I attended a “Façade Design and Delivery Conference” in NYC last week. What a learning experience! From evaluating energy efficiency in broader terms to how design firms are managing product information, there were several key takeaways of items the glass biz will be facing more in the near future.
One of the main things that struck me is that the architectural community is much further out in front of the energy issues than I imagined. We’ve all been plugged into U-values and the like, yet firms are increasingly looking at energy efficiency in much broader/comprehensive terms
One firm making a presentation has examined not only the energy performance of some typical wall constructions after they’re erected (all-glass and aluminum curtainwalls, precast walls with and without cladding, etc.), but also evaluated them for their embedded energy. Also known as embodied energy, that’s the total energy needed to produce the wall and get it on the building so that it can perform as designed. Would it surprise you that aluminum and glass walls have a pretty high embedded energy as compared to a precast and punched opening window?
Think in terms of the energy used to convert bauxite into aluminum, and all those times you’ve heard about how much cheaper it is to recycle aluminum than to produce the original. And glass, with having to melt the raw products into the material that comes off the production lines. The firm’s analysis takes the total cost of the wall from “cradle to gate” (raw materials to shipment to site) and its energy performance over the life of a building and uses that information to ultimately select the material.
Another key point in the presentations was that design firms are creating databases of all the glass products out there and graphing them to determine which products get used. They identify the manufacturers, the SHGC, shading coefficients, etc., and show performance of one product compared to another. And then the glass is selected based on the project’s site orientation: a glass selected for the north elevation may not be the same as used on the south, depending on the goals they’re trying to achieve with thermal performance or daylighting levels. It was also interesting to see that as computers get faster, the software to simulate energy performance is getting even better
BIM integration was another big topic, building on some of the points we’ve discussed in previous blogs. One presenter made the case that BIM isn’t so much about software as it is about the process for how buildings get built. The old model, where buildings get designed, bidders bid, and then it’s built, may be disappearing once and for all. More and/or earlier project team forming is going to change how projects will be planned, developed and built in the (not to distant) future.
Cloud architecture also will permit many accesses to a single model, but the flip side is that the BIM technology is so new, that too much information can be gathered that isn’t useful to the owner once the project is complete, and therefore added no value through the construction phase. So the question that goes begging: why gather it? The BIM learning curve is still on the upside and in front of us. But it is coming.
As always, there are lots of people doing interesting projects. For example, glass mullions used for complicated canopy structures and the “Tickets” booth in Times Square. It was interesting to see it in a presentation one day and visit it a few blocks from the hotel later that same day. Another project hung alabaster stone slabs from the interior/underside of a complicated geometric dome.
The fun part of this business is seeing what the architects come up with in the design, and how the smart people in the glazing industry pull it off. More and more, even on the low-end projects, this isn’t your daddy’s building façade. Then again, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.