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Spotlight on Facades
The latest in expressive composites, historic restoration solutions, and semi-transparent materials for statement-making building exteriors
Jean Nouvel’s Desert Flower
Four Luminous Metallic Facades
The Pros Weigh In on High-Tech Facade Restoration
Two Lessons in Letting in the Light
Ron Arad Applies Versatile Dekton to a Tel Aviv Tower
DMVA Architecten Boldly Rejuvenates Belgium’s House of Lorraine
3 Building-Enhancing Facade Systems
Spotlight on Facades

Meant to evoke the unique form of a desert rose in windblown crystallized gypsum, the facade of the National Museum of Qatar by Ateliers Jean Nouvel consists of some 130 concrete discs that interlock and bisect one another at almost every angle. Ranging in diameter from three to 10 metres, the discs were fabricated from a multitude of angular panels that accentuate the crystalline aesthetic. In all, there are over 96,800 individual panels, their combined surface area totalling 120,000 square metres. Astonishingly, though, their concrete skin can be as thin as 40 millimetres.

Danish firm Contec Group was given the formidable task of manufacturing the panels to a tolerance of plus or minus one millimetre using ultra-high-performance fibre-reinforced concrete (UHPFRC). “The main difference, compared to traditional concrete or glass fibre–reinforced concrete (GFRC), is the extreme density combined with very high strength in compression, flexural strength and overall durability,” says Bo Serwin, Contec Group’s CEO. “On this project, for instance, a minimum compressive strength of 115 newtons per square millimetre (N/mm2) was required; GFRC is normally 30 to 45 N/mm2.”

More than 96,800 pre-fabricated concrete panels make up the exterior of Ateliers Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar.

The panels were manufactured in Abu Dhabi by spraying liquid UHPFRC into the double-curved moulds. Once on site in Qatar, the gigantic jigsaw puzzle of panels was locked in place on a steel frame, supported by needle beams on the main structural steel skeleton of the building. The relative slimness of the UHPFRC panels reduces the overall weight dramatically and minimizes the amount of concrete and sand used in their construction.

“Our main challenges were the number of different moulds and the logistical test of controlling all of the panels,” says Serwin. “However, the results are amazing. Due to their improved strength, the panels can be slimmer and more elegant, while still having a very dense, durable surface – the technology actually derives from the original Roman idea of adding pozzolana to concrete.” Adopting an ancient technique to bring to life a building that houses ancient artifacts for future generations is fitting: It speaks to the intended longevity of the project – and allows for minimum maintenance to boot.  jeannouvel.com

For a new heat and power plant in the Elephant Park urban development in London’s Elephant and Castle district, Morris+Company created a veil made from 2,000 square metres of pleated and perforated steel. Working with fabricators Lakesmere and Spanwall, the architects developed the cladding as a way to conceal service doors and grilles and to play with light and shadow throughout the day. Folding the metal made it structurally sound and allowed for sheets to span three metres with minimal support brackets. morrisand.company

Comprising 12 finishes, the Super Metal Future collection by Pure+FreeForm showcases the nuances of raw aluminum – namely, its texture, reflection and luminosity. Sealed with Lumiflon clear coat, the series includes (from front): Space Dust, a flat surface injected with silver and gold pearl to diffuse light; Old Dirty Bronze, whose matte finish turns luminous in direct light thanks to its subtle gold highlights; and Rose Titanium, a dichroic with a clear coat that transitions from rich champagne to frosted rose. purefreeform.com

Recent modifications to the internal components of GKD’s Mediamesh system mean power suppliers are smaller and require no filters, so zero maintenance is needed; 214 square metres of the upgraded screening was used – with GKD’s Tigris metal fabric – for Celebrity Cruises’ renovated Terminal 25, by Bermello Ajamil & Partners, in Florida’s Port Everglades. The transparent LED media mesh allows for customizable displays – graphics, video, live feeds and more.  gkdmetalfabrics.com  

