Archive for September 16th, 2010

September 16, 2010

Schools that Excel in Digital Design & Fabrication

By:Amanda Kolson Hurley

Ball State University
College of Architecture & Planning
Department of Architecture Muncie, Ind.

B.S. or B.A. Arch., M. ARCH.

Southern California Institute of Architecture
Los Angeles

University of Michigan
Taubman College of Architecture and Planning
Department of Architecture
Ann Arbor, Mich.

B.S. Arch., M. ARCH., M.S., Ph.D.–fabrication.aspx

September 16, 2010

i.M.A.D.E:: innovation in manufacturing + design :: the new site of the Institute for Digital Fabrication


i.M.A.D.E acts as a catalyst of digital design and fabrication techniques for both industry and education related to architecture and allied arts. Through immersive projects deploying interdisciplinary, applied design and fabrication research, the institute is a conduit between students, design professionals, and the manufacturing sector.
As an institute within Ball State University, i.M.A.D.E supports curricular components offering expertise with state-of -the-art software and devices using simulation, analysis, fabrication, and a rigorous examination of the craft inherent in digital design and production. With strategic industry partners, students test knowledge through team-based projects dealing with the translation of bits into atoms, shifting scales between models, prototypes, 1:1 construction, and the development of solutions to real problems by managing a complex set of design constraints.

September 16, 2010

Ecotect Workshop


Nash Hurley from SHoP Architects led an Ecotect workshop at Ball State on September 28th and 29th. Ecotect is a complete building design and environmental analysis tool that covers a broad range of simulation and analysis functions for understanding how a building design will operate and perform sustainably. The two-day workshop consisted of a brief lecture about simulations tools in practice, demos and walk-throughs, and a self-directed, small design project which evolved through the analysis and optimization based on daylighting.

Nash Hurley came to SHoP Architects after receiving his Master of Architecture from UC Berkeley in 2005. Prior to his studies, Nash spent several years working for contractors and fabricators in California. Since joining SHoP, he has been instrumental in developing implementation strategies for BIM, while coordinating production on eight models across a variety of project scales. Nash is currently project architect and BIM coordinator on a 600,000 sf residential tower in New York City. This fall, Nash will enroll in the Product-Architecture and Engineering Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology where he will focus on links between environmental analysis and computational design. He plans to fold this research into his contributions to the design process at SHoP.

September 16, 2010

Joshua Prince-Ramus

Joshua Prince-Ramus is Principal of REX. In addition to the Vakko Fashion Center and Power Media Center in Istanbul, Turkey, REX recently completed the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas, Texas. Current work includes Museum Plaza, a 62-story mixed-use skyscraper housing a contemporary art center in Louisville, Kentucky; the new Central Library and Music Conservatory for the city of Kortrijk, Belgium; and a 2,643,000 sf luxury residential development in Songdo Landmark City, South Korea. Notably, within the past year REX received second prize in both the international competition for the new Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, and the Finnish Innovation Fund’s Low2No sustainable development competition in Helsinki, Finland.

Prince-Ramus was the founding partner of OMA New York—the American affiliate of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in the Netherlands—and served as its Principal until he renamed the firm REX in 2006. While REX was still known as OMA New York, Prince-Ramus was Partner in Charge of the Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas and the Seattle Central Library, hailed as Time magazine’s 2004 Building of the Year and by Herbert Muschamp in theNew York Times as “the most exciting new building it has been my honor to review in more than 30 years of writing about architecture.” In 2005, the Seattle Central Library was awarded the top honors bestowed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the American Library Association (ALA).

Prince-Ramus was recently described as the “savior of American architecture” by Esquiremagazine. Additionally, he was identified as one of “The 20 Essential Young Architects” by ICONmagazine, as one of the world’s most influential young architects by Wallpaper* and as one of the twenty most influential players in design by Fast Company. Prince-Ramus is a member of the TED Brain Trust—along with thinkers such as Bill Gates, Craig Venter, Dean Kamen, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin— and was a speaker at the TED2006 and TEDxSMU conferences. Videos of Prince-Ramus’ TEDTalks, in which he describes the designs of the Seattle Central Library, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, and Museum Plaza, can be found at “”

Prince-Ramus received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with distinction from Yale University in 1991 and a Master of Architecture from Harvard University in 1996, where he was both an SOM fellow and the first Araldo Cossutta Fellow. He was the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture in Fall, 2007; a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in Spring, 2009; and a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation in Fall, 2009. Prince-Ramus is an NCARB-certified architect, and holds licenses in Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and the Netherlands.

REX Approch

We design collaborations rather than dictate solutions.
The media sells simple, catchy ideas; it reduces teams to individuals and their collaborative work to genius sketches. The proliferation of this false notion of “starchitecture” diminishes the real teamwork that drives celebrated architecture. REX believes architects should guide collaboration rather than impose solutions. We replace the traditional notion of authorship: “I created this object,” with a new one: “We nurtured this process.”

We embrace responsibility in order to implement vision.
The implementation of good ideas demands as much, if not more, creativity than their conceptualization. Increasingly reluctant to assume liability, architects have retreated from the accountability (and productivity) of Master Builders to the safety (and impotence) of stylists. To execute vision and retain the insight that facilitates architectural invention, REX re-engages responsibility. Processes, including contractual relationships, project schedules, and procurement strategies, are the stuff with which we design.

We don’t rush to architectural conclusions.
The largest obstacle facing clients and architects is their failure to speak a common language. By taking adequate time to think with our clients before commencing the traditional design process, it is our proven experience that we can provide solutions of greater clarity and quality. With our clients, we identify the core questions they face, and establish shared positions from which we collectively evaluate the architectural proposals that follow.

We side with neither form nor function.
REX believes that the struggle between form and function is superficial and unproductive. We proffer the term “performance” instead: a hybrid that doesn’t discriminate between use, organization, and form. We free ourselves from the tired debate over whether architecture is an art or a tool. Art performs; tools perform. The measure of high performance is relative to each project and the positions established with our clients.

