies' Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Panteon in Rome. What can we learn from a facades perspective? Is there any connection between these two interventions?

The Crown Hall is the jewel of the crown in the IIT masterplan. Completed in 1956, it houses the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. A clear-span structure, its roof is suspended from four solid plate girders above. Within the column-free structure is a universal space, 220 feet by 120 feet wide by 18 feet high, that provides a completely flexible environment, often described as a large one-room schoolhouse. 

In Crown Hall, Mies created an edifice that clearly reflects its technology. The plate girders are immediately visible to the observer, and they are seamlessly integrated into the steel columns running outside the glass enclosure. Smaller vertical steel members frame the large sheets of glazing. Except for a steel and travertine terrace providing access to the raised first floor, there are no other exterior features. Crown Hall is, as Mies would say, “Almost nothing.”

How do you retrofit a building which is so next to nothing? It definitely took more effort than one might expect initially.


The Panteon, against what one might imagine, was not erected by Agrippa, even if his name appears at the front of the temple. Agrippa did commision a former Panteon to adore all Roman gods in that place by .... ad, but the building got fired and was demolished. The Panteon we admire today was ordered by Adrianus, a great Roman emperor of Spanish origin, in .....ad.

21 August 2010

Wind loading: science or myth?

Three researchers of the TU Delft have written a very interesting paper on the topic of facade and roof wind loading, with the title: 'Towards a reliable design of facade and roof elements against wind loading'. The paper, published in 2004, is a good starting point for some comments on the matter.

Geurts, van Staalduinen and de Wit very rightly point out that 'current building practice, including the building codes, is still not able to safeguard against local wind loads for every situation'. Wind loading codes, according to the paper, fall short on three main issues:
  • Many buildings are not covered by the typical square or rectangular plan shapes appearing on the building codes. In these cases wind tunnel experiments are the natural option, but an accepted and clear procedure on how to conduct and analyze wind tunnel measurements is not available yet.
  • Pressure equalization plays an important role in the design of roof and facade elements, but it may increase the total wind loading. Such effect is not well covered in our codes.
  • The effect that neighbouring buildings have on the local wind loads is not included in our standards, and there isn't an agreed procedure on how to measure it in a wind tunnel. 
To be continued...

20 August 2010

U-value: a not so well-known concept

Most of us have a general idea of the concepts of U- value and g- value when dealing with thermal properties of facades. This post presents some issues not so well known about U-value. A future one will deal with g-value and finally a third one will unify both of them under a building physics perspective.

Low U-values of two walls of Jukka Talo, a Finnish supplier of prefabricated timber houses. 
Left, 318mm + 48mm mineral wool insulation; U-value: 0,11W/m2ºK. 
Right, 318mm mineral wool + 50mm polyurethane insulation; U-value: 0,10W/m2ºK.

Let's start with the basics we know already.
  • U-value, or thermal transmittance, is the heat flow density going through one m2 of a specific wall element when both sides of the wall are subject to a temperature difference of one ºK. Heat is a form of energy and thus heat flow is measured in Joules/second, that is, in Watt. According to this definition, U-value is measured in W/m2ºK. 
  • Another definition (by Limb in 'Air infiltration and ventilation glossary', 1992) describes U-value as the heat flow transmitted through a unit area of a given structure, divided by the difference between the effective ambient temperature on either side of the structure, under steady state conditions.
  • That is, the interaction between the wall and the outer / inner air layers, the thickness of the wall or the fact that the wall has one or several layers are all combined within the U-value: what it tells us is the amount of heat that gets through a certain wall per m2 per ºK, as simple as that. Or not that simple?
The U-value of a glass pane is determined in Europe by calculation according to EN 673 or by measurement according to EN 674. Under the same boundary conditions, calcs and measurements result in very similar U-values. Funnily, the American code for glass, ASHRAE/NFRC, yield a slightly worse (that is, higher) U-value than the European standards. The difference can be around 0.1 - 0.2W/m2ºK. Furthermore, the ASHRAE U-value is separated into winter and summer conditions.

