Bridging Aesthetics and Technology: Balancing Building Concept with Details in the Design Development Process of the Facade System

New York City College of Technology/ Department of Architectural Technology
Advanced Design Studio VIII on Facade Detailing,
Spring 2018
John Neary AIA LEED AP Adjunct Assistant Professor/ Michael Miller Adjunct Instructor

Last semester at New York City College of Technology (CityTech), we introduced fourth year students to the joy and pain of facade detailing, balancing the usual design problem of an overall building concept with design details and models of facade systems. Rather than limiting the pedagogical scope to technical requirements of facades, as some courses on detailing do, we attempted to bridge the aesthetic and technical, bringing lessons from professional practice and construction experience into the classroom. The student response was enthusiastic.

Students in this studio were familiar with the basics of building technology and had already completed the building design studio sequence leading to this final semester of the Bachelor of Technology in Architectural Technology degree program.

The class met twice weekly, and began with short lectures on facade design, covering: energy and building codes, system types, glass and cladding materials, and tutorials on modeling and presentation work. One class per week started with freehand sketching of a detail to encourage a habit of drawing, and careful examination of details. The students’ work in this area showed definite progress over the course of the semester.

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The first studio exercise was research of an existing facade and creating digital models of key details.

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This was a warmup for a midtown high rise design project. Beginning with a conceptual analysis of ground floor connections to the adjacent context, it included tower massing and facade studies. The students then developed a lobby entrance facade intended to reinforce conceptual priorities they established for the site and developed key details in drawings and models at half-full size.

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At the juried final review, students explained the connection between large-scale site-responses and consequent choice of facade details.

The use of ‘stock’ systems due to limited time introduced a real-world dimension of constraint to the design exercise and raised the issue of how conventional architectural components can address the particulars of place and context. (We chose the Sentech catalog as a resource.) The answer lies in a thoughtful and sensitive response to site conditions that informs the details, as in the most engaging reference case studies by the students.

In the future, we hope to further engage industry partners for technical expertise in structural and thermal modeling and construction. The field trip to the VCL piqued student interest in the detail design and fabrication process. Extending the course beyond a single semester would enable fabrication of more complex mockups in addition to study models. This physical realization bridges conceptual and technical pedagogy in the design studio experience and connects the academy with industry.

This is the personal opinion of John Neary, AIA LEED AP and does not reflect the views of Facade Tectonics Institute.

Photo of John Neary, AIA LEED AP

John Neary, AIA LEED AP

Senior Facade Specialist


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The New York City College of Technology, Department of Architectural Technology, is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system emphasizing technical architectural education. It is rooted in the vocational programs of the WWII GI Bill and has evolved into an advanced technical education counterpart to the more common liberal arts-based architectural design programs. The department offers offers a 4-year Bachelor of Technology degree, and is currently proposing a five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree option.

John Neary is a senior facade specialist at HOK, Michael Miller is a designer at HOK. Special thanks to Sanjive Vaidya, Architecture Dept. Chair; Kevin Hom, Dean; Phillip Anzalone, Assistant Professor; Michelle Neary, Gensler; Blake Kurasek, HOK.

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