We reach for the unexpected by exposing root problems.
We don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. Nor do we accept predigested solutions. We return to root problems and doggedly explore them with a critical naïveté. Unprejudiced by convention, we expose solutions that transcend those we could have initially or individually imagined. Sometimes we discover uncharted territory; sometimes we rediscover forgotten territory that has renewed usefulness; sometimes we reaffirm conventions with assured conviction.

We view constraints as opportunities.
Engaged intelligently, limitations such as budgets, schedules, codes, politics, and site conditions are opportunities that can catalyze the most innovative solutions. Architectural concepts that capitalize on our clients’ constraints will surpass any vision that resists intractable realities. We produce specific designs that are highly effective, not universals diluted in application.

We advance new strategies for flexibility.
Despite an increased need to accommodate change, contemporary design still relies on an antiquated version of flexibility: one size fits all. The promise of a blank slate upon which any activity can occur has produced sterile, unresponsive architecture. REX advocates delimiting activities and addressing the possible evolutions of each on its own terms. With this strategy, one activity can evolve without sacrificing another, and collisions between activities unleash surprising potentials.

We love the banal.
REX dares to be dumb.

September 16, 2010

Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)’s Seattle Central Library


Architect Rem Koolhaas of The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed a definite city Landmark. The Seattle Central Library is a delightful experience rich with volumes and spaces that reveal themselves differently depending on the position they are viewed from. Interesting to know that the main form givers are the functionality of the Library and the site restrictions.

Architect Joshua Ramus, partner at the Rem Koolhaas-led Office for Metropolitan Architecture explains: “Although the library is sculptural, it is not in any way an attempt to make a form. The library’s appearance comes from pushing boxes around to stay within the height and setback restrictions and zoning codes.”

The Seattle Central Library is situated at the corner of a block in the centre of

Seattle. On 412.000 sf, it accommodates an auditorium, a reading room, a mixing chamber, a living room, a staff floor, a children’s play area and meeting places. The program is organized in terms of platforms which are connected by escalators and elevators.

In these days when Information is at accessible through numerous medias, especially the Internet, the role of public libraries need to be reexamined. As explained by the Architects, the ambition is to redefine and reinvent the Library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book, but as an information store, where all media – new and old – are presented under a regime of new equalities. In an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and the professionalism of their presentation and interaction, that will make the Library new.07.jpg

The fact that the contents of a whole library can be stored on a single chip, or the fact that a single library can now store the digital content of all libraries, together represent a potential for re-thinking: new forms of storage enable the space dedicated to real books to be contained, and new forms of reading enhance the aura of the real book.03.jpg

The library is transformed from a space to read into a social center with multiple responsibilities.

The Space

The building is divided into spatial compartments dedicated to and equipped for specific duties. Flexibility can exist within each section, but not at the expense of any of the other compartments… Change is possible by deliberately redefining use, and rededicating compartments to new programs, size and shape follow function.

The program was `combined` and consolidated to identify five platforms within the apparently ungovernable proliferation of functions and media – each platform a programmatic cluster that is architecturally defined and equipped for optimal performance, with different sizes, densities, opacities.04.jpg

The in-between spaces are trading floors where librarians inform and stimulate, where the interface between different platforms is organized – spaces for work, interaction, and play. The external enclosure a structural steel and glass skin bring the whole project together, and help define the space around the platforms and the in-between public areas, giving a unique identity to each space.

Both innovative and bold, this projects brought the important issue of the role of the Library in the Information Age. The ideas of the Architects help to embrace the new Technologies while giving the traditional medias the respect that they deserve.



Client: Seattle Public Library
Architect: OMA|LMN – A Joint Venture
Engineer: Arup / Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Principals: Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus (Partner-in–charge)
Project Architects: Mark von Hof-Zogrotzki, Natasha Sandmeier, Meghan Corwin, Bjarke Ingels, Carol Patterson
Team : Keely Colcleugh, Rachel Doherty, Sarah Gibson, Anna Little, Laura Gilmore, John McMorrough, Chris van Duijn, Kate Orff, Beat Schenk, Saskia Simon, Anna Sutor, Victoria Willocks, Dan Wood with Florence Clausel, Thomas Dubuisson, Erez Ella, Achim Gergen, Eveline Jürgens, Antti Lassila, Hannes Peer, João Ribeiro, Kristina Skoogh, Sybille Waeltli, Leonard Weil, Ali Arvanaghi
Local Architect: LMN Architects
Partner-in-charge: John Nesholm
Project Directors: Robert Zimmer and Sam Miller
Project Architects: Tim Pfeiffer, Steve DelFraino, Mary Anne Smith, Dave Matthews, Vern Cooley, Pragnesh Parikh
Team: Chris Baxter, Jim Brown, Wayne Flood, Thomas Gerard, Mette Greenshields, Cassandra Hryniw, Roy Kim, Ed Kranick, Ken Loddeke, Howard Liu, Damien McBride, Howard Meeks, Byron Rice,Kathy Stallings, Page Swanberg

Structural: Cecil Balmond, Atila Zekioglu, Anders Carlson, Chris Carroll
MEP: Alistair Guthrie, Bruce McKinlay, Stephen Jolly, John Gautrey, Aung Oo, Vahik Davoudi, Amanda Brownlee, Russell Fortmeyer, Tony Cocea, Marina Solovchuk, Fiona Cousins, Christin Whitco
Fire: Armin Wolski, Jim Quiter
IT & A/V: Jonathan Phillips, Raymond Tam, Eric Lockwood, Menandro Domingo

Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Structural: Jon Magnusson, Jay Taylor, Derek Beaman, Hans Blomgren, Nathalie Boeholt
Civil: Drew Gangnes, Darin Stephens

