Digital Medium, Tangible Message

Facade Linguistics in the Information Age



The reaches of architecture are inherently linked to the efficacy of communication, and as emerging technology broadens the conceptual horizon of the field, the established language of builders must likewise adapt to meet new challenges. Schüco International KG develops and sells system solutions for windows, doors, and facades. In addition, the company offers consultation and digital resources to its clients, from initial ideas through design, fabrication, and installation. The facade is an inherently complex facet of architecture for designers to communicate to clients, as it concerns so many integrated systems in need of articulation. This language barrier is compounded when a design calls for experimental elements outside the comfort zone of fabricators and installers, as it falls on facade designers to explain their intent to these parties in addition to the client. To alleviate this disconnect, Schüco’s Virtual Construction Lab (VCL) conceptually treats the creation of customized facade proposals as a linguistical phenomenon, applying digital means to the language of builders in a unique method. Adapting the linguistical hierarchy of words, syntax, and semantics, the VCL team employs a tectonic lexicon of digital 3d models, output mediums, and overarching narrative in each project. Explicit and parametric modelling techniques are used to iterate 3d models, which inhouse designers, engineers, and animators implement in the simultaneous output of proposal books, preliminary engineering calculations, and 3d animations. Cross-disciplinary collaboration fosters a strong semantic relationship amongst these mediums, delivering a cohesive narrative to the client in a diverse proposal package. Additional methods, including 3d printed prototypes and Virtual Reality, push the tactility of VCL proposals and point to the future potential of employing digital mediums in the facade industry to construct tangible messages.


Photo of Nathaniel Barlam

Nathaniel Barlam

Architectural Design Lead, Virtual Construction Lab

Virtual Construction Lab of Schüco



Frank Lloyd Wright called architecture “the mother art” from which all others stem, and at its core lies an ever-evolving mother tongue – both tectonic and linguistic in nature –

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.


“Deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?” (Mann, 3).

The linguistics of the tectonic lexicon reveal roots as deep and ancient as any spoken tongue

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Method Case Study

The building façade presents a difficult communication challenge as it concerns so many integrated systems in need of articulation. VCL designers approach this task tectonically through the iteration of a

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Conclusion and Future Work

VCL proposals bring the tectonic lexicon into the Information Age, using emerging technology to mitigate the loss of information from designer to client. Each proposal incorporates digital 3d models, familiar

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.


The author would like to thank the team at the Virtual Construction Lab and Schüco International KG for their knowledge and support, especially Jonathan Story, Katie Gould, Grace Huang, and Brad Groenenboom for their notes and feedback.

Rights and Permissions

Arana, L.M. Lus. “La Ligne Claire de Le Corbusier. Time, Space, and Sequential Narratives.” Paper presented at Le Corbusier, 50 Years Later International Congress, Valencia, ES, November 2015.

Azhar, Salman, Abid Nadeem, Johnny Y. N. Mok, and Brian H. Y. Leung, “Building Information Modeling (BIM): A New Paradigm for Visual Interactive Modeling and Simulation for Construction Projects.” Paper presented at First International Conference on Construction in Developing Countries, Karachi, PK, August 4-5, 2008.

Boland, Richard J., Kalle Lyytinen, and Youngjin Yoo, “Wakes of Innovation in Project Networks: The Case of Digital 3-D Representations in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction,” Organization Science Vol. 18, No. 4 (July-August 2007): 631- 647.

Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. Mounton de Gruyter. New York, 2002

Ciardi, John. Introduction to The Divine Comedy, by Dante. Translated by John Ciardi, ix - xvii. New York: New American Library, 2003.

Clayton, Mark J., Robert B. Warden, and Thomas W. Parker, “Virtual construction of architecture using 3D CAD and simulation,” Automation in Construction 11 (2002): 227 – 235.

Genesis – Chapter 11. The Complete Jewish Bible. The Judaica Press. (accessed: August 01, 2017).

Mann, Thomas. Joseph and His Brothers, translated by John E. Woods. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Pugnale, Alberto. "(Digital) Form-finding." In AAD Algorithms-Aided Design, by Arturo Tedeschi, 353-359. Brienza, Italy: Le Penseur Publisher, 2014.

Weismantle, Peter. “Design and Deliverability of the Kingdom Tower’s Building Facade.” Skinning the Tall Building: Framing the Future of Building Facade Technology, edited by Karen M. Kensek, Mic Patterson, Douglas Noble, 66-67. Los Angeles: Tectonic Press, 2015.