Architecture & design

Panel talk

The 2017 European Coil Coating Association (ECCA) Spring Conference, held in Amsterdam, celebrated the ECCA’s 50th anniversary by inviting architects along for the first time. On top of a keynote speech from Massimiliano Fuksas, case studies from 3XN and JDS, and roundtables featuring partners from some of the industry’s most interesting practices, the event brought together two distinct communities and presented a rare opportunity for each to learn from the other.

 What defines a successful building façade? How can architects improve their designs through discussion with other industry stakeholders? And as the pace of technological change quickens, how long should buildings be designed to last?

These were just some of the subjects in contention at the 2017 European Coil Coating Association (ECCA) Spring Conference, held in Amsterdam’s Movenpick Hotel from 7-9 June. Alongside various members-only activities, the conference included a special day of events devoted to the uses of pre-painted metal in architecture. Numerous European architects arrived to talk metals and materiality, meet ECCA members, and pool insights about the issues affecting both groups.

The event, which celebrated the association’s 50th anniversary, sought to enhance the dialogue between architects and suppliers.

“Three quarters of pre-painted metals are used in construction, so architects were the obvious target to invite to our event. We believe the product isn’t well-known enough among architects and we thought this was a good opportunity to increase awareness,” Yvonne Barcelona, ECCA managing director, told LEAF Review.

There was certainly enough to pique their interest. With a keynote speech from Massimiliano Fuksas, case studies from the Danish practices 3XN and JDS, and two broad-ranging panel discussions, delegates were by turns entertained, inspired and challenged. The audience questions, which sometimes veered into the combative, inspired lively debate and gave attendees plenty to chew upon.

Metal for the future

The first big hit of the day was Massimiliano Fuksas, the lauded Italian architect known for his eclectic portfolio and idiosyncratic approach. Addressing a packed conference room, he looked back over his 40-year career and discussed some key projects. Among others, he highlighted the Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg; Terminal 3 of Shenzen Bao’an International Airport; his masterplan for the centre of Eindhoven; and the soon-to-be-completed Rhike Park Music Theatre and Exhibition Hall.

Fuksas remarked that he had been using metallic structures since he started out. The airport terminal, for instance, has a curving glass canopy constructed from steel and glass, while the Zenith Music Hall is based around a circular steel frame. He commended metals for their strength and versatility, as well as the potential they offer for energy savings.

“The reason I like metallics is that it’s a real system for the future – concrete is a system for nothing,” he said.

Next up was a case study from Jan Ammundsen, senior partner at 3XN Architects. He talked through the design and construction of the Blue Planet Aquarium in Copenhagen, which was completed in 2013. Drawing inspiration from the Danish coastline, the firm envisioned the building as a giant whirlpool, sucking its visitors underwater. There are other watery elements too: the interior lighting creates the sense of being under the sea, and the entrance resembles a breaking wave.

Because the design was structured round a narrative, the selection of materials was left open – the architects just needed to pick the ones that would work within the budgetary constraints.

“Sometimes you start with a material and then you can build the architecture around it, but in this case we were in a more abstract world. We needed to ensure that whatever we chose, and how we treated it, would help the form to appear,” said Ammundsen.

Ultimately, they opted for a concrete basement with a steel structure mounted upon it, and small aluminium plates covering the façade. This façade is durable enough to withstand the coastal climate, while reflecting the colours of the sky.

Form and function

Later in the day Yuval Zohar, of JDS Architects, ran through his practice’s design philosophy and notable projects. In particular, he discussed the thinking behind the Maison Stéphane Hessel, a new mixed-use building in Lille that combines a nursery, a youth hostel and an office.

“This certainly was a tall order, even by mixed-use standards,” said Zohar. “Our strategy converts the geometric restrictions of the site into social amenities and resolves the seeming contradictions into an intertwined spiral of programmes.”