Other Consultants
Acoustics: Michael Yantis Associates – Michael Yantis, Basel Jurdy
ADA: McGuire Associates – Kevin McGuire
Artists: Ann Hamilton, Gary Hill, Tony Oursler
Cost: Davis Langdon Adamson – Steve Kelly, David Hudd, Alice Nguyen
Environmental Graphics: Bruce Mau Design – Bruce Mau, Henry Cheung, Jim Shedden, Petra Chevrier, Anita Matusevics
Facades: Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners – Marc Simmons, Yu-Ting Chen; Front – Marc Simmons
Facade Pre-construction Services: Seele GmbH – Gerhard Seele, Siegfried Gossner, Thomas Geissler, Martin Kugler, Jenniffer Endress
Hardware: Gordon Adams Consulting – Gordon Adams
Interiors: OMA|LMN; Inside Outside – Petra Blaisse, Marieke van den Heuvel, Mathias Lehner, Lieuwe Conradie, Peter Niessen, Jaap de Vries; Maarten van Severen
Landscape: Inside Outside – Petra Blaisse; Jones & Jones – Ilze Jones, Jim Brighton, Shaney Clemmons
Life Safety: Pielow Fair Associates – Bob Pielow
Lighting: Kugler Tillotson Associates – Suzan Tillotson, Wai Mun Chui
Pre-construction Services: Hoffman Construction Washington – Doug Winn, Bob Vincent, Dale Stenning
Vertical Transport: HKA Elevator Consulting – Daryl Anderson

© All material displayed in the Article photos and content are coutesy of OMA. No reproduction is allowed prior to their consent.

September 16, 2010

Skin Craft

The contemporary curtain wall is rightly celebrated for its pre-engineered, clip-on effortlessness, but that’s not the whole story by any means. AN takes a close look at four building envelopes that step beyond the norm in search of excellence in expression and performance, from Pei Cobb Freed’s cost-efficient glass wall system for a tower in Milan to the ingenious recladding of a Manhattan office tower without disrupting a day of work.



Palazzo Lombardia
Milan, Italy
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Double-skin curtain walls, sometimes referred to as climate walls, come in many shapes and sizes these days. What can be said about all of them is that they inevitably cost more to fabricate and install than your basic single-skin, insulated glass curtain wall. The payout may be recouped in time with cheaper energy bills through increased thermal performance, and there’s satisfaction in doing one’s part for the environment, but the initial cost is enough to put the system out of range for many projects seeking sustainability. This is especially true in the United States, where such measures are value-engineered out quicker than you can say Global Climate Change. But the Palazzo Lombardia, a municipal building currently under construction in Milan, proves these systems can be completed at a reasonable price. Pei Cobb Freed’s competition-winning design for this 1 million-square-foot, 225 million-Euro regional government headquarters provides a refined climate wall that matches manufacturing efficiency with energy efficiency.


The secret behind Pei Cobb Freed’s cost-cutting wall is its repetitive, modular design. In plan, the building fills out an awkward site with four snaking 7- to 9-foot-high slabs that meet in several places to define semi-elliptical public courtyards. At merely 46 feet wide, these office blocks allow ample daylight into the interior. The curves in the plan are all of equal radius. This allowed the architects to spec only two different curtain wall modules, one for the convex curves that are 6 feet wide and one for the concave curves that are 5 feet 10 inches wide. The module widths were also calibrated to match the structural bays, which boast 36-foot spans. There are seven modules per bay on the convex curves, and six modules per bay on the concave curves. At over 11 feet high, all of the exterior modules, which are insulated glass units, run floor to floor with an 11-inch aluminum spandrel unit. The interior layer is a laminated glass unit that runs from floor to ceiling. “The systems themselves are very flexible,” said José Bruguera, a partner at Pei Cobb Freed who directed the project team, working closely with lead designer Henry N. Cobb and technology partner Michael D. Flynn. “The interior was also meant to be flexible to meet the needs of each new government, as after every election there is some change.”

The 3-foot air space between the two layers of glass is wide enough to access for maintenance and cleaning purposes. It also houses a shading system of micro-perforated vertical aluminum vanes. Controlled by a building management system, the vanes rotate throughout the day to reflect direct sunlight. The perforations maintain a degree of transparency even when the shades are completely closed, allowing dappled light to flow into the interior and views to pass out. The cavity also acts as a return air duct. “In the competition, we didn’t have the slab continue all the way to the outer layer,” said Bruguera. “There was a grating for walking, so that air could travel up multiple floors. However, local fire code required separation in the cavity, so we brought the floor slab all the way through and designed the air return to be floor to floor.” This also permitted the exterior wall to be hung directly from the slab, another cost-saving opportunity that sidestepped the need to design a dedicated truss system for support.

A 550-foot-tall, 41-story tower sprouts at the intersection of two of Palazzo Lombardia’s sinuous office blocks. The double-wall system continues all the way to the top of this new distinctive element on the Milan skyline, except on the south face, where building-integrated photovoltaic panels were used. Pei Cobb Freed designed the tower’s concave east and west faces as a formal response to the nearby Pirelli Tower’s convex profile, but the project also bears a kinship to that modern masterpiece’s forward-thinking spirit.

Aaron Seward


World Trade Center Tower 4
New York
Maki and Associates with R.A. Heintges & Associates

Designing the new towers now rising at the World Trade Center site was a daunting task. On the one hand, you have the relatively straightforward program of an office building with a retail component in the podium. On the other, the weight of a site that holds a powerful emotional charge in the national psyche. Fulfilling the former while honoring the latter creates a dichotomy of purpose prickly enough to befuddle the most sensitive of architectural talents. This is doubly true of Tower 4, which sits directly across Greenwich Street from the center’s memorial, Reflecting Absence. To respond to this conundrum, Maki and Associates set their sights on refining the building’s envelope to a point of ethereality, removing it from the appearance of any association with making and spending money. “We had a moral responsibility to the public to deliver a spiritual design,” said Gary Kamemoto, Maki’s director on the project. “We decided to use a very minimal vocabulary, to create something very abstract that would allow the tower to have a quiet presence of dignity and serenity.”
The architects did not stop at minimalism. “As we travel back and forth to New York, we are always struck by three towers on the skyline—the Empire State, the Chrysler, and Citicorp,” continued Kamemoto. “They have a sparkling metallic materiality that shines in the otherwise drab mass of buildings. They make us feel a certain optimism that we thought would be appropriate for the World Trade Center site.”

