The Curtain Wall Industry: History, Current State, and Challenges of Façade Design

By Akio

The Evolution of Façade Design

The first building introduced with a curtain wall was the Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851.

The Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. Appearance of Crystal Palace (right), Interior (left).

The Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. Appearance of Crystal Palace (right), Interior (left).

The Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition, London, 1851, pioneered façade design. For the exhibition hall for most exhibits, a greenhouse-like frame glass structure was adopted, which not only rendered the Crystal Palace the most glorious of all exhibits, but also pioneered façade design engineering.

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After nearly a century of development, façade fabrication, in terms of type, has developed from a simple exposed-frame glass one to a semi-exposed-frame or hidden-frame, full-glass one, as well as using various metal, stone, or artificial panels; in terms of structure, the façade fabrication has developed from a simple frame one to a unitized, point-supported, double-skinned, and membrane-structured one; in addition, more energy-efficient, ecological façade panels, photoelectric façade, and intelligent façade are gathering momentum.

Obviously, façade design technology is advancing rapidly. It helps architects free their minds and enables façade design to develop from being simple and monotonous to diversified, complex, and modern.

Architectural envelopes market is mainly driven by the development of the global economy and building industry. Global economic growth promotes investment in fixed assets, and the construction demands of all kinds of public facilities, commercial buildings, and high-end residential buildings provide a foundation for the growth of global architectural envelopes markets.

From the distribution of global architectural envelopes markets, it can be seen that the U.S. and Europe are still the dominant players, combined market share accounting for about 50% in 2009.

In the meanwhile, the emerging countries represented by China and India are enjoying rapid growth of their architectural envelopes industry.

Distribution of Global Architectural Envelopes Markets in 2009

Distribution of Global Architectural Envelopes Markets in 2009

According to related statistics, China is the country with the most super high-rise buildings being constructed and planned in the world. The number of buildings in the country above 200 meters accounts for 48.5% of the total number of the buildings in the world. A large number of projects to be started in the future will demand much from the architectural envelopes industry.

It can be predicted that in the future, the U.S. and Europe will still take the lead in the design and application of architectural envelope products, and the developing countries of Asia (especially China), the Middle East, and other regions will be the main battlefield and driver of new products and application demands of the architectural envelopes globally.

Industry Challenges

The traditional building industry suffers serious productivity waste because of poor utilization of building materials, engineering rework, idling of labor, etc. According to related statistics, the value of the resources wasted in construction for a project accounts for as much as 25% of the total investment, largely wasted in façade design, fabrication, and installation.

For sustainable and healthy development of the architectural envelopes industry, it is required to analyze the reasons for the waste from the perspective of the full lifecycle of a façade fabrication, examine the challenges arising in the development of the architectural envelope industry, and grasp the opportunities of industry development.

Challenge of project management mode

Façade design (especially for complex curtain walls) is a highly professional engineering task requiring a distinguished appearance, technical functionality, and significant investment in installation planning. So, like structural design, plumbing design, and electrical design, a façade design requires special expertise.

Typically architects designing façades try to avoid a single manufacturer’s product so that the contractor can bid alternatives. This means that the architectural drawings are not coordinated with shop drawings from a manufacturer until construction has started and by that time much expert knowledge has been missed with several consequences:

  1. the final design deliverables fail to embody the progress of façade technology and new products; and
  2. the design scheme cannot meet the building energy performance requirements in an economical way.

For a close coordination between façade design and main building design, an independent third party as façade design consultants are important.

At the building schematic phase, the architects ask the façade design consultants for advice on their schematic design, so as to make possible the best building appearance; at the design development phase, the façade design consultants determines the system to-be-adopted, reserved room, etc. for the architectural envelope to provide more refined façade design drawings for façade contractors bidding.

The façade consultants should be able to produce a 3D model that incorporates the architect’s construction drawings and fabrication drawings.

Data breaking from design to manufacturing

Compared with the traditional building industry, façade design engineering is mostly based on custom manufacturing in plants. It is an industry formed from the close combination of building and industrial manufacturing. It is hoped that the accurate 3D model and 2D CAD drawings of a complex façade models can be completely sent to the numerical control cutting machines in plants.

