Perspectives 09.14.2020

The Misnomer of Master Builder: NextGen of Integrated Enclosure Design Collaboratives

By Dahmahlee Lawrence, Project Architect

As a practicing architect with an immense curiosity in façade design and construction, becoming a member of the Façade Tectonics Institute (FTI) has expanded my awareness of the future of façade designs. Given the environmental/climatic issues that our industry must address, it is important to me that the enclosures we design be not only visually stimulating and climate-responsive, but also evoke a sense of experiential acceptance for the public and occupant.

Attending Façade Tectonics 2020 World Congress in Los Angeles was going to be one of the highlights of my professional development this year.  However, like many in-person events, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was initially pushed back to August in anticipation of meeting in-person. By mid-June, it was confirmed by FTI that the 2020 World Congress would be held virtually.

For the University of Minnesota Bell Museum, our design team worked with the client to create a wood façade solution that meets their institutional requirements for durability, cost, and maintenance - and embodies their commitment to sustainability and climate resilience.

The advantage of a virtual conference was that it allowed access to more people since the cost of a flight and hotel was no longer necessary—but excellent internet connection became a must. Virtual attendance enabled me to focus on common threads in current and proposed future happenings in the realm of facade design. Since the option of networking in-person was removed, I instead connected the learnings from each presentation to what I do daily as I continued my workday after the conclusion of each virtual session. This allowed me to ask myself: Is Perkins and Will at the forefront or near the forefront of innovation in facade design and delivery?  Can we enhance our approach through partnerships with various outside collaborators, so our work is the benchmark?

The common thread I observed through many of the presentations, and what is evident on my current project, is that the archaic notion of the master builder has fallen to the wayside. Impactful design is about integrative collaboration—this approach has become more prevalent over the past few years, but credit is never really attributed to the full team who facilitate the design and construction process.

Presenters at FTI spoke to the notion of the entire team as the designer. No longer is the architect the end all be all. Handing-off 2D drawings and dictating to the fabricator how to detail the assembly and attempting to tell the contractor how to build has fallen away. The architect is now part of a team; this team is composed of experts in their field or trade.  Various team members lead the efforts at various times, depending on where the design is at that particular time.

Of most importance to note, through all the presentations the design intent was never lost, only enhanced and executed at a more refined level. Integrative façade design teams comprise the architect, the client, the fabricator, and, depending on the team, the construction manager and installer (inclusive of construction workers). All team members utilize modeling tools to increase optimization through repetition as needed to create unique facades that do not yield unnecessary cost overruns or excessive unique conditions. Another notable observation is that the fabricator of the façade is always involved early on, whether in SD or DD allowing for the design to be delivered in a way as to not compromise the design intent–but with cost and performance in mind.  Essentially, the partnership of integrative façade design teams has eliminated the master builder concept and all parties benefit using collaborative modeling for efficient shop drawings and eventual fabrication and construction. This is by no means a suggestion to continue to give away aspects of our profession. Rather, this allows designers to stay in control of design through the end of the construction phase in a collaborative way.

The strata block is a self-shading system that creates subtle flows on a surface, playing with light, shadow, and depth.

Through the elimination of archaic ideas of the design process and moving forward, how can Perkins and Will nurture existing and create new relationships within the concept of the integrative facade design teams? A holistic approach would be beneficial and a step forward as leaders in forward-thinking exterior enclosures.