Maki began by creating a very simple, sculptural form for the 65-story, 550,000-square-foot building—in plan, a parallelogram chiseled away at the top to form a trapezoidal crown with two cutout corners running the entire height. To achieve a Brancusi-like abstraction on the surface of this volume, the architects, along with facade consultant R. A. Heintges and Associates and wall manufacturer Benson, designed an extremely reflective curtain wall module with no spandrel. Structurally glazed, the assembly of 5-foot-wide by 13-foot-6-inch-high unitized panels creates an abstract grid that completely hides the building’s floor plates and confuses any reading of scale.

Pulling this off involved a few unusual details. For one, the team worked with Dow Corning to develop a coating for the glass that would deliver the right metallic sheen. At 40 percent reflectivity—an anomaly in this day of super-transparent glass envelopes—the insulated glass units deliver impressive energy performance by casting off heat loading from the sun. Secondly, the lack of spandrel required the use of a touch mullion, which is a horizontal mullion that extends between the floor plate and the back of the glass. Though it plays no structural role, it does satisfy local fire code, which demands that both the top and bottom of a slab reach the exterior wall. Finally, Leslie E. Robertson Associates’ structural design puts only four massive columns at the perimeter, leaving the corners cantilevered and a jaw-dropping 80-foot clear span across the face of the building. While this was good for opening up a lot of free wall space, it also created significant differential movement that the skin had to be able to absorb. The team responded with a 1.75-inch horizontal joint in the curtain wall that can open to as much as three inches.

At the building’s podium, which houses the office lobby and retail space, Maki switched to a different skin. While unearthly abstraction worked for the tower, at the ground he wanted something more tactile and architectonic. There, transparent laminated glass modules are supported by a stick-built system of 3-inch-by-12-inch solid steel mullions. The system is robust enough to meet the World Trade Center’s stringent blast requirements, but its Miesian detailing keeps it elegant and provides a satisfying foundation for the luminous tower. “It’s a simple move,” explained Kamemoto. “You use a different modulation from the tower and it makes the base look special, makes it stand out.”


New York
CetraRuddy with Front

The five undulating ribbons of the soon-to-be constructed Lincoln Square Synagogue facade are inspired by the ancient scrolls of the Torah, but the historic form is being interpreted with the most advanced BIM and parametric modeling systems around. Principal John Cetra and project manager Theresa Genovese of CetraRuddy designed the 70-foot-square curtain wall in collaboration with facade consultant Front’s co-founder Marc Simmons. Beginning with hand-drawn curves, the design was translated into BIM to create five spline curves in multiples of 16.5 inches—the optimal panel width, taking into account ease of fabrication and the appearance of the curves. Though glass panels and joints are identical, each of the 250 aluminum frames contains a customized suite of extrusions and transoms, many of which are being fabricated using CATIA by Brooklyn-based Roxy Lab, a facade research and development facility and sister company of Front.


Simmons described the curtain wall glass fabrication as the one analog process in the project’s hyper-digital execution. The architects envisioned using a real fabric interlayer to evoke the Torah’s parchment scrolls, and after extensive testing chose a synthetic fabric called Trevira, hand-placed to create delicate striations. The wall’s external lite contains the fabric laminated between SGP interlayers, while the interior lite is laminated white ceramic fritted glass. Placing the frit on the innermost surface will diffuse light from a 12-inch linear LED component in the base and head of each unit, causing the facade to glow.

The extent of Front and Roxy Lab’s involvement with the project grew in part out of larger contractors’ lack of interest in a highly complex yet small-scale project. For Simmons, though, the synagogue is a pilot for larger endeavors, like the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards: “Essentially, we are taking the Lincoln Square, design-to-fabrication model and scaling it up to deliver the building for Forest City Ratner.”  

Jennifer K. Gorsche


330 Madison Avenue
New York
Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects with W&W Glass

Designed in 1962 by Kahn & Jacobs, 330 Madison has a great location and 742,000 square feet of space, but also a facade that is long past its prime and its life expectancy. The original operable single-glazed windows allow air and water into the building and hike its energy consumption, but when owner Vornado hired Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects (MdeAS) to reclad the building, the team discovered the facade had one thing going for it—enough strength to support a new skin. According to MdeAS principal Dan Shannon, new cladding for buildings that predate 1968 can only project 4 inches from the existing property line, so using 330 Madison’s original mullions allows a new facade to be attached to the building’s 15-story podium as well as to its set-back tower.

The work will change the building completely. With an articulated curtain wall at the base and sleeker panels over the tower, it will look as new as nearby 100 Park Avenue, for which MdeAS was a finalist in this year’s Zerofootprint re-cladding prize. Though the new windows at 330 Madison will be nearly 20 inches larger than the original 7-foot-high vision panels, the reflective insulating glass units will help the wall assembly be one-third more energy efficient. Behind the glass, aluminum shadow boxes will cover the dated brown brick piers. “This tired old lady comes out a brand new building,” said Shannon.

As much as the building will change from the outside, perhaps the design team’s best trick will be doing the work while offices are completely occupied. Once the new skin has been attached, workers will remove the old windows at night, pulling them inside and installing aluminum trim kits to finish the frames. When employees return in the morning, they’ll hardly know it’s the same building; at least, according to the plan.


September 16, 2010

Face Value

June 8, 2008


In late April, I traveled to Minneapolis to see a building: the Walker Art Center expansion, designed by the eminent Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron. Unlike the typical archi-tourist, though, I wasn’t there to admire (or disparage) the way the museum occupied its site, or the functionality of the galleries, or the flow of the space. My interest was skin-deep. I was armed with a checklist of superficialities, like the pattern created by the crinkled aluminum-mesh panels that clad the exterior; the seals that surround the flush-mounted, irregularly shaped windows; and the visibility of the structural steel in the tall glass wall that connects to the older building. The next day, in Ohio, I would be on a similar mission at the Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art, a low-slung transparent structure by the Japanese architecture firm Sanaa. Marc Simmons, a founder of the New York-based facade-engineering-and-design consultancy Front Inc., which worked on both the Walker and the Glass Pavilion, instructed me to pay special attention in Toledo to the seams between the large glass panels. Crucially, if imperceptibly, every joint was occupied by a clear gasket that shielded the adhesive inside a panel from reacting chemically with the silicone seal joining the panels. “Otherwise, at every translucent joint, you would have edge blushing” — a milky white, uneven squiggling — “and that would be an unmitigated disaster,” Simmons said.