However, due to lack of relevant cross-industry standard criteria, the data chain from façade design to manufacturing breaks, resulting in poor collaboration in problem solving, which seriously affects the industrialization of the architectural envelope industry.

Furthermore, because of the limited accuracy of many BIM software programs in parametric modeling of the components, 3D models cannot be directly applied to industrial fabrication. When an architect changes 3D models, the façade designer has to redevelop the detailed façade design and generate new fabrication drawings independently, thus causing a huge waste due to delay and rework.

Production and installation requirements of a complex curtain wall

Compared with traditional manufacturing, a façade panel has a higher degree of customization, which is reflected by not only different designs for different projects, but also different façade panels even in a project, so fast and flexible production is required as needed.

With the emergence of new materials and new technologies, and people’s constant pursuit of different building appearances, façade fabrication becomes bigger and bigger in size and increasingly complex in shape, accompanied by increasing of difficulties in field installation. In this case, if the delivery sequence and installation process are not well managed, the installation positions of façade panels may be confused, thus causing project delay and the waste of resources.

It is a pity that seamless connection of data for detailed façade design drawing, detailed joint fabrication technology, and field installation positioning (as well as realization of drawing-less and model-driven fabrication design which is a concept advocated in the machinery industry) is now beyond the capability for most BIM tools.

What we need is an accurate data integration environment incorporating building design, detailed joint design, and field installation together covering a series of management activities, including façade fabrication production, positioning, detection, cost estimation, and risk control.


Screen-Shot-2014-12-23-at-1.55.20-PM-225x300Excerpted from Technological Changes Brought by BIM to Façade Design

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Learn about the Dassault Systémes Industry Solution Experience Façade Design for Fabrication

Prefabrication Productivity for AEC

By Akio

PREFABRICATION-PRODUCTIVITY

By Vicki Speed

From a residential high-rise in New York City to low-cost hotels in Europe, the application of prefabricated and modular objects and systems continues to capture the interest of owners, architects, contractors, fabricators and product manufacturers in the building industry.

Around the world, prefabrication proponents are finding ways to apply offsite construction techniques that go way beyond repeatable systems such as bathroom pods or mechanical pipe rack to more volumetric, pioneering, semi-customized solutions that address a wide range of common construction challenges.

In some parts of the world, like Japan and the United Kingdom, owners and project teams have necessarily moved to offsite construction methods because of land prices and the cost of labor,” said Ryan Smith, associate professor and director in the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah (USA), and chairman of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Off-Site Construction Council (OSCC). “Amortizing land is prohibitive in these countries, so owners favor methods that facilitate faster construction schedules. Labor is more expensive, also necessitating quick turnaround on construction duration.”

However, he added, the greater interest and application of offsite construction methods in recent years is largely driven by two ongoing challenges in the global construction industry: the need to improve construction productivity and skilled-labor shortages in some parts of the world.

North American Methods Shifting

Concerns about labor shortages are one of the primary reasons for increased interest in offsite construction in North America.

In its 2014 US Markets Construction Overview, FMI, a global provider of management consulting, investment banking and research to the engineering and construction industry, predicts that modularization and prefabrication will play an increasingly vital role in the US construction value chain because emerging demand is outrunning the availability of skilled tradespeople.

Meanwhile, many international contractors are looking to their European or Asian counterparts for ideas.

In our experience, prefabrication and modularization are primarily driven by our need to be more competitive and deliver a project at the lowest cost and schedule certainty – and the Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) subcontractors have taken the lead in delivering effective solutions for good reason,” said Don Goodrich, director of preconstruction services at Sundt, a construction company based in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). “The MEP trades are facing a considerable labor shortage. The increasing use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) helps bring the prefabrication conversation to the forefront as well.”

Deciding when to use a prefab approach is based on the challenges of a specific project, Goodrich said. “We’re translating prefab and modular techniques that we learn from one job to other jobs as much as possible,” he said.

In one case, Sundt transferred the modular technology approach from a private prison construction project to a much larger state prison project.

PrefabricationProductivity2

Modular construction at the Corrections Corporation of America’s detention facility in Otay Mesa, California (Image © Sundt Construction, Incorporated)

Global Multi-Trade Opportunities

Similarly, UK-based Balfour Beatty, an international infrastructure lifecycle services company, relies on prefabrication and modular methods to construct a number of different structures to achieve considerable value.