Does U-value measure convection, conduction or radiation?
It is clear that g-value refers to solar radiation through transparent materials such as window glass surfaces. It does not measure heat exchanges due to conduction or convection. What about U-value? Does it only measure heat flows due to convection and conduction, or does it also measure radiation? Interestingly, the primary mode of heat transfer impeded by thermal insulation in a facade is convection, but in fact U-value measures heat loss by all three heat transfer modes: conduction, convection, and radiation:
  • Convection occurs because of changes in air density with temperature, creating a movement of the air that transfers heat. Insulation materials greatly retard natural convection in air filled cavities, so that convective heat loss is significantly reduced.
  • Conduction implies heat being transferred between substances in physical contact. The mineral wool or foam required to prevent convection slightly increases the heat conduction in a cavity compared to still air, because the insulation density is higher than air. But, roughly speaking, the conduction effect of heat transmission increases with density. Insulation materials are in general low conductive materials because of their low density.
  • Radiation is the transmission of heat through space by the propagation of infrared energy, without necessarily warming the space between. Radiative heat transfer is minimised by having many surfaces interrupting a "clear view" between the inner and outer surfaces of the wall. Remember: radiation is best transmitted in total absence of matter such as in interplanetary space, as the sun demonstrates every clear day. Finally, radiation is also reduced by low emissivity (highly reflective) surfaces. Thermal insulation, with its foamy or capillary structure, behaves as a multiple filter to radiative heat.
Thermal conductivity of common materials
Thermal conductivity (expressed by the Greek letter lambda) is a thermal property of a material, of its ability to conduct heat. It is measured as the rate of heat flow (W) over unit lenght (m) through that material over unit area (m2), caused by unit temperature difference (K): W.m/m2.K, by cancellation: W/mK. The lower the conductivity of a material, the better it acts as a thermal insulator.

Glass has a thermal conductivity of 1.05W/mK. Is this high or low? It is rather high, although very small if we compare it with metalic materials as steel (54), aluminium (250) or copper (401). Glass is a rock, so its thermal conductivity is not too far away from a typical stone (1.7 to 3) or standar concrete (1.7). Dry earth has a value of 1.5W/mK. A solid brick (1.3) is more conductive than a brick wall (0.69) because the latter has air in the hollow ceramic bricks.

What about insulation materials? Air conductivity is 0.024W/mK, a very low one, even less than that of EPS or XPS (0.03 - 0.033) or mineral wool (0.04). Cork (0.07) and cotton (0.03) are also more conductive than air. Only polyurethane foam (0.02) has a lower conductivity than air, but not that different. By the way, snow is a good thermal insulation in winter. When the outer temperature is below 0ºC, snow lambda is around 0.05 to 0.25W/mK, depending on its density. Water is much worse as a thermal insulator (0.58). High density wood does insulate: 0.12 to 0.17, not bad.

Why do we use insulation materials instead of just air cavities? Clearly because it is difficult to have the air still and quiet in a chamber, and avoid the convective currents. Is there a material with a thermal conductivity lower than air, but not suffering from air convective currents? Yes, and these are the noble gases: argon (0.016), krypton (0.0095) and xenon (0.00565). More about them right now.

What is the role of air thickness and infill in a double glass unit?
The insulating efficiency of a standard double glass unit depends on the thickness of the air space between glass sheets. Too little space results in conductive heat loss: the inside surface of one pane cools the surface of the other pane. Too wide a gap results in convection current losses: air begins to circulate because of temperature differences and transfers heat between the panes. Glass sealed units achieve their maximum insulating values using an intermediate space between 16 and 19 mm.
This is fine, but not enough. Reducing the U-value from 2.9 down to 2.6W/m2ºK is fine, but it represents a 10% reduction only. Why do we get an even lower thermal transmittance (and thus a lower U-value) by replacing air with argon in a double glass unit or in a high quality foam insulation? Which one of the three heat transfer modes is retarded here?

Replacing the air in the intermediate space with a heavy gas, slightly denser but much more viscous than oxygen and nitrogen, is helpful because its higher viscosity reduces convective heat transfer. Argon (whose thermal conductivity is 67% that of air), krypton (with a conductivity 2.5 times smaller than air) or xenon (4.2 times smaller) do increase the insulating performance of the whole glass unit because of their reduced convective transmission besides their lower thermal conductivity. Argon, krypton and xenon are used because they are non-toxic, clear, odorless, chemically inert, and commercially available, but their cost grows exponentially with their alphabetic order. That is why argon is the one most commonly used, always in combination with low-e coatings. By the way, the more effective a fill gas, the thinner its optimum thickness becomes. For example, the optimum thickness for argon is lower than for air, and lower for krypton than for argon. This is good to know because these infills are expensive. All considered, an air space of 15mm with argon at 95% or more is a very good selection if you have to reduce your U-value in glass. But remember to add a low-e coating as well!