If, as Mies van der Rohe reportedly pronounced, “God is in the details,” then Simmons and his colleagues at Front are architecture’s high priests. (The detail-oriented should note that the sole citation for Mies having said that “God is in the details” — as well as his other famous aphorism, “Less is more” — comes from a 1959 interview with The New York Herald Tribune.) When you build according to the streamlined and unforgiving aesthetics of modern design, exactitude becomes paramount, and deviation a disaster. Anyone who has marveled at the swooping, jagged, iridescent and crystalline buildings that are being strewn across the contemporary cityscape like diamonds and rhinestones might well have wondered about the jeweler. Who ensures that every facet is precisely cut? Enter the facade consultancy, a new category of expert in which Front is the leader. “They are wizards at putting it all together,” the architect Neil Denari says. “They’ve cornered the market.”

Since it was established in 2002, Front has worked with most of the world’s pre-eminent architects — Frank GehryRem KoolhaasJean NouvelRenzo PianoRichard Rogersand Tadao Ando among them. In addition to realizing the details, the Front consultants can help an architect arrive at the facade design, determining the pattern and material of the cladding. They also find the fabricators to produce it. Because unusual facades catch the public’s eye and generate much of the popular interest in contemporary architecture, clients often urge an architect to build something that looks unbuildable. One-of-a-kind facades have spread virally from public institutions — mainly museums and universities — to commercial projects like residential condominiums because real-estate developers grasp that gee-whiz buildings can entice buyers. And wherever a client wants an unprecedented facade, Front finds an opportunity.

Until a century or so ago, the facade provided a building’s structural support as well as weather shielding and curb appeal. The development of the skyscraper changed that. Now, for most urban buildings of note, a steel or reinforced-concrete skeleton makes the building stand up tall, resisting both the downward pull of gravity and the lateral instability that is aggravated by wind or earthquake. Having shed its load-bearing role, the facade is more like a skin, which is one of the names used for it. It is also known as a “curtain wall,” since it is hung from the load-bearing structure. “In the shorthand, there is a tendency to refer to us as the ‘curtain-wall guys,’ ” says Bruce Nichol, one of Front’s five original partners. (Two have since left the firm, which today employs 32 people in a low-frills office on the western edge of SoHo.) Today, the most advanced architects are pushing their facades in one of two opposing directions: to merge more fully with the structure or to embrace ornament resplendently. Front is flexible. Depending on the architect’s approach, the facade consultants can go either way.

Front’s founders have experience at some of the best architecture and engineering firms. Three were working at Dewhurst Macfarlane & Partners, a structural-engineering-and-facade consultancy, when Simmons took the initiative in organizing an independent company. Dewhurst Macfarlane subcontracted six major facade projects to the new agency. The Walker in Minneapolis and the Glass Pavilion in Toledo were on the roster. So were Gehry’s extension to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington (canceled just before construction was to start) and Piano’s expansion of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. Two of the jobs — the Seattle Central Library and a Beverly Hills flagship store for Prada, both in 2004 — were with Koolhaas’s firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture.

The two OMA projects marked the opposite approaches to facade design: one was constructed primarily for display and the other for functionality. In Beverly Hills, the OMA architects were working with a relatively free-spending private client and (this being a fashion store) an emphasis on appearances. OMA decided to construct a closed metal box over a ground-floor level that was completely open to the street. While the design was severely rectilinear in a Modernist way, the thinking was over-the-top. So that the box would look as solid as possible (in contrast to the airiness of the level below), the architects wanted it assembled from unsegmented metal panels. Only three of the four sides of the box were exposed, but one of those sides was very long. “It’s a 42-foot-long and 14-foot-high and half-inch-thick sheet of aluminum,” Simmons told me. “It must be the world’s biggest sheet of architectural aluminum. When it was proposed that the whole front and the two sides would be solid sheets of aluminum, there was not a person that knew whether you could do it. There’s a lot of geometry involved in making the sheets of aluminum lock perfectly. It didn’t seem likely.” Front learned that Alcoa was able to provide the aluminum, and then the contractor located an aircraft fabricator in St. Louis to mill it with ultraprecision. Since the architects didn’t want the aluminum to be painted and it was too big to be anodized, Italian artisans hand-finished it. “The aluminum, when fabricated and fully installed, cost $380 a square foot, and today it would cost $1,000,” Simmons said. Not many clients would sign off on that expenditure. Even more satisfying was Prada’s embrace of the uncertainty inherent in building something unprecedented. “Prada paid us to figure out a way to make this on the hypothesis that it could be done — when no one, including us, knew that it could be,” Simmons said.

Front was even more deeply immersed in the architectural process for OMA’s other project, the Seattle Central Library, an instant civic landmark that, like the Eiffel Tower, delighted some and offended others. In the case of the library, OMA, the collaborating architecture firm of LMN and Front addressed an aspect of the curtain wall that has long troubled the modernist sensibility. Like the gray flannel suit, which also achieved cultural ascendancy in America in the mid-20th century, the curtain wall bears little relation to the reality of what lies underneath. It’s a disguise. Modernist architects, however, believed that the outside of a building should reveal what lies behind it. In midcentury, some Modernists — especially Mies — finessed the contradiction as best they could. Mies’s beautiful facades of glass and metal shared a visual aesthetic with the steel holding up the building, even though those facades still hung on the structure like a mask.

