Facades+Innovation in Chicago: Romero's reunion, adaptive glazings and more

Facades+Innovation in Chicago: Romero's reunion, adaptive glazings and more

IIT's Mccormick Tribune student center. (courtesy Charles MacEachen via Flickr)
IIT’s Mccormick Tribune student center. (courtesy Charles MacEachen via Flickr)

AN’s Facades + Innovation Conference wrapped up last Friday in Chicago, rounding out the event’s inaugural run from New York to San Francisco and ending at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Architects, engineers, builders, and designers at today’s symposium plumbed the conceptual depths of form as well as the materials, programs and trends that could guide the future of design.

Fernando Romero, founder of architecture firm FREE, kicked off the morning with a tour of his facade work, from the hexagonal network of mirrored steel tiles enclosing the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, to IIT’s McCormick Tribune Campus Center just two blocks from the conference hall. Romero worked on the McCormick Center while at OMA, but had never before visited the completed structure. Walking through the building after his talk, delivered on his 41st birthday, the architect said it was a gift to finally visit.

Digital tools are part and parcel with contemporary building design, but speakers with the digital technologies panel focused in on some important advances in the field. Thornton Tomasetti, who are working with Morphosis on Cornell University’s new computing and information science building and the first phase of the Cornell-Technion Tech Campus on Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island, spoke of Grasshopper tools that calculate column sizes, beam sizes and the like to determine a building’s embodied carbon. This data links with EnergyPlus programs to accurately model environmental performance over a building’s lifetime.

Will Laufs directed our attention to adaptive glazings on high-performance mold-generated facades. Open-molded modern concrete allowed for elegantly detailed ductile facades, but it was the high-tech aspirations of the technology that proved most interesting. By weaving electronics into the facade, windows could become dynamic “screen prints” that shift solar heat gain coefficients, say, as occupants pass by certain areas.

We also heard about current trends in the industry, including the prevalence of “design build” in the loosest sense: Architects are joining builders in the design process earlier, and vice versa. “Executive architects,” meanwhile are bringing a comprehensive approach to permitting, mediating conflicts between a difficult projects many trades and disciplines.

Given the collegiate setting, we fittingly turned to academic experts for the day’s final panel. From Cal Poly to Milwaukee, we heard a chorus of professors encouraging collaboration and freethinking in design studios. Stepping out of the ivory tower was a common theme as well, with teachers touting practical design projects and funded faculty research that engages graduate and post-graduate students directly in creative work.

We hope to see you next year: Our 2013 conference will come to New York City first, on April 11 and 12. We’ll take the show to San Francisco in July and see you in Chicago next fall.