Some phases of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for example, were completed a year early. Likewise, Belgium-based Inter IKEA Group, parent company of the IKEA furniture brand, teamed with Marriott International, a hospitality company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland (USA), to create low-cost prefabricated hotels in Europe.

FMI Senior Consultant Ethan Cowles expects the use of prefab and modularization to grow quickly in health care, lodging and education, as it already has done in the fast food market.

OSCC’s Smith agrees. “We see full volumetric prefabricated construction mostly with owners of smaller structures, some housing and some industrial markets,” he said. “Owners of fast-food franchises, automotive service centers, daycare, data centers, hospitals, multi-family and mid-rise structures, and others with repeatable structural requirements, are becoming more engaged in design-build and integrated delivery and are not so dependent on open bid requirements.”

Looking ahead, Cowles and Smith point to growing interest and demand for multi-trade prefabrication and modularization.

“The success of a multi-trade scenario will depend on the owner seeing value and capable contractors coming together contractually to maximize the benefits,” Cowles said.

Rethinking Conventional Practices

Despite the promise that prefabrication and modularization holds for the building industry, the approach is not without wrinkles – as witnessed by the lawsuits related to New York’s B2 Tower project.

Cowles and Smith noted that offsite approaches inherently require early coordination and decision-making to maximize the value.

Offsite construction also requires that owners, architects and contractors rethink the conventional processes that have been industry standards for decades.

“The building technology and methodology for offsite construction is not mysterious,” Smith said. “There’s very little technical challenge or complexity to the process, very little intellectual property, relatively speaking, in comparison to other manufacturing industries. The challenge has more to do with tacit knowledge related to the social, political, regulation and economic context in which offsite construction unfolds.”

Integrating prefabrication and modularization into the construction build cycle adds value, but it’s not a panacea, Smith said. “I don’t see these methods adopted on every project; but, most certainly, as components of an overall project build to minimize labor, increase productivity and improve schedules – in short, to add value.”

PREFABRICATION PRODUCTIVITY by Vicki Speed originally appeared in Compass: The 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine

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BIM and Façade Design: Technological Implications [Whitepaper]

By Akio

The following is the introductory section of “Technological Changes Brought by BIM to Façade Design”

Download the full whitepaper.


With the continuous progress of building industry technologies and people’s constant pursuit of sustainable buildings, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been a new subject heatedly discussed and explored in the building industry.

SKY SOHU Project BIM models

SKY SOHU Project BIM models

Thanks to its advantages of visualization, coordination, simulation, optimization, and drawing-making, BIM has sparked great changes in engineering construction, and is becoming widely popular in Asian countries.

Countries including the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, South Korea, and Japan have issued BIM guidance standards for the application and development of BIM.

BIM has played a huge role in the construction of many complex projects, such as Shanghai Tower (the world’s second-tallest building with a height of 632 meters), Shanghai Disney Resort (wining the U.S. AIA 2014 award for BIM application), and Tokyo Sky Tree (the world’s tallest tower at 634 meters).

Architectural envelopes are the coat of a building, organically integrating building aesthetics, building function, building energy efficiency, building structure, and other factors.

Today architectural envelopes of different materials and in different structural forms have been seen all over the world. Architectural envelopes are synonymous with grandeur, elegance, and modernity, and become an important symbol and outstanding feature of a modern metropolis.

Although central to the building industry, façade fabrication has roots in the machine manufacturing industry, and is the most cross-disciplinary branch in the AEC industry.

In design, manufacturing, and installation, the architect’s tireless artistic pursuit and the continuing emergence of urban complexes and super high-rise buildings give façade design technology plenty of space to play its role, and the advent of BIM brings good opportunities for the development of façade design engineering.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-23-at-1.55.20-PM-225x300This paper will mainly analyze the application of BIM in façade design, discuss the advantages and challenges of BIM, and give the prospects for the technological changes brought by BIM to the whole industrial chain of façade design, fabrication, and installation.

Download the full whitepaper, “Technological Changes Brought by BIM to Façade Design”



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