In Seattle, working on a tight budget, the architects devised a scheme in which the curtain wall is configured precisely to the underlying structure. It is truly transparent, almost indistinguishable from the framework. (Koolhaas wanted it to be one and the same, but that wasn’t technically possible.) First of all, to reduce the quantity of costly steel, Koolhaas and his colleagues decided to support the building against earthquakes with a diamond-patterned steel lattice structure known as a diagrid. To save more money — essential for a project that was teetering on its budget line — the architects wanted to insert the exterior glass panels of the facade in an aluminum lattice that would match up with the heavier steel diagrid underneath. The engineers ran the numbers for the optimal size of the diamond-shaped openings in the structural-steel diagrid. The facade consultants did the same for the dimensions of the glass panels on the outside. “You buy a huge piece of glass,” explains Joshua Prince-Ramus, the OMA partner in charge of the project, who now has his own New York-based firm, REX. “You have to find a way to cookie-cutter it out to have the least wastage. Then, labor — over a certain dimension, you go from two employees to four employees, then from four to eight. It’s all in the union contracts, how many workers to move a piece of glass over a certain size, and suddenly, your labor cost doubles.” Serendipitously, Simmons found that the most efficient use of the glass would be to cut it into diamond shapes with sides of 1.1 meters; when the engineers analyzed the structural steel frame, they discovered that the ideal length of each side of the lattice opening was a little more than 0.9 meters. The structural engineers and facade consultants made the sizes conform.

There was a remaining obstacle, however, once you went from the concept to the manufacture. The strictly measured diamond lattice of the waterproof facade had to be superimposed on the less precisely fabricated diagrid and bolted to it. “We don’t get the economy if the glass doesn’t fit with the dimensions of the structural steel,” Prince-Ramus said. To allow for discrepancy, Front devised adjustable bolts that would attach the facade to the corresponding steel structure. “It’s a three-dimensional fudge,” Prince-Ramus said. “Whenever the steel is not matching perfectly, if you use this attachment, you can make it work.” Koolhaas, who first joined forces with Front on the Seattle Central Library, told me, “The collaboration in Seattle was successful and crucial in working through the ultimate logic.” Together, on a far grander scale, OMA and Front have gone on to develop another facade that flaunts the structural-steel diagrid pattern, this one for the muscularly cantilevered CCTV building that is nearing completion in Beijing.

On an unorthodox project, the client’s daring is as important as the architect’s. Front worked on both of the American buildings of the refined and creative modernist architecture firm Sanaa. For the first, the Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art, the firm’s principals, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, devised a glass structure that contains contiguous rooms, most of them with curved glass walls. The building would house the art-glass collection established by Edward Drummond Libbey, a glass magnate who, with his wife, founded the Toledo Museum in 1901. Sadly, no local firm could fabricate the architectural glass for the pavilion. Almost a quarter of the building’s budget was for glass. “If the glass was twice the price, we couldn’t build the building,” the project architect, Florian Idenburg, told me; he has since left Sanaa to start his own Brooklyn-based firm, SO-IL. The glass was fabricated in China. When I inquired about its provenance, Carol Bintz, an official at the Toledo Museum, said: “People in the community questioned it, because Toledo is known for glass. But no U.S. plant could handle the required scale and curvature.” The client’s openness to global sourcing helped make the building a reality.

The Toledo decision makers also indulged Sanaa’s determination to keep the roof as unobtrusive as possible, which required Front to investigate novel ways of installing the glass walls. If you had a thick roof, you could maneuver the curved glass wall panels by inserting them into a deep groove in the ceiling. But Sanaa wanted a shallow roof, and that posed a challenge. Front embedded a special bracket in the ceiling to allow the glass to be raised into position in two stages. And to keep the joints between the glass panels slender, it devised a rocker mechanism that sits invisibly within the track on which the glass rests; should the floor happen to sag momentarily, the mechanism bows up to keep the glass vertical. Consequently, the joints can be slender and the ceiling shallow. As the Front partner Michael Ra explained to me, “You’re trying to erase the evidence of construction.” And Front wielded the eraser. “We really pushed it to the extreme of what you could do,” Idenburg said.

But when Front collaborated with Sanaa again, on the New Museum in New York, the partnership foundered. In their winning competition entry, Sejima and Nishizawa wrapped the building — which resembles a misaligned stack of boxes — in galvanized steel, a material that was soon abandoned on grounds of durability. Then the search began. Working with Front, the architects considered many possible skins that would have an industrial feel, in keeping with the museum’s site on the gritty Bowery and its mission to show edgy, contemporary art. Their explorations were far-ranging. Sejima and Nishizawa traveled to Reutlingen, Germany, with Martin Riese, a Front founder who has since left to run Gehry Technologies Asia in Hong Kong: the object of their interest was a building facade of laser-cut stainless steel — an intriguing option until they learned that it would cost about four times what they could afford. Another potential model was the Selfridges department store designed in Birmingham, England, by Future Systems, which features an eye-catching facade of an Yves Klein blue, rubberized waterproof sublayer dotted with aluminum discs. The chemist who oversaw the rubber fabrication came to New York, and the team commissioned a sizable mock-up. “The applicator was having so much trouble that at one point he fell over backward and injured himself,” Bruce Nichol, the Front partner in charge, recalled. That option was also rejected.

After Sejima, fearing the facade might look too flat and dull, proposed a mesh over a solid layer, she and Front began researching meshes. Sejima liked one with a very wide opening that was available in Japan, in a brilliantly finished anodized aluminum. Unfortunately, the polishing process was so chemically toxic that the aluminum could be manufactured nowhere else, not even in China. And the Japanese material was very expensive. Nichol located a fabricator near his native city of Newcastle, England, that could supply a comparable mesh. “They have very sophisticated Czechoslovak machinery, an old tool from the 1930s that had been used for reinforcement mesh for concrete slabs,” he said. But the client was growing impatient. “They were moving too slowly, and it was really holding us up,” Lisa Phillips, the New Museum director, recalled. “It was all in the hypothetical realm.”