To give a mountain-like look to the new Vancouver flagship of outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Arc’teryx, Unison Construction Management selected Rheinzink’s graphite grey zinc cladding. Its 186 square metres of customized panels were composed of maintenance-free and 100 per cent recyclable titanium zinc shingles and installed on the diagonal.  rheinzink.com

The first point of communication for any building is its facade. It can signal a building’s function, its innovation, its contemporaneity. In the case of historic restorations, this can still be true despite a structure’s age. John Meyer, founding partner of New York–based architecture and engineering firm EDG, believes modern-day techniques like 3D printing are ideally suited to facade restoration (not to mention new construction).

“As facades deteriorate, teams are brought in to devise repairs instead of replacing parts. The result is patchwork construction with uneven quality and a limited lifespan of 10 to 20 years. 3D printing, on the other hand, allows us to scan and store a digital catalogue of parts – should one need to be replaced – with reprinting and recasting even possible on-site the same day.”

To showcase the technology’s potential, EDG prepared an independent proposal inspired by 574 Fifth Avenue (shown), a 1940s building with an ornate yet deteriorating facade. The firm cast concrete parts with 3D-printed plastic forms inlaid with reinforcing laser-cut wire mesh and stirrups. It was thus able to reproduce damaged building elements efficiently and economically, demonstrating that “architectural gems” could have a second chance.

Other digital technologies are allowing consultants to introduce metric feedback from the construction site into BIM. The Ottawa firm If Then Architecture thinks laser scanning and similar technological capabilities will ultimately have a greater impact if they’re integrated in iterative phases of the restoration process. For the design of the Visitor Welcome Centre on Parliament Hill, IFA employed a cocktail of technologies that do more than just document the pre-renovation context.

“From the three-dimensional data set, a number of useful items can be created,” says principal James Hayes. “In the case of stone facades, it is most often effective to create a 1:1 replica milled using a CNC router or robotic mill. Alternatively, a mock-up can be produced ‘virtually’ via sculpting or modelling software to manipulate the scan’s data directly. After the mock-up has been completed, whether by hand or digitally, the final element can be machine-milled from stone.”

While limitations do exist (“the biggest obstacle to 3D printing facade elements,” says Meyer, “is that printers aren’t yet capable of producing large parts or uniformly continuous lengths”), Hayes points to the need for a more dramatic paradigm shift in the industry. “In order for full integration of these technologies to work,” he says, “current project delivery methods, contractual structures and liability standards need to significantly change.”

Regardless of what the future holds for digital fabrication in architecture, it’s clear that – at least when it comes to restoring historic facades – technology-driven solutions are becoming the industry standard.  edgnyc.com, ifthen.ca

In the (Almost) Clear
Architect Petr Stolín used 20-metre-long-by-two-metre-wide sheets of translucent fibreglass to wrap a kindergarten in Czechia. PHOTO: Alexandra Timpau

For a new kindergarten in a burgeoning district in the Czech city of Liberec, architect Petr Stolín wanted to deliver a building that provided a sense of security without feeling institutional – one where natural light could easily permeate the interior and where the children could play as they might on a jungle gym. To achieve this, Stolín devised a clever two-layer structure using simple materials: The building itself is clad in plaster, transparent fibreglass and Siberian larch lath; situated about 120 centimetres in front of that is a second facade made from sheets of corrugated transparent fibreglass mounted on an atypical steel structure that resembles scaffolding. In the space between is a pathway that completely encircles the school, giving the students multiple shortcuts throughout and around the 915-square-metre building. 

