Establishing a Life Cycle Assessment Methodology for Innovative Facade



Photo of Vikki Lew

Vikki Lew

Director / Chapter Secretary

AIA Hong Kong



Life cycle assessment was introduced in the 1970s as an analytical tool to quantify the environmental impact of a product, process, or service. Though with high potential for analyzing building systems, its application in the architecture profession is only in the nascent stage. Significant barriers include the complexity of analysis, availability of data, and the implementation of new procedures. This research is an attempt to establish a LCA methodology for facade analysis. Using The New York Times Headquarters facade as a case study, the research seeks to answer the question: What is the case for innovative facade from a life cycle perspective? Designed by the renowned architect Renzo Piano, The Times facade is selected for this case study because of the unique emphasis on innovation, daylighting, availability of data, and the relevance to tall buildings. Two cases, a baseline facade and an innovative facade, were established for comparison. The analysis follows LCA stages defined in ISO 14040 – goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation. The two cases are compared in terms of building characteristics, material inventory, material impact, facade-associated energy use, and energy impact. The functional unit of the LCA is defined as a floor of the tower facade. Input data in the LCA models are based on publicly available info from architectural drawings, technical reports, database, and manufacturer literature. For global warming potential, material impacts are estimated at 67,200 kg CO2 eq. in the baseline case and 85,756 kg CO2 eq. in the innovative case; the annual energy impacts are 68,930 kg CO2 eq. in the baseline case and 41,120 kg CO2 eq. in the innovative case. Despite limitations, the research demonstrates that it is feasible to carry out LCA in the design phase to inform decision-making about facades. This research demonstrates the relationship between design decisions and life cycle impact, and should be of interest to architects.


According to the International Panel on Climate Change (2007) Fourth Assessment Report, buildings are responsible for approximately 30 percent of global carbon emission. The U.S. Department of Energy reported that

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LCA in Building Industry

Life cycle assessment was introduced in the 1970s as an analytical tool to quantify the environmental impact of a product, process, or service (ISO 14040, 2006). Its application in the

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Implication for Facade Design

The merit of daylighting often concentrates on lighting energy use reduction. However, there is also a human dimension. Research by Leather, Pyrgas, Beale, and Lawrence (1998) suggested that access to

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Case Study: The New York Times Facade

This research uses the New York Times Headquarters as a case study to develop an LCA methodology for analyzing innovative façade. Designed by the distinguished architect Renzo Piano, The Times’

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This case study is a comparative LCA of a baseline façade and an innovative façade. Design characteristics of the innovative case are based on publicly available information of the as-built

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Goal & Scope

The goal of this study is to develop a methodology to quantify the life cycle material and energy impacts of innovative facades. The scope is the design and operating phases

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Functional Unit

In LCA, the scope of analysis is termed “functional unit” (ISO 14040 2016). For this study, the functional unit is a floor of façade at mid-level of the Times Tower

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System Boundaries

System boundaries are defined as the unit processes to be included in the life cycle assessment (ISO 14040 2016). For this study, the boundaries reference industry standards such as U.S

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Impact Categories

As in LEED v4, this study references the TRACI 2.1 framework of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for life cycle impact categories (Acero, Rodríguez, and Ciroth 2015). The LEED v4 LCA

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Tools & Database

This research uses the open-sourced tool openLCA (GreenDelta 2017) as analysis platform and EcoInvent 3.3 (2016) as LCI database. The database was selected after evaluating its global coverage, comprehensiveness of

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Data Analysis

Data about The Times façade are drawn from published architectural drawings by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (2017) and technical reports by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Lee et al. 2005, 2013)

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A significant difference between the baseline and innovative cases is the glazing selection. The baseline case assumed double-clear glazing for the vision area, with air infill and without thermal break

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Interior Shading

The two cases undertake very different approaches to interior shading. The baseline assumes typical aluminum window blinds covering the vision portion of each facade panel. Assumed 8-gauge aluminum as the

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Exterior Shading

Between the two cases, only the innovative facade has exterior shading. Exterior shading in The Times building is an array of white ceramic rods, which improves daylighting quality by diffusing

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Operating Energy Use

In 2011, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory led a post-occupancy evaluation to measure the actual performance of the innovative systems at The Times Tower (Lee et al. 2013). The results

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Facade Materials vs. Facade Energy

The final step in this study is the impact comparison between façade material and façade energy. Table 6.1 displays material impacts of the glazing, interior shading, and exterior shading. The

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Conclusion & Future Work

This research presents a framework for applying LCA to the analysis of innovative façade. The study suggests the tools, datasets, references, and procedures necessary to conduct a LCA to understand

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The research presented in this paper was initially a thesis for the Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education. The author would like to thank Prof. Jack Spengler for both the research opportunity and guidance. The author also gratefully acknowledges Dr. Trevor Ng for the sustainability expertise.

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