Spotlight on Research: R&D and Innovation in Building Skins

Research is an essential part of innovation. Our industry has seen an increased interest in research over the last fifteen years, driven by the multifaceted challenges facing our profession—environmental concerns, increasing complexity in building design and construction, necessity to improve building performance, financial considerations, etc. But there are also aspects that require dedicated research and development, such as adoption of advanced materials and facade systems, new digital technologies, and methods for improved collaboration and coordination.

My personal interest in building technology and facades research began almost two decades ago, when research in practice was unheard of—at that time, most of the research was conducted in academic institutions or national laboratories. What drove me to a research career was a personal quest and curiosity to try to answer wicked questions that I did not know how to answer. What helped in this quest was interdisciplinary approach. Initially, I was trained as an architectural designer, but I was curious to learn from other disciplines, including engineering and traditional scientific fields, and apply that knowledge to architectural research. Over the years, I was able to learn what research is, how to conduct research studies, and more importantly, how to create value for our industry through publishing and sharing research results.

Thus, I was quite excited when Mic Patterson invited me to guest edit this issue of SKINS. He was very kind to provide a review of my recently published book Research Methods for the Architectural Profession (Routledge, 2021). What drove me to write this book is the lack of specific guidelines that describe methods for integrating research into practice and how to execute research studies—I tried to demystify the process and to create a clear roadmap so that research can become an integral part of our work. Integrating research into practice is essential for developing new knowledge, solving design and technical problems, overcoming challenges facing our industry and improving the built environment. I previously published a book Integrating Innovation in Architecture: Design, Methods and Technology for Progressive Practice and Research (John Wiley and Sons, 2016), but realized that more guidance is needed regarding the research processes and methods. Five short years later, I was able to achieve this goal.

The concept of “open innovation”, which created a paradigm shift for managing research and bringing new technologies to life in other disciplines (mostly technology companies), can be applied to our industry. The underlying principle for open innovation is the changing role of research from internal discovery to external engagement, where new models for generating and commercializing innovation, collaboration, and sharing are integrated. Collaborations between industry and academic institutions are excellent ways to engage in research projects. Alexandra Blakeslee and Helen Sanders provide their perspectives on the benefits of collaborative research projects in their article “Research Collaboration between Industry and Academia as a Driver for Facades Innovation”. Ulrich Knaack reviews new directions for facades research and development in his article “New Challenges – New Facades!”

As research is becoming more prevalent in our industry, there is a growing need for researchers that are trained to conduct studies in professional contexts. Thus, two of my current PhD students, an architectural designer and a mechanical engineer, offered to share their perspectives on enrolling into a research program as professionals. An interview with Sunčića (Sunny) Milošević and Hossam Mahmoud, “Research and Life-Long Learning Opportunities for Practitioners: Perspectives of Professional PhD Students” offers advice, recommendations and encouragement to professionals that are considering research careers.

An important part of research process is knowledge dissemination, peer review and transparency. There is a difference between marketing and unbiased research—all these years, I have been a proponent of sharing research results objectively and openly. Thus, peer review and evaluation of research processes, methods and results are integral for this endeavor. Kalpana Kuttaiah and I initiated one of the first peer-reviewed, open-access research journals coming from our industry in 2009. Kalpana provides an overview of this publication in “The Perkins&Will Research Journal: Contributions from Practice-Based Design Research”.

As we try to move the needle on integration of research into our practice, please consider submitting a paper for the FTI’s 2022 World Congress. We recently released the guidelines and overview of the peer review process in order to explain the evaluation criteria. It should be a great event for sharing knowledge, research and best practices, but also for networking.

In the meantime, stay curious, try to answer wicked questions, and share the results of your inquiries with the larger industry. Collective wisdom can help us all.

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about research and innovation relating to building skins—I am still the same research geek as I was twenty years ago. As I tell my 17-year-old daughter, I finally reached a point in my life where I am proud to publicly say this.

Warm regards,

Ajla Akšamija, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Guest Editor

The SKINS Team:

Mic Patterson, Facade Tectonics Institute
Executive Editor

Val Block, Kuraray
Associate Editor

Katie Gould, Facade Tectonics Institute
Creative Director

Brienna Rust, SGH
Christopher Payne, Gensler
Content Editors

Nick Carrillo, WWCCA
Event Calendar Editor

Alberto Alarcon, Kuraray
Event Calendar Editor

Keywords: research, innovation

This is the personal opinion of Ajla Aksamija and does not reflect the views of Facade Tectonics Institute.

Photo of Ajla Aksamija

Ajla Aksamija


University of Utah

Send Email

Explore Deeper

Looking for something specific?

Search our extensive library.

FTI’s SKINS email is the central source for the latest in building skin trends and research.

All emails include an unsubscribe link. You may opt out at any time. See our privacy policy.


Thank you, your details have been saved.