Is U-value really constant?
More tricky things: the U-value is calculated under standardized conditions, usually under an air temperature of 20ºC inside and 10ºC outside, a surface emissivity of 0.9, a 50% humidity and an external wind speed of 4m/s. Air in movement should have a certain influence on the thermal resistance of an outer surface: wind increases the interaction between the wall and the outer air layer, and conductivity is higher. But the air temperature? Does this mean that U-values vary with temperature? Yep. Now, does U-value increase under cold or hot temperatures? Does U-value increase or decrease with a strong wind? Which of those two variables is more important?

Air movement and temperature inside and outside the wall do affect the surface resistance values of the wall. Let's forget the inside face of the wall: its temperature and air movement variations are too small to affect the U-value. The surface resistance is the combination of a convective coefficient and a radiative coefficient. The convective coefficient depends directly on wind speed, and its range of variation is huge: convection is 'pushed' by a 10m/s wind speed eleven times more than under a total still air. The radiative coefficient varies with temperature, but not that much, just +/- 20% under extreme external temperatures. If we are in Norway and the outer temperature is -10º, the external surface resistance of the wall will be 0.042 ºKm2/W instead of 0.04. If we are in Saudi, +40º outside, expect something around 0.038 ºKm2/W

To cut a long story short, what are the parameters that can really modify the mean U-value of a wall?
  • External temperature has a very small influence. It does not affect at all opaque, well insulated walls. For glazed walls the variation is also very small: a curtain wall with a mean U-value of 1.75W/m2ºK at +10ºC outside will have the same value at -10ºC outside, and will raise to 1,76W/m2ºK when the outer temperature is +30ºC.
  • Emissivity of materials can have an influence, and it varies depending on the material. We know it is critical in glass (lowering its U-value from 2.5 to 1.7W/m2ºK, for instance). When a material has an intrinsic low emissivity it is difficult to make a difference on the U-value if we reduce it even further. That is the case with aluminium: reducing its emissivity with special coatings has a very small influence on the mean U-value of the wall (especially if it's a glazed curtain wall).
  • Wind speed has an important influence if our wall is a glazed facade, and it doesn't affect the mean U-value if it's a well insulated opaque wall. Let's suppose we have a curtain wall with a mean U-value of 1.75W/m2ºK (that's a high-performant curtain wall by all standards). Now comes the surprise: if wind speed moves up from 4m/s to 10m/s (nothing extraordinary for curtain walls, especially in high rise buildings) the mean U-value due to wind speed raises from 1.75 up to 1.82W/m2ºK. An increase of 4%: that's not the same thing! 
U-value matters, but so does air permeability
Please remember this: the insulation quality of a wall is affected by other factors not addressed by U-value classification. Although the U-value laboratory test captures the effects of convective loops within the insulation, it cannot measure the amount of air leakage through a real wall assembly once the insulation is installed. The rate of air permability in a wall is affected by:
  • the density and continuity of the insulation,
  • the presence or absence of an air barrier in the wall assembly,
  • the wind speed, and
  • the pressure difference between outside and inside the wall.
Because of these factors, a wall assembly insulated with fiberglass or mineral wool blankets will usually perform worse than a wall assembly insulated with a continuous sprayed foam, even when the foam has the same U-value as the blankets. The difference is due to the spray foam’s ability to reduce air leakage, not to any difference in U-value between the two materials.
To obtain the best performance from fiberglass or mineral wool insulation, the US Energy Star Homes program requires most fiberglass-insulated framing cavities to be enclosed by air barriers on all six sides. It makes sense, but it’s hard to achieve on site.

Cold bridges or thermal bridges are clearly an interruption to the continuity of insulation and thus an increase of the general U-value of the wall. But there is a less obvious type of cold bridge, shown above, known as thermal looping: an air gap of more than 1mm between the insulation and the inner wall leaf allows air circulation, creating convective currents and leading to a significant reduction of the overall U-value. This was first presented by Jan Lecompte in a paper of 1990, named 'Influence of natural convection in an insulated cavity on the thermal performance of a wall'. How many of us know about it, and take care of it in our details?

Well, somebody knows it, but not too well. The standard EN ISO 6946:2007 has an annex D called 'Correction to thermal transmittance'. One of the corrections covers thermal looping. I don't like the way it's done though, because it does not include the gap thickness as a variable, and the so-called correction is too small: you just have to add less than 0.04W/m2K. In this case, sorry to say chaps, calculations don't match measurements!