Although Front’s contacts with global suppliers and its technical prowess allow it to move quickly once the design is chosen, the road to that point can be tortuous. “Bruce got really frustrated,” Idenburg, the project architect, said. “He needed time to explore. And every time, a man in a suit would call and say: ‘How much will it cost? When will we get this?’ ” Or what would be the impact on energy conservation? On installation expense? Finally, the client’s frustration reached the crisis point. “Every time something got delayed, the budget was doubling,” Phillips said. “We started realizing that, and we said, ‘This has to stop.’ ” Front was fired. The built facade went on to feature the wide mesh that Nichol located in Newcastle, with a sublayer of corrugated extruded aluminum that resembles one of the options he was investigating. “The New Museum had a very tight budget and less of an environment of exploration and experiment,” Idenburg told me. “They couldn’t gamble. Maybe Front was overqualified, because there was less desire to think outside the box and more desire for dry engineers who could make this building go up in New York on a tight budget. New York is a hostile environment for innovation.”

We are living in a golden age for (glass, aluminum, titanium, stainless-steel and — who knows? maybe someday gold) facades. Even in New York they have arrived. To enable an unconventional condominium in the West Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan to go up without compromise, Front moved from consulting into a more active role. Highline 23 will be the first significant building by Neil Denari, a Los Angeles architect who is known as a teacher and theorist. As an understatement, you could say that the exterior of HL23 is atypical. Two facades of the building are curtain walls with floor-to-ceiling glass panels of different sizes, shapes and decorative patterns; the third is a stainless-steel wall that looks over the future Highline elevated park.

Even before HL23 crossed his desk, Michael Ra, the Front partner, had been wanting to get his hands dirty in the construction process. So with Marc Simmons, he formed a company, Via, that could bid on a job and fabricate the materials. The Highline project is his first big test. On HL23, the glass panels are so large — in some cases, 30 feet wide and 12 feet high — that they have to be composed of smaller panes. Ra concluded that it would be less exorbitant to assemble them as “megapanels” to be hung on the steel frame than it would be to glaze the wall on site. “In New York City, labor costs are high and unpredictable,” he explains. He arranged to have the whole glass curtain wall manufactured in China: the glass, the steel frames, the operable windows, the laminated sections — and, finally (putting all the parts together), the fabricated megapanels, which will be shipped to New York. Denari says that Front’s involvement has reduced the construction budget substantially. “The rise of Front has not only to do with their intelligence on detailing, but also, they are guys on the street who know where and how things are made,” he says. “That’s why architects are flocking to them.”

Satisfying as such experiences are, they aren’t enough — at least not for Marc Simmons. Front’s intellectual investment in design, he says, “was going to lead us ultimately to designing buildings. I guess I always knew that.” He knows it even better now. In April, he learned that Front had won an invited competition to design a Louis Vuitton storefront on a prominent pedestrian corner in Singapore. Front’s entry was exuberantly baroque: a curtain wall that drapes extravagantly, like a curtain of glass. “All the glass is curved — C-curved or S-curved or double-S-curved,” Simmons told me. The curved glass panels, which are two layers thick, will be molded in different textures, and the laminate in between the layers will be printed in varying motifs. The contrasting panels will be arranged in such a way that from a distance, the wall will legibly display a checkerboard pattern that is a Vuitton signature.

Because the construction of novel facades is central to contemporary architecture, Simmons and company are well situated to move from the outside up. At times, it may seem that Front is neglecting the forest for the trees. And then you recall that in the current climate, the dazzling specimen, not the urban context or master plan, is what people are clamoring for. Even if you feel we are living in a superficial time, you have to respect the way Front ponders surfaces so profoundly.

September 16, 2010

Marc Simmons: Front, Inc.

Marc Simmons, founding partner of the specialist façade consulting practice Front, Inc., has collaborated with many of the most brilliant architects in the world to produce some of the most exciting façades in today’s world of architecture.

Many buildings are recognized by their façades more than their spatial qualities and this highlights the obvious role of a façade beyond its purpose to keep out the elements of nature.  As Marc Simmons puts it,  “Beyond its functional role, the façade is a signifier that evokes thoughts about what the building is about.”

Front is a cross-disciplinary group of creative individuals with professional backgrounds in architecture, structural engineering and mechanical engineering.  The firm provides design and technical consulting services through intensive collaboration to realize innovative projects and responsible design.  Front has been involved in a series of innovative projects including the Seattle Central Public Library with OMA; the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art with Sejima Nishizawa Associates; the Walker Art Center expansion with Herzog de Meuron; and the Morgan Library & Museum expansion with Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Simmons is a faculty member at the Princeton University School of Architecture, and holds both Bachelor of Environmental Studies and Bachelor of Architecture degrees from the University of Waterloo, Canada.  His specialist façade knowledge and experience in custom curtainwall and hybrid cladding system design is built upon previous work at Foster and Partners, Meinhardt Façade Technology, and the structural gall and façade consulting group at Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners in New York.

September 16, 2010

Mercedes-Benz Museum

Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Germany
UN Studio

UN Studio cross-fertilizes a three-leaf-clover plan with a double-helix circulation for theMercedes-benz museum in Stuttgart.

By Suzanne Stephens

Photo © Duccio Malagamba

Frank Lloyd Wright probably would have given his porkpie hat to get the commission to design the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart—if he had lived so long. And he might have been impressed (even if grudgingly so) to see how a young Dutch firm, UN Studio, evolved a stunning spiral-ramped, reinforced-concrete building for the auto company. Granted, Wright generated his own historic concrete-ramp structure for displaying art with his Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan in 1959. There he realized a spiral-ramp parti he had also developed for cars—in the form of parking structures dating back to 1924–25. But Wright’s only chance to adapt that parti for the display of automobiles came with his 1955 Jaguar showroom at 430 Park Avenue in New York City. Now, belonging to Mercedes-Benz, it contains only a smidgen of his original idea.

Going beyond Wright, the nine-story Mercedes museum—designed by Ben van Berkel, an architect, working with his partner, Caroline Bos, trained as an art historian, and their Amsterdam-based office—is composed of two spiraling ramps in the form of a double helix that mimics DNA’s genetic strands. With clear spans of 100 feet that can display high-tonnage trucks and cars, the wide ramps loop, incline, merge, and meld as interchangeable surfaces, so that floors become walls, and walls become ceilings.

