Lightweight Veneer in High-rise Unitized Facades

Design and Performance Considerations for Manufactured Alternatives to Natural Stone Veneer



Photo of Michael Chen, P.E.

Michael Chen, P.E.


Vidaris, Inc.

Photo of Antonio Luz, R.A.

Antonio Luz, R.A.

Senior Associate

Vidaris, Inc.



Manufactured veneer panels such as glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC), ultra high performance concrete (UHPC), sintered stone, and terracotta are gaining traction as a lightweight, cost effective, and low maintenance alternatives to conventional natural stone veneers in high-rise unitized facades. These panels are available in large formats and have attractive physical properties for exterior use, making them competitive to traditional material finishes such as dimensional stone. Designers should be aware of limitations of the production process, performance considerations and testing that have to be made during the design and pre-construction phases to address concerns of brittle failure, freeze-thaw resistance, impact resistance, and attachment methods.


Engineered thin veneer panels have gained in popularity as alternatives to natural stone with more product options and material selections than ever before and in sizes larger than ever before

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The Materials

GFRC panels are made of Portland cement, ground stone, additives, coatings, and glass fibers that increase their structural capacity. Panels can be dried in the oven, which results in a

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Design and Performance Considerations

Sizes and Modulation

Different lightweight veneer panels have unique proprietary manufacturing processes which result in varying “standard” panel sizes. Some sintered stone panels are shaped in molds and dry-pressed under high

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Field Repairs

Flexural cracks should not be considered eligible for repair as they are generally thru-body cracks and can propagate later on. Cracks can also be difficult to visually observe once on

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Conclusion and Future Work

Several major high-rises have utilized thin veneer on unitized curtainwall construction. More are gaining traction due to advantages of cost, weight, reduced transition details between systems, and schedule when compared

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Rights and Permissions

1. Young, Michael. “One Vanderbilt’s Terracotta Facade Installation Begins as Superstructure Passes Halfway Point in Midtown Manhattan” July 10, 2019).

2. Properties based on ASTM C 568-03 “Standard Specification for Limestone Dimension Stone” for high-density limestone and test reports for JMS Jura limestone.

3. Mechanical properties based on Swisspearl GFRC panels’ specifications October 25, 2019).

4. Properties based on test report provided by Boston Valley Terra Cotta.

5. Mechanical Properties based on Intertek test reports supplied by Neolith.

6. Mechanical Properties, based on Architectural Testing Inc. test reports supplied by TAKTL, LLC.

7. Rieder formparts data sheet: (accessed October 25, 2019).