How is Uber impacting building design? Can Modernist curtainwalls be brought up to present-day performance standards without disturbing the original design intent? Today’s Facades + Conference assembled an A-list group of Boston designers and thinkers to discuss questions such as this. Organized by The Architect’s Newspaper, with support from Sasaki, the event brought together over 250 attendees from all corners of the AEC industry to discuss cutting-edge building enclosures.
More than ten architects and designers from Sasaki attended. We gathered a few of them for a quick group photo. From left to right: Lynn Hsu, Colin Booth, Lucila Rosso, Chris Winkler, and Brad Prestbo.
“I’ve had the pleasure of acting as Co-Chair for this event for the past nine months,” said Sasaki Senior Associate Brad Prestbo during the day’s opening remarks. “I first became aware of the Facades+ Conference series five years ago, and have been a big fan ever since. For me, it was so rewarding to find a conference where we can really geek out on enclosure systems—from design theory and how they relate to a larger context, down to the nitty gritty details and a venue to share stories of construction.”
Held at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center, the event’s morning programming featured three panel discussions, while the afternoon was filled with three in-depth workshops. While the panels focused on specific projects and conceptual discussions, the workshops explored specific technical aspects of façade detailing, software workflows, and emerging design methods.
Below are highlights from each of the panel discussions:
Expanding the Envelope: Generating Urban Data for Responsive Design
The day’s first session was moderated by Brad Barnett, Co-Director of Sasaki Strategies. The discussion focused on the increasing amount of data generated by the urban environment and how that can be harnessed to shape governmental and design decisions.
Much of the discussion focused on aspects of the so-called “Smart City” model: data from 911 call, for instance, or sensors that track a specific data point at locations across a city, such as the temperature of every city block. While each of the panelists was optimistic about the possibilities of these data sources, each expressed the importance of vetting specific usages before adopting them as foundational decision-drivers.
“In the past twenty years, the level of detail we need versus the level of detail we can get has flipped,” said Dan O’Brien, a Public Policy and Urban Affairs Professor at Northeastern University. “Understanding the true value that this data can offer, as opposed to taking the lofty promises we often hear as fact, is the key to increasing economic efficiency at the civic level.”
O’Brien discusses the importance of a discerning eye in sifting through growing amounts of data pertaining to the public realm.
Piggy-backing on O’Brien’s comment, Cathy Wissink, Senior Director for Technology & Civic Engagement at Microsoft, raised a few cautionary hypotheticals regarding governments’ obligation to use data responsibly. “How do we as individuals value the data that we personally generate by traversing public spaces? What’s the government’s responsibility to handle that data? Are there liability issues? Data generation and collection has expanded so quickly that we’re still trying to answer these kind of regulatory questions.”
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief Information Officer for the City of Boston offered a fascinating insight into how companies such as Uber and emergent technologies such as autonomous cars could transform the built environment. “Today, the number of ride-sharing trips is roughly equivalent to trips on public transit. If the optimistic proponents of autonomous cars are even half-right about their claims, then I think we’re going to see a considerable change in how we navigate cities within the next decade. These changes have a lot of implications for the built environment. Will buildings need bays for autonomous cars to be stored? Will the entrances and approaches to buildings be made more fluid for people to move from the inside to the outside?”
In Barnett’s concluding remarks, he championed the indispensable role of the human designer in a world filled with more and more data and automation. “As designers, we really look at the difference between what humans are good at and what machines are good at. Fortunately, there’s still a good bit of difference there. At Sasaki, we let machines do the heavy lifting to test a huge number of design iterations, and then we use our human intuition and experience to parse those iterations and determine the best direction for moving forward.”
Modernist Performance Retrofits
Moderated by Sasaki Senior Associate Brad Prestbo, the second session featured presentations from Ann Beha of Ann Beha Architects, and Andrea Love, the Director of Building Science at Payette. The panel focused primarily on specific renovation strategies for bringing the performance of existing, often historically relevant, buildings up to modern-day performance standards while still working within the original architectural vernacular.
Love demonstrates the use of thermal imaging to determine a given façade’s heat loss.
“When it comes to atmospheric comfort inside of buildings,” said Love, “you can’t please everyone.”
This is especially true with older buildings. Even if the temperature in a building core’s remains consistent, heat distribution can vary dramatically at building perimeters over the course of the day, or from season-to-season. This is often due to failing air barriers or a substantial curtain wall, a hallmark of much modernist architecture, paired with low-performing glazing.
“The goal for designers becomes to please the largest number of people through innovative façade and glazing solutions, informed by heat flow testing.”
Making Space For Bostonians
Sasaki Principal Vinicius Gorgati, AIA, LEED AP, moderated the day’s final panel, which featured David Manfredi, founding principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects, Stephen DeSimone, President, DeSimone Consulting Engineers, and Stephanie Randazzo Dwyer, Principal, Machado Silvetti.
Gorgati introduces the panelists for the day’s final discussion, which focused on Boston-specific projects.
Manfredi detailed the specifics of Boston Landing—a 14 acre mixed-use district to the west of Boston. The phased development is expanding the traditional boundaries of the city outward by creating a new destination district.
DeSimone demonstrates the projected wind load on a building’s facade
DeSimone explored the implication of increased winds on buildings over the next 30 years. This conversation is especially relevant for cities such as New York and Boston. These cities are approving permits for buildings that feature taller overall heights yet smaller footprints, and also have to contend with increased severe weather risks related to climate change. DeSimone stressed the importance of pairing façade mock-ups with structural wind load tests, as well as careful site analyses that take into account microclimate effects that can be amplified during a storm event.