Placed approximately 120 centimetres in front of the building, the structure creates a series of pathways around the school. PHOTO: Alexandra Timpau
PHOTO: Alexandra Timpau

The slightly opaque outer layer obscures views in but lets the light shine through. “The light was very important,” says Stolín. “We wanted to protect the children, but they can also follow or find the sun all over the complex.”  stolin58.com

PHOTO: Alexandra Timpau
Sacked Out
The unique composition also provides a semi-transparent effect. PHOTO: Federico Cairoli

The humble burlap sack proved ingeniously inspirational for a monument built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a historic farmers’ revolt in Alcorta, Argentina. Architect Claudio Vekstein was drawn to the workaday material while viewing archival photos that depicted burlap sacks full of agricultural goods stacked in storage sheds. Wanting to recreate the rhythm of those piles, Vekstein opted for an unconventional material – resin – after discovering the work of artist Ayelen Coccoz, who manipulates historic images with the substance.

PHOTO: Federico Cairoli
PHOTO: Federico Cairoli

Vekstein developed a series of wooden moulds and, using a mixture of resin, fibreglass and burlap, combined the forms into five matrices to create 275 panels, a process similar to fibreglass boat making. From the outside, the 400-square-metre structure does resemble a giant heap of filled sacks; on the inside, the burlap offers a tactile experience.

For a monument in Argentina, architect Claudio Vekstein used a mixture of resin, fibreglass and burlap to form 275 panels in a process similar to fibreglass boat making. Together, the panels replicate the look of piles of burlap sacks. PHOTO: Federico Cairoli

“It was a bit of an experiment to use resin as an industrial material,” says Vekstein, “but it gives a nice transparency while maintaining the appearance of burlap.”  claudiovekstein.org

Startups love to preach the power of disruptive thinking. Clearly, that’s a mindset that Ron Arad Architects adopted with great success while designing ToHA, a 28-storey Tel Aviv office complex – currently slated for completion in June – for a pair of developers looking to attract the city’s emerging tech firms.

Eager to introduce as much park space as possible to the 1.8-hectare downtown site, the architecture firm conceived a glazed iceberg-like form elevated on three opaque seven-storey legs. A landscaped pedestrian passageway flows between two of these supports, while glass cable walls and a ridged brass partition enclose the other gap to form the building’s grand lobby.

In a second unorthodox twist, the bulk of the building’s mechanical facilities are clustered within its three base structures to free up the roof for a restaurant. “It’s hard to accept mechanical on the ground,” admits Asa Bruno, director at Ron Arad Architects, “unless it’s clad in something special.” In Dekton manufacturer Cosentino, the firm found a fellow trailblazer. “They’re a company with a young mentality – confident in what their product can do, and very willing collaborators,” says Bruno. More commonly used for countertop surfacing, the composite material has high strength, a compact profile and UV resilience, making it an ideal exterior finish, too. Becoming gradually lighter as they progress up the building’s mechanical-filled legs, tilted Dekton panels provide the apertures necessary for airflow while also creating an attractive chevron-like pattern.

Dekton makes a second appearance on the building’s exterior shelves, which extend past its curtain wall to function like a baseball cap’s brim, providing shade to the offices below. Again leveraging the material’s custom-tinting capabilities, the top of each ledge is a darker shade than its sides and base to prevent glare from reflecting inside.

Ron Arad Architects’ 28-storey ToHA tower in Israel spirals upward from three sturdy legs that house the mechanical facilities on the ground level. Panelled with Dekton and ridged brass, the functional volumes achieve a stunning visual effect.

The building’s angular twists and turns serve as another form of solar management, orienting offices to balance views with comfortable sun exposure. “It’s as if we let the elements erode the volume into its most efficient form,” Bruno says. The building’s double-skin facade system – two panes of glass separated by a 16-centimetre cavity – incorporates automated blinds. When the blinds are up, the cage of wide, slanted columns inside the building becomes another striking structural component turned sculptural element.

In the end, the designers’ wild ideas proved a hit, with WeWork and an assortment of crypto-security and artificial intelligence firms already leasing space.  ronarad.co.uk

Despite its relatively small components, the House of Lorraine complex came with big expectations. Centrally located in the historic Grote Markt of Mechelen, Belgium, the decaying remains of its six historical houses were purchased by city officials with an eye toward restoration, thereby giving the area a youthful shot in the arm. Of course, the transformation would have to be done in a way that respected its medieval surroundings. To pull this off, the officials brought in a local firm, dmvA architecten.

