Panelists during GlassCon Global 2016’s Transatlantic Debate discuss the idea of facades that can be changed over time based on new technologies and design.

Panelists at GlassCon Global 2016’s Transatlantic Debate Friday morning in Boston focused in on how the building skin can evolve to meet the needs and technologies of the time.

A concept that was pitched during the panel was that future facade components could be leased instead of purchased. James O’Callaghan, director of Eckersley O’Callaghan, sparked the discussion by bringing up the idea of facades being adaptable over time. This, he said, would change the way the building skin is designed, as the façade could be updated based on future technology.

“I think it’s a fascinating proposal,” said Christopher Johnson, associate with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. “We would have to completely change the way we think. In looking toward the future, we often think about how the building will weather. This kind of shifts it to, ‘how will the design evolve, and how will technology evolve?”

He said this would also shift the thinking of fabricators and engineers on the production side, and he noted the impact on codes. “When you look at the prescriptive window-to-wall ratio, it’s gradually changing,” he said. “If this were to take place, there would no longer be the grandfather [clause], or would there?”

Moderator Bruce Nicol, senior business developer, high-performance buildings of Dow Corning, asked the group whether the glass industry would push this kind of innovative concept.

“The bottom line is that it’s a commodity based business,” O’Callaghan responded. “… The idea is to sell as much of the same thing as possible. Historically it’s been difficult to get innovation to move quickly.”

He said the float line, for example, hasn’t changed in half a century, “Whereas industries around us have dramatically changed… Marrying innovation with that concept has been a challenge and remains so.”

Nicol opened questions to the floor, and one audience member said the biggest problem with interchangeable facades is the fact that “we design things that are difficult to replace.” He gave the example of a structural seal.

Aulikki Sonntag, director of engineering and design of Roschmann Group, responded. “Some components don’t need replacement or maintenance for many years, but others are outdated after five years,” she said. “So this doesn’t mean the death of the unitized curtainwall system, but it does mean a 180 degree in the design of that curtainwall.”

The group agreed that a major hurdle lies with the building owner and developer.

“That’s the bigger question,” said Johnson. “I think we can design it. It’s more about getting people to understand the importance of it, the necessity of it. It’s up to us to educate them.”

Helen Sanders of SageGlass pointed out the “developer-tenant issue.” “The main reason developers don’t do these things is because they’re not seeing the benefit.”

The panelists suggested this could require a change in the financial model of the developer-tenant relationship and/or would be shaped by government-related incentives.

Stay tuned to™ for continued coverage of GlassCon Global 2016.