Some suppliers of radiant barriers or spray foam insulation, well aware of these issues, tend to imply that U-value measurements are meaningless. U-value is of course a very useful measurement, but just because you know a product’s U-value doesn’t mean you know everything necessary to predict the real heat flow through a wall or a roof. No one has yet invented a magic number that replaces the requirement for designers to study and understand building physics principles.

Does radiant heat pass through insulation?

We have just mentioned radiant barriers. Another tactic employed by some suppliers of these products is the idea that conventional insulation materials - sometimes called mass insulation - allow radiant heat to pass right through them. Some radiant barrier brochures happily state that 'mass insulation is transparent to radiant heat'. The implication is that a layer of aluminium foil is always necessary to prevent radiant heat from traveling like radio waves right through a deep layer of cellulose, foam or XPS.
In fact, most mass insulation products do stop most of the radiant heat flow. Radiant heat easily travels through air (for example, from a wood stove to your nearby skin) or a vacuum (for example, from the sun to the earth). But radiant energy can’t travel that easy through a denser material. When radiant heat hits one side of a deep layer of insulation, only a tiny percentage of that radiant heat manages to miss all of the fibers in the insulation blanket and emerge unscathed on the other side.

The fact that heat flows through a layer of insulation doesn’t mean that the insulation isn’t working. By definition, insulation slows down heat flow; it doesn’t stop it. Heat will always flow from hot to cold. The more insulation and the lower the air permeability, as we have seen, the slower the heat flow.

Transmittance (U-value) and air-to-air resistance (Ra-a)
The reciprocal of the U-value is the air-to-air resistance (Ra-a, measured in m2K/W) which is the sum of each of the wall resistances: resistances of the external and internal surfaces of the wall plus resistances of each of its layers. E.g., for a wall of two layers:

Ra-a = Rso + R1 +R2 + Rsi.

The R-value of any homogenous layer is its thickness (in m) divided by the conductivity of its material. Thus, a good insulation material which has a very low conductivity will have a high resistance. Conductivity is a constant for any given material under certain conditions, while R-value depends on the material thickness. That is why most of the insulation materials in the market come with their R-value: each value defines every product (given a certain conductivity and a commercial thickness). Good insulation materials have an R-value of 5, 6 or even 10. These values are not in the SI, but in the typical US unit system: ft2·ºF·h/BTU·in (notice that ·in at the denominator: R-values are usually expressed per inch, to allow for comparison)

American marketed products come with their R-value/in expressed in US units. It takes time to translate them to SI values, now measured per cm. Here is a list of insulation materials with their R-value expressed in US units (per inch) and also in SI units (per cm):

Where can I learn more?
European (EN) and worldwide (ISO) standards have a bad reputation: they are definitely not easy to read. How could they be easy, having been written by a committee? But that doesn't mean they are not interesting, if what you are looking for is guidance or precision.
These are my five favourites in relation to thermal transmission:

a) EN ISO 6946:2007 for opaque elements: walls, roofs and floors.
And its referenced documents:
  • ISO 7345, Thermal insulation - physical quantities and definitions.
  • ISO 10456, Building materials and products - Hygrothermal properties - Tabulated design values.
  • ISO 13789, Thermal performance of buildings - Transmission and ventilation heat transfer coefficients.
b) EN ISO 13370, for heat transfer via the ground.

c) EN ISO 10077-1 for doors, windows and other glazed elements.

d) EN 13947, for curtain walls.

e) ISO 10221, for thermal bridges

My future book about facades

The first reason for this blog was not to create a blog.

I saw this tool - and still see it - as a way to write and keep track of issues that can be part of a future book about facades design. Writing a book takes a lot of effort and of structured work; to scribble a quick post and develop it later will supposedly be much easier.

What this book should not be:
  • A list of building examples with nice pictures and an introduction. With all respect, this is the Christian Schittich method (see his Detail facade books), and he seems to have too many followers. Enough!
  • A manual for absolute beginners. This book already exists. See Facades: principles of construction. Maybe later...
  • A technical manual. The topic is too wide to add something new. But there must be a technical approach to every issue in the book! Otherwise there would not be good conclussions.
  • A purely 'design oriented' facade book, helping architects find ideas for their projects. Of course there should be ideas, but it won't be the facades Vogue.
  • Another greenminded eco book about how important facades are for saving our planet. Again, sustainability matters, but with sense and sensibility.
  • A collection of innovative facade materials. There are thousands of these as books, webpages and blogs. I plan to do a list of the best ones. It would be great to provide some examples of improper use of materials in innovative facades: being innovative does not exempt a material from being feasible.

