Solid Surface Material for Facades

Innovative Uses and Technical Challenges



Navigating the building code, while challenging in any respect, can be even trickier when considering the use of emerging materials on building facades. While recent technological advances have opened doors to new materials for Architects, the codes are not able to keep up at the same pace due to rigid code cycle updates and lack of documented material testing.

On Burlingame Point, the project team embarked down a road of research and discovery which ultimately led to the use of thermoformed solid surface shading fins. Inspired by the gentle motion and sinuous geometries of water, the fins have a unique, three-dimensional shape that echoes the dynamic play of light on the San Francisco Bay.

While the solid surface fin successfully achieved the desired design intent, the challenge became satisfying code requirements related to combustibility. Per the 2013 California Building Code, combustible materials are permitted on building facades over 40 feet tall only with documentation of a successful NFPA 285 test. The NFPA 285 test is a restrictive test for two-dimensional rainscreen assemblies and is not able to simulate a custom glass curtain wall with a perpendicular shading fin. As such, the product manufacturer drafted a custom test assembly and protocol based on the project configuration to simulate an NFPA 285 test. The test was conducted and an independent third party drafted an engineering judgement, stating that when used in the project-specific condition, the material met the spirit of an NFPA 285 test.

To ensure this custom testing approach and conclusion would be fully acceptable to the local building authorities, the team consulted with the local Building Department and Fire Marshall. In addition to scrutinizing the testing protocol and results, these regulatory bodies were concerned with the material’s durability, structural properties, attachment of the fins to the facade, and how the material influenced the ability to fight a potential fire in the building due to its combustibility. Upon satisfying each concern, the construction was able to move forward and the fins installed.

The end result is the first use of solid surface shading fins on a high rise in the United States, an innovative marriage of aesthetic effect with technical performance.




Architectural three-dimensional modeling platforms such as Rhinoceros, Maya, Grasshopper, and CATIA have been in existence and widely used in the design industry for decades. These programs allow designers to intuitively

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Burlingame Point is a 767,000SF commercial office development located in Burlingame, California, approximately at the midpoint between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. At the epicenter of the booming global technology

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DuPont engaged Jensen Hughes, a world leader in safety, security, and risk-based engineering to assist in the experimental testing. As an independent third-party who specializes in ad-hoc testing, particularly concerning

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Conclusion and Future Work

The emergence of new materials and innovations in established materials, such as solid surface, provides designers more options to unleash formal creativity. These materials are lightweight, flexible, and cost-effective when

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Gensler Project Team (Benedict Tranel, Ellie Wang, Robert Perry, Linzy Griswold, Samantha Buckley, Jiyoung Lee, Grace Choy, Amrita Deshpande, Christopher Payne)

Genzon (Owner), Kylli (Owner Representative), Hathaway Dinwiddie (General Contractor), Permasteelisa (Curtain Wall Contractor), DuPont (Corian Manufacturer), Omega Architectural Products (Corian Fin Fabricator), Jensen Hughes (Independent Engineer), City of Burlingame Building Department, Central County Fire Department

Rights and Permissions

DuPont. “DuPont Corian Story.” (accessed June 23, 2019).

DuPont. “Corian Exteriors Technical Bulletin.” https://www.exteriors.corian.c... (accessed June 23, 2019).

Beitel, Jesse. “Alternate Materials or Methods Request, Burlingame Point Buildings” (2019)

Beitel, Jesse. “Analysis for the Use of DuPont Corian Sunscreen Fins on the Exterior Walls of the Burlingame Point Buildings.” (2017)

National Fire Protection Association. “List of NFPA Codes & Standards.” (accessed June 23, 2019).

Horwitz-Bennett, Barbara. “Navigating Wall Assembly Fire Testing.” (accessed June 23, 2019).