Zahner, Zaha's Schumacher, CASE, and More: Facades Conference 2012

Zahner, Zaha's Schumacher, CASE, and More: Facades Conference 2012

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Architects and fabricators discuss creating facades in the digital age

Yesterday The Architect’s Newspaper and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York presented their first-ever educational conference at McGraw-Hill Auditorium in New York. More than 250 professionals and students attended the event, themed Metals in Construction, which addressed facade design in an age when skilled collaboration between architects, consultants, and fabricators can more than ever affect a building’s performance and longevity. The day began with a presentation by Bill Zahner, who spoke of his company’s forward-looking work with metal facades, then moved into discussions covering everything from new retrofit strategies to the latest projects from Zaha Hadid Architects with the firm’s director, Patrik Schumacher.

The day also included the official announcement of a new international alliance of academics, professional designers, hardware and software developers and digital fabricators. Born out of a regional organization known as Tex-Fab, the group will be called Digital Fabrication Alliance and offered a look at the kind of minds it will be bringing together at future events with a panel discussion with Phillip Anzalone, Anna Dyson, and Erik Verboon. Read on for AN‘s coverage of the day’s events:

  • Who Architects, engineers, facade consultants, fabricators, and design professionals
  • Location New York, New York
  • Status Conference
  • Presenters The Architect’s Newspaper, The Ornamental Metal Institute of New York


Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects wrapped up the conference with a lush panorama of photos from the firm’s portfolio. It was a real world anecdote of the behind the scenes BIM programing that was on display throughout the day. Schumacher set the tone by telling the crowd, “It’s important that the expressed structure gives the whole project credibility.”

Before BIM, Schumacher recalled the early days of the firm of exploiting the “physics of the hand movement” through a “huge array of french curves,” many custom made so as to satiate Zaha’s desire for a “literal translation of the hand sketch.”

Before BIM, Schumacher recalled the early days of the firm of exploiting the “physics of the hand movement” through a “huge array of french curves,” many custom made so as to satiate Zaha’s desire for a “literal translation of the hand sketch.”

From the London Olympic’s Aquatic Center to under-construction images of the Rabat Grand Theater in Morocco, the slideshow idealized the Zaha aesthetic where, in Schumacher’s words, “you draw people into a tight curve to release them into a wider curve.”

But Schumacher said that the raison d’être of parametricism is to fight the Fordism of Modernism–and not just in the environment, but in society. “That era produced a handful of standards, a unified consumption standard: same car, same house, with everyone isolated in particular cells with everybody ticking away like little beavers,” he said. He added that such production created zones separating society, which is virtually impossible in today’s interconnected world where “hyper dense” communication is integral to the profession instead of “industrial clusters.” “That need to transform, that’s our repertoire,” he said. “Architecture is where association and connections can make a difference.”


Anna Dyson, of the Center for Architecture Science and Technology, spoke about the latest developments in the HeliOptix solar panels, glass panels that harvest energy while allowing light to flood into a building’s interior. Part of the presentation included a more detailed rendering HeliOptix wall intended for the SHoP-designed FIT building planned for an empty parking lot on 26th Street. After the lecture, Dyson confirmed that FIT is still hoping to close a $52 million gap left after City backed away from its share of the $148 million proposal.

The solar panels have continued to develop over the past twelve years to about 83 percent efficiency for heat and power production–compared to 14 to 25 percent for a standard panels. We have the last three generations to show you here, but for proprietary reasons we can’t show the last iteration (but check it out at the upcoming Smartgeometry workshop in Troy, NY where it’ll debut next).

2:20 PM

Representing what he called “the largest real estate organization in the world,” GSA’s Dirk Meyer said that  despite the organization’s size, it’s not what it used to be. The GSA had 70,000 employees in 1970 and now employs 12,600, of which the Public Building Services represent a mere 6,000. As such, the Feds literally must do more with less. But despite the cuts, the Design Excellence program keeps design standards high. “I walk into a Richard Meier courthouse in Islip, and I am in awe,” he said. “It makes me proud to be a federal employee.” When asked by AN‘s Julie Iovine whether he’s concerned if a shift in government policy might further whittle away at the program, Meyer diplomatically demurred, “That question’s way beyond my pay grade.”

Nevertheless, he looked to the future, particularly when it comes to facades. While acknowledging that the conference was metal-focused, he noted that glass facades remain a big concern at GSA. He quoted Walterloo University’s John Straube who said “No glazed system that is presently available can come close to the level of performance delivered by a simple and relatively opaque wall system.” Meyer said that glass mitigation concerns differ greatly for federal buildings–what’s needed to sustain impact from a hurricane is different from sustaining impact of a blast. Consultants are hired for blast mitigation, water mitigation, bird mitigation… With his eight-year-old in the audience, Meyer indicated it might not be a bad idea for the next generation to look into becoming glass consultants.


SHoP’s Jonathan Mallie presented a detailed PowerPoint of the Barclays Center that was riveting not just for the building’s millions of rivets, but for an iPhone app that allows the client to check in on placement progress of the building’s 12,000 weathered metal panels. Allowing such client attention to detail may or may not always be a good thing, said Mallie. The firm is now reexamining how transparent the process should be in order to avoid unnecessary micro management.


11:00 AM

ENCLOS’s Mic Patterson delivered a presentation covering the current state of retrofitting affairs. While the company’s work deals with some masterpieces of Modernism, Patterson expressed serious concern about the sustainability of new designs as well. Regarding older buildings, Patterson noted that there’s no better place to talk about it than the conference’s locale, at the McGraw-Hill building in Rockefeller Center. “Air infiltration is a huge problem, these buildings never did perform well to start with,” he said. But Patterson’s criticism wasn’t limited to the past. He noted that while new facade designs have kept up with digital technology, they’re often not designed to be retrofitted. He encouraged architects and manufacturers to take future retrofits into consideration in the design. He added that while today’s architect has a million types of glass to choose from, most new glass is not recyclable. The glass may be designed to help attain LEED certification, but ultimately it doesn’t make the sustainability cut if it ends up in a landfill.

10:00 AM

Collaboration, the Facades and Digital Fabrication Conference sponsored by The Architect’s Newspaper and the Ornamental Metal Institute of New York, got off to an intriguing start this morning with Bill Zahner’s presentation of an otherworldly facade produced for the Sisters of St. Theresa in Kansas City. While Zahner showed couture projects from Gehry and Mayne, it was the humble lace-inspired facade that got the tears. As the nuns’ Italian history was steeped in lace-making, the direct riff created for the client making them weep. “‘We think you were sent by God,'” Zahner recalled them saying. “And I kept thinking, ‘How am I gonna put that on my resume?'”

On a more serious note, Zahner talked about the precision inherent in using negative patterns on metallic facades. “When you talk about selling voids here we’re really selling nothing,” he said of the of cutout patterns. But where the seams of the patterned panels meet provides the greatest challenge. “If you don’t have it precisely located, it really ruins the design,” he said.

8:00 AM
The AN editorial team is on hand for the Collaboration: Facades and Digital Fabrication conference, now in progress at the McGraw-Hill Conference Center in Manhattan. We’ll be live blogging and tweeting @archpaper with hashtag #facadeconference throughout the day, so check back and follow us on twitter for updates!