Many technical developments have emerged in the years between Wright’s experiments and the competition-winning scheme for the newly opened Mercedes-Benz Museum. These advances enabled the UN Studio team, which included both engineer Werner Sobek and a computer consultant on geometry, Arnold Walz, to develop a 270,000-square-foot, reinforced-concrete structure far more complex than the Guggenheim, and seven times larger.

In Germany, the Mercedes museum occupies a 37,674-square- foot site in an automotive enclave called Mercedes–Benz World near the parent company DaimlerChrysler’s Stuttgart-Untertürkheim plant. Next door is the new Mercedes-Benz Center, a square, three-story building pierced by skylights, where the sleek, elegant cars are sold. A 330-foot-long passage under a concrete podium, lined with shops and a restaurant, links the center to the museum.

the People

Daimler Chrysler Immobilien (DCI)GmbH

Architect’s firm name:
UN Studio
+31 (0)20 570 2040

Personnel in architect’s firm who should receive special credit:
Ben van Berkel, Caroline Bos and Tobias Walliser, design architects; marco Hemmerling, Hannes Pfau, Wouter de Jonge, Arjan Dingste, Gotz Peter Feldmann, Bjorn Rimner, Sebastian Schaeffer, Andreas Bogenschuetz, Uli Horner, Ivonne Schickler, Dennis Ruarus, Erwin Horstmanshof, Derrick Diporedjo, Nanang Santoso, Robert Brixner, Alexander Jung, Matthew Johnston, Rombout Loman, Arjan van der Bliek, Fabian Evers, Nuno Almeida, Ger Gijzen, Tjago Nunes, Boudewijn Rosman, Ergian Alberg, Gregor Kahlau, Mike Herud, Thomas Klein, Simon Streit, Taehoon Oh, Jenny Weiss, Philipp Dury, Carin Lamm, Anna Carlquist, Jan Debelius, Daniel Kalani, Evert Klinkenberg, design team

Associate architects:
Wenzel + Wenzel, Stuttgart: Matias Wenzel, Markus Schwarz, Clemens Schulte-Mattler, Ina Karbon, project architects; Nicola Kuhnle, Florian Erhard, Michael Fischinger, Christoph Friedrich, Peter Holzer, Christopf Krinn, Stefan Linder, Simon Schneider, Walter Ulrich, Gabriele Volker, Thomas Koch, Ulrike Kolb, Bendix Pallesen-Mustikay, Marc Schwesinger, Thuy Duong Du, Kathrin Steimle, Florian Goscheff, Thomas Hertleink, Yvonne Galdys, Deniz Hocauglu, Katerina Karapanceva, Anka Volk, Patrick Yong, team

Exhibition Concept and Design:
HG Merz, Stuttgart
Christine Kappei (Projektleitung), Markus Betz, Hannes Bierkamper, Tufan Cenberoglu, Annette Clavier, Svetlana Curcic, Michael Fragstein, Marc Guntow, Eva Hubner, Sebastian Koch, Felix Kronert, Boris Meiners, Joachim Munzig, Andreas v. Normann, Bjorn Plohmann, Kay Pruhs, Kristina Schimanski, Anja Soder, Thomas Thiemeyer, Daniel Utz, Cornelia Wehle

Interior designer:
UN Studio with Concrete Architectural Associates, Amsterdam

Special Elements:
Inside Outside, Petra Blaisse, Amsterdam


Werner Sobek Ingenieure, Stuttgart

Arnold Walz, Stuttgart

Climate engineering:
Transsolar Energietechnik, Stuttgart

David Johnson, Arup, London


Cost estimation:
Nanna Futterer, Stuttgart/Berlin

the Products

Structural system
ePTFE foil Manufacturer: Covertex Collection (Preshow Membrane)

Sto Shop area Floors

Bolicoat 50 Manufacturer
Bolidt Collection Ceilings


September 16, 2010



The Mercedes-Benz Museum houses an incredible amount of automotive history, unexpected surprises, and is in and of itself an absolutely mind blowing architectural space. That being said there are a million and one different posts i could write about it, and none would do it justice fully. So, let’s do this my way and start with my favorite detail… the ELEVATORS are amazing! When you enter the space, you can see straight up to the roof (and a peek at the sunlight coming in) as floors spiral all the way… you could even say the ceiling has a Mercedes-Benz star inspired shape… and then you notice what look three like vertical tracks going up… and these awesome metal pod (with abstract ghost like eyes/shape) moving up and down… it’s surreal. A bit overly concrete feeling (gave me a similar vibe to Oakley HQ’s entrance)… there was something very sterile/scifi feeling about the entrance space. I could have stood there and stared up at the mesmerizing symmetry of it all for ages. So see more close ups of it in action on the next page!

p.s. Also amazing are those giant panels… the ones that look like concrete? they arent. That’s how they move cars into the various floors.

p.p.s. Additionally, when it comes to ventilating the space and quickly dealing with a fire/etc… this building is the official world-record holder for the World’s Largest Artificial Tornado! It’s over 100ft, generated from the center of the roof… i’ve just updated the post with a few videos on the next page…mbmuseum_elevators1.jpgmbmuseum_elevators2.jpg

They totally look like little ghosts!mbmuseum_elevators3.jpg

Of course the interior of the elevator pods have dramatic lighting as well… but as they mentioned… it DOES basically take you from present, well in to the past ~ so the capsule-esque time machine vibe works pretty well!mbmuseum_elevators4.jpgmbmuseum_elevators5.jpg

view looking out from within…mbmuseum_elevators7.jpg

See? You can attach the hooks to hold a few tons… pull it up to the door panels… and slide it right in…mbmuseum_elevators6.jpg

Want to see the indoor tornado in action?

From the 2007 press release: It was necessary to take a new approach, and so a globally unique smoke elimination system was developed especially for the Mercedes-Benz Museum. In the event of fire, 144 outlets located along the core walls inject air into the interior courtyard of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. This generates an artificial tornado, and the smoke collected is then discharged into the outside air via a smoke elimination ventilator located in the upper part of the building.

This procedure uses the principle of the tornado force, which has a devastating effect under natural conditions, to create a controlled life-saving form of fluid mechanics that opens up new architectural possibilities.