Initially, a developer had thought of turning the tall and slender residences into a 20-unit boutique hotel. When the developer went bankrupt and the land was acquired by the city, however, it was decided to keep the dwellings separate (five were demolished and rebuilt) but to instill the building, which wraps around a corner of the market, with a greater sense of cohesion.

Located in a historic market in Mechelen, Belgium, House of Lorraine flaunts varied facade materials in a pleasingly cohesive manner.

“Our main challenge,” says Tom Verschueren, a co-founding principal of dmvA and one of the project leads, “was designing new residences in a historic and monumental landscape.” Inspiration came with the mandated requirement that the 19th-century white plasterwork on three units be restored: Verschueren and his team used it to drive the overall design, keeping the palette monotone – white only – but using three different materials to give each new facade its own identity.

For the first, dmvA installed a double-skin facade – an outer layer of vertical aluminum slats in front of a glazed inner section. Subtle recesses at the windows add dimension to the otherwise flat front, while sliding doors at street level provide access to the interior.

The middle – and most graphic – facade consists of precast concrete panels with cross-shaped cutouts. Approximately 500 of the openings are arranged in a perfect grid and directly reference the detailing found on the historic houses and buildings lining the street and neighbourhood, specifically the Gothic architecture of nearby St. Rumbold’s Cathedral. Both the aluminum slats and the precast concrete panels work as privacy screens and light filters, providing occupants with ample daylight while concealing their lives from the street.

Since the third unit serves as a live-work space, with an office at ground level, the need for privacy was less imperative. Here, dmvA chose full-height glazing to provide a strong connection to the market. 

Together with the restored white plaster of the end unit (all of which is office space), the aluminum, concrete and glass elements have a surprisingly even rhythm and pacing – an architectural coup that delivers the requisite hit of energy without obliterating history.  dmva-architecten.be

A robust collection of porcelain stoneware for both exterior and interior use, Italgraniti’s Mega series includes patterns that mimic the look of sand, steel or stone. In four sizes ranging from 120 by 120 to 160 by 320 centimetres, the large-format slabs require minimal joints for near-seamless installation. At six millimetres thick, the versatile stoneware is highly flexible as well as frost-, chemical- and stain-resistant. Shown is Flax, one of six earthy tones from the Sands Experience series.  italgranitigroup.com

Referencing traditional building materials, Rieder has introduced Bricky (shown) and Timber to its Öko Skin portfolio of fibreC facade slats. Made from fibreglass-reinforced concrete, the designs offer the look of brick and wood respectively, but with higher durability and lower maintenance requirements than their conventional counterparts. Through-coloured with iron oxide and natural additives, both palettes’ full ranges are available in three textures; sizes include a standard 1,800-by-147-by-13-millimetre slat as well as “flex” sizes with 110- to 302-millimetre widths and 700- to 2,500-millimetre lengths. They can be installed horizontally or vertically and be customized with illumination, cut-out detailing, relief-like surfaces and more.  rieder.cc 

To create a rhythmic three-dimensional facade for a mixed-use building that needed to stand out among Frankfurt’s more common flat-panelled structures, German architect Hadi Teherani turned to Neolith’s sintered stone cladding. Completed in late 2018, the building incorporates a high-end hotel, private apartments and commercial space, each expressing its own personality while collectively presenting a cohesive appearance. Choosing Neolith’s classic Arctic White Silk for a clean, understated aesthetic, Teherani specified a ventilated facade system using a series of prefabricated six-millimetre-thick panels roughly 310 by 1,150 centimetres, with alternating angles, cutouts and extended overhangs for shading. Aptly named Flare of Frankfurt, the building uses approximately 6,000 square metres of the durable and lightweight material.  neolith.com