This is the list of don'ts. What about the characteristics this future book should have?
  • Engaging, well written, with an interesting story to tell. This means that the selection and order of topics will be crucial.
  • Funny. The less you know about something, the more 'professoral' you become. Have you read anything of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Ian Stewart, P.W. Atkins, Richard Feynman, Oliver Sacks or H.D.F. Kitto? None of these chaps is or was an architect or a builder. They are or were great professionals in their specialties, and they have or had the wit to engage readers, even outsiders to their field. Not many architecture or building technology books are written like that. Mario Salvadori, Eduardo Torroja or Peter Rice did it. Nobody in facades that I have met.
  • Well illustrated. To me, this means two things: a) each image or picture must be the adequate to illustrate the matter, and b) hand sketches and diagrams are better than colour prints. Images should provide light as in an anatomy treaty, not to conceal or effect as the curtains in a theather stage.
  • Interdisciplinar. Mixing the conflicting points of view that architects, engineers, facade contractors, materials and system suppliers, code writers, owners, facilities managers and end users have about facades. Conflict is good, it sheds light or at least paves the way to a solution.
  • Balanced. In the book there have to be bits of theory, history, practice, details, failure investigation, testing, materials science, building physics, mock up definition, acoustics, daylighting, structures, fire safety, resilience, means of access, procuring, building systems, construction methods and so on. The goal is to put these viewpoints against each other, not to prevail one over the others. This is the way good buildings behave. 
  • With a view. The reader will be initially asked to believe that facades design is a discipline where architecture, engineering and building specialist must work hand in hand, with a method, if a proper outcome shall be found once the building is in use. The book will demonstrate that such a holistic approach is not just a myth, but a doable and convenient way of design.
Well, nothing less than that!

Roof selection and details - Carles Broto

Roof selection and details
The author's name is Carles Broto from Barcelona, but sometimes he signs his books as Charles Broto.

The book is basicly a description of roof systems with many images, some sections, a projects selection and a short introduction to each chapter. It doesn't seem bad as a first introduction to the topic, but I would not rely too much on its accuracy.

Chapter 1 deals with types of roofs - nice details and clear graphic descriptions of each element. For those of us not English native, a good help indeed! Pitched roofs are described in chapter 2, covering monopitch, gable end, hipped and polyhedral roofs. Chapter 3 covers curved roofs, while chapter 4 goes for flat ones, both the walk-on and the ones with gravel finish. Chapter 5 explains the roof/facade systems, so common lately. Other types of roof (such as simmingpool, parking and green roofs) are described in chapter 6. Next one covers auxiliary elements as skylights, louvres, eaves, vents, chimney pots, gutters and drains. The last chapter describes the most common roofing materials: ceramic and slate tiles, bituminous and synthetic membranes, wood, glass and metal.

In summary: a simple writing style, no profound findings, good quality images. The price ($55) looks like a bit high to me though.

Facades: principles of construction - Ulrich Knaack

Is there a need for yet another book about facades? Yes, if you are looking for a basic understanding of the facade and its technical realization in a more fundamental manner. Facades: Principles of construction is a very simple and well organized introduction about facade design. If you are a student and are interested in facade design and construction - that is, in how a facade works - this is the book to start with.

Professor Ulrich Knaack, the main author, is head of the Chair Design of Construction at the Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft. In 2005 he founded the Facade Research Group and is iniciator of the conference series 'The Future Envelope'. The other three authors are Auer, Klein and Billow. Thomas Auer is a partner at Transsolar in Stuttgart. He specialises in the field of integrated building services. Tillman Klein is an architect and heads the Facade Research Group at TU Delft. Marcel Bilow is a research associate with Professor Knaack at the University of Applied Sciences in Detmold.

The book presents the design process of a facade as a sum of progressive steps. Chapter 2, From wall to facade, discusses the development of today's facades and their typological classification. Chapter 3, Principles of construction, explains the interrelation between the building structure and the facade system. Chapter 4, Principles of detailing and tolerances, covers the generation of technical details for the general solutions defined previously. Topics such as integrated design and building physics aspects of the facade are discussed in chapter 5, Climate and energy. Chapter 6, Adaptative facades, analyses how facades can adapt to changing parametres. Chapter 7, Case studies, illustrates typical and special facade solutions on the basis of selected projects. In closing chapter 8, A look into the future, the authors provide an outlook into possible developments in facade technology.

Mike Davies, the concept of polyvalent wall as drawn in 1981. The layers between the two glass panes were supposed to have a thickness of a few microns.

