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As facades become more sophisticated and complex, more detail-intensive and performance-critical, it's vital that architecture students develop a deeper understanding of facade design and begin to see it as a distinct specialization that is emerging within the profession. There is no single or standard way to prepare students for the role of facade specialist, and the nature of that professional role can vary widely. Three different approaches to teaching facades are highlighted and analyzed. Though the formats vary, each has the same goal of imparting a strong technical foundation that informs and advances the aesthetic direction of the design: an expert consulting role for a studio taught by others, a stand-alone studio, and a seminar. The courses are situated within a long view of facade technology that traces the evolution from traditional load bearing exterior walls to modern curtain walls and beyond. A recurring theme in each approach is the challenge and opportunity presented by design and documentation software in contemporary practice.
These courses have been taught at the undergraduate and graduate level at the University of Minnesota, Pratt Institute and New York Institute of Technology, and are shaped by a professional background as a facade consultant and a facade specialist within two architecture offices. As such, they provide a window into the broader questions of how architectural professionals can effectively contribute to academic curriculum, and how architectural education can address the challenges of ever increasing technical complexity and specialization.
Design studios are currently the core component of architectural education in American universities, absorbing the majority or a student’s time, energy and attention. The studios are typically complemented by a number of lecture, seminar and computer courses – architectural history and theory, structures and building systems, CAD and BIM. This curricular structure that prioritizes studio has been common for several decades now. However, in that time, a number of major shifts have happened in the building industry and architectural schools are still grappling with how best to adapt. Two of those major shifts are the increased complexity of building enclosures and the emergence of 3D modeling software and Building Information Modeling.
As facades have become more sophisticated and complex, more detail-intensive and performance-critical, a distinct specialization has emerged within the profession – the façade expert who brings an architectural background, strong design sensibility and advanced computational skills. This expert typically works in one of three settings: at an architecture firm as an in-house specialist embedded on a project team; as part of a façade consulting group hired by an architecture firm to develop and resolve challenging façade systems; or as part of the pre-construction or production team at a façade contractor that specializes in highly technical curtainwall, structural glass, or custom metal cladding systems.
This expert exists at architecture firms like Gehry Partners, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, SOM and Bjarke Ingals Group – places that aggressively advance the possibilities of façade design and rely heavily on façade experts within the office. This expert also exists at design-oriented façade consultants like Front Inc., Heintges and Arup -- powerhouse facade consultants with computational and engineering expertise. They are essential players in the achievement of highly technical, high performance and often formally complex facades. And as this complexity increases, façade contractors like Enclos, Permasteelisa, Seele, Zahner and MG McGrath have had to expand their design and computational capabilities in order to execute the kinds of challenging façades that are becoming more common, and have looked to architecture schools and the profession for many of those key staff.
As the need for façade experts increases, architecture schools have begun to adapt, making space for specialty courses to support that need. Marc Simmons, founding partner of Front Inc., has taught contemporary façade design at Princeton University and Georgia Institute of Technology. Robert Heintges, founding partner of Heintges & Associates, teaches an advanced curtainwall design course at Columbia University. Scott Murray, author of Contemporary Curtainwall Architecture, teaches courses on experimental envelopes and curtainwall design and construction at University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana. Alex Terzich has a professional background as a facade consultant at Front Inc. and facade specialist at SHoP Architects and HGA Architects & Engineers. He has taught a computational façade design seminar and been a facade expert for a studio at Pratt Institute and New York Institute of Technology, and taught a stand-alone façade design studio and façade detailing seminar at the University of Minnesota. A survey of these courses provides an opportunity to review the various ways that architectural education has responded to the increased need for façade expertise in the industry, and to propose a course format that supports the next generation of façade experts.
What follows is a view from within the industry and academia, the double vantage points of a professional façade expert who is also an adjunct professor. For 10 years Alex
There is no single or standard way to prepare students for the role of facade specialist, in part because the nature of that professional role can vary widely. Three different
Façade expertise is a complex body of knowledge that ideally bonds technical knowledge with design sensibility. A student coming out of architecture school equipped with strong design and computational skills