Facades+ Festival Highlights Sustainable Design and Materials in CRE

By Published On: May 18, 20225.6 min read

We might know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But when it comes to building facades, we can’t help but judge a building by its face — its front door, its glass windows and overall aesthetic exterior — before even stepping inside.

This instinct is natural, which is why it makes perfect sense that there’s an entire festival devoted to the art of the building facade. Facades+, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in New York City on April 13 and 14. While Facades+ has chapters around the country — in cities like Austin, Denver and Chicago — the New York edition is where it all began. This year the New York chapter put the spotlight on sustainable practices.

One of the highlights from this year’s festival was a focus on building materials such as Vitro Architectural Glass, which specializes in e-glass. Low-emissivity (low-e) glass coatings have been developed to minimize the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light that passes through glass, without compromising light. The technology can even reflect heat in the summer and retain heat during the winter, making buildings energy-efficient.

Meanwhile, Mitrex is paving the way for solar panels that are integrated into building facades. Their building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems look different from rooftop solar panels; they allow building owners, architects and investors to use solar energy without compromising a beautiful exterior.

The chemical paint brand, AkzoNobel, shared their goal to become carbon neutral by 2050, as they have started making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint since 2020. They’ve aligned their sustainability targets with the Paris Agreement and asked the Science Based Targets Initiative for validation, which they received last year. By 2030 they expect to reduce their carbon emissions by 50%.

In a statement, AkzoNobel said: “We will continue to push the boundaries to remain the frontrunner in our industry when it comes to sustainability. And we will also continue to collaborate with and urge our suppliers and customers to follow this example. In the end we need to work together to make a difference.”

Award-winning architect Marlon Blackwell gave a keynote on abstraction and how they contribute to stunning building facades. The architect has used box rib panels over the past 20 years. Blackwell’s firm said corrugated metal panels are employed to unify a building and give it a new aesthetic at an affordable price.

Probably the most stunning building facades we’ve all seen in recent times are cultural centers, many of which have turned to natural materials for construction. That portfolio includes the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center in New York City. The team behind the center, including executives from architecture firm REX and engineering firm SGH, among others, spoke on the process of creating the building, and how challenging it was to source natural materials.

The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center

Images of the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center courtesy of REX architecture firm

At another talk, Sara Gonzalez, a consultant with the GMS engineering firm — which completed the construction of the York Studios Michaelangelo Campus, a film and TV production studio in the Bronx — spoke alongside architect Marc McQuade and engineer Lisa Rammig about innovation in glass building design, especially when it incorporates geometric shapes. The panel started with the question: “How do we consider life cycles from the beginning stages of the design process, and how do we incorporate innovative technologies and design processes as buildings continue to rise in height and increase in complexity?”

Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center

Images of the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center courtesy of REX architecture firm

Another highlight was a roundtable called Fabrication Futures, where architects and tech innovators spoke about the latest technology used in building projects across the country. On the panel was Louis Moreau, Head of Innovation and Technology at Agnora, a firm that recently finished a Mass Timber building in Kitchener, Ontario, on the site of a historic hotel. What makes this building facade unique is that the glass is printed with a digital print version of the building’s former facade, depicting brick alcoves that crowned the hotel, which was built in 1906.

“We wanted to pay homage to the site’s history and the historic Mayfair Hotel, which was constructed in 1905,” said developer Bernie Nimer of Ridgewood Holdings Inc. The image is meant to look like “a subtle, ghostly silhouette of the Mayfair Hotel.” The overall project consisted of more than 16,500 square feet of custom glass, and all 256 individual pieces were designed from one master drawing.

Also speaking was Manuel Schnüpke, who works with sales at POHL, a company that specializes in metal facades with sustainable building practices. POHL specializes in green facades, sustainable and climate-resistant urban structures that aid the growth of plants. They’ve created back-ventilated surfaces for rainscreen facades — aided by the University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt — and vertical gardens that use metal mesh for micro-plant holding.

Stephen Dayton, a partner at Thomas Phifer and Partners, spoke about building a Mies van der Rohe building, which was initially designed in 1952, into a school, called the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design at Indiana University Bloomington, which the firm had to adapt for today’s performance standards.

What makes this story unique is that the design was commissioned but forgotten about for over half a century, then resurfaced in 2013 when a student found the blueprint drawings and brought it to the attention of the school administration.

In a statement, Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said the building “serves to inspire and elevate” the campus.

Architect Dirk Lohan, who is the grandson of van der Rohe, approved of the project that Thomas Phifer and Partners had a hand in creating. “As someone who worked with my grandfather Mies van der Rohe since 1957, I thought I knew all the projects he ever worked on, but I never heard about this project until Indiana University contacted me about its wish to build this 70-year-old design,” Lohan said for the inauguration of the building.

Lohan called it “outstanding craftsmanship to make this new, and simultaneously old, facility a reality in, and for, the 21st century. I am convinced that Mies van der Rohe, who died over 50 years ago, would have been pleased to see his iconic edifice ultimately being born.”

Facades+ has been hosting over 12 events a year in the U.S. and Canada since it was first founded by the Architect’s Newspaper in 2012. Featuring a symposium, an expo and workshops, the next Facades+ conference is upcoming in Boston on June 7, followed by another in Toronto on July 21. The next Facades+ in New York City will be in late March 2023, with the schedule announced in late fall of this year, according to Marty Wood, the program director.

Related Articles

Related Articles