The problem with facades design and construction, in relation to past eras, is that envelopes have become a complex structure with numerous functions and a difficult technical realization. Thus, the prevailing trend in facade technology is its increased complexity. Two paths of design have tried to answer this complexity: one, the separation of each performance requirement in a specific layer and / or material; the other, the search for integration via adaptability. The real message of this book - and quite relevant for us, regardless we are students or not - is the authors' preference for an integrated envelope instead of a multi-functional facade concept.

In 1981 Mike Davies - while working for Richard Rogers and Partners - formulated the idea of a polyvalent wall in an article signed with Rogers and titled 'A wall for all seasons'. Here, several functional layers within a glass element were to provide sun and heat protection, and to regulate the functions automatically according to current conditions. The wall itself (see the image above) was to generate the necessary energy. As a matter of fact, the label 'Intelligent wall' derives from Davies' concept of the polyvalent wall. His idea, not yet realized, still acts as a driving force for new facade technologies, and many researchers have been engaged in this topic over the last two decades.

Capricorn House, Düsseldorf. Gatermann + Schlossig, 2006
Knaack and his colleagues, following Davies' steps, start by presenting the concept of an integrated facade in a more macroscopic - and realistic - way (see page 100 of the book). It seems reasonable - they argue - to integrate heating elements, air-conditioning and ventilation units, movable shading and other appliances into a facade module. These functions can be combined on the basis of a modular design principle. We could cite some examples where this has been already achieved, as in the Capricorn House in Düsseldorf (image to the right), where decentralized ventilation components and lighting are integrated into the enclosed facade elements.

Functional concept of the integrated envelope according to Knaack: loadbearing, insulation, water and air tightness, ventilation, energy generation, radiation control and transparency, all in one element.
But later in page 130, when discussing the future facade trends, the authors come up with their search for the almighty facade: a further integration with the building services and the structure of the building, all in one. This is the Holy Grial of tomorrow's facade, but it won't be easy to achieve. In their own words:

The future facade has to be based on an integrated concept, i. e. it has to combine and regulate functions that in some cases might contradict each other. (..) This leads to the question of how the facade should be structured - all in one layer or stacked on top of each other. The smaller the components, the easier and better they can be spatially arranged in the facade system. (...) The integrated facade is a vision that will materialise progressively throught the development of new components and technologies.


19 August 2010

Living walls & green facades

Interesting article/blog on the matter. Part two coming soon:
Follow it up!

Ideas for discussion

I plan to deal with some of these issues in the coming posts of Facades Confidential:
  • Very very hot / cold: facade design in extreme weather conditions.
  • When is a facade a lightweight facade? Beyond load-bearing and non load-bearing walls.
  • GRC vs precast concrete cladding: pros and cons.
  • Continous walls vs framed facades: what we can learn from history.
  • The balloon frame and the early days of facade prefabrication.
  • Review of books about facades.
  • Review of articles about facades.
  • Procurement methods for facades and how they affect facade design and construction.
  • Common mistakes when installing stick system curtain walls.
  • The Equitable Building in Portland: the real starting point of the modern curtain wall.
  • Greek temples: how high priests robes and sandals led to a curved stylobate.
  • Facades, roofs or both? Limits of the building envelope concept.

More will be coming. I promise to provide some structure to it all, but later! Fun and good stories always come first.

18 August 2010

Starting out

Bridge Pavillion, Expo Zaragoza 2008. Zaha Hadid & Arup

The facade of a building is primarily a social, urban experience - even when it's part of a bridge! It is also an architectural concept, perhaps the most 'architectural' of the design tasks that are still exclusive to architects. The facade is the playing ground of the Vitruvian venustas, or beauty. A facade must be designed and built knowing its materials, support system, movements: it is also a tectonic element (the old firmitas). And finally, facades have a role as filters: air flow, heat and cold, sun radiation, daylight, noise etc go through it. This is linked with comfort and utilitas.

Nowadays, designing facades is a melting pot of related - or not so related - disciplines. No longer the exclusive domain of architects, facades are receiving more attention from engineers and urban planners. Facades are definitely an area for developing the future sustainable city.

This blog deals with facade design in the broadest sense. It is intended for architects, engineers, materials and systems suppliers, facade contractors, end users, students and academics alike. Perspective is critical: I am or have been part of any of these groups during twenty years of professional experience with facades. This should help with promoting opposed views and not avoiding clashes.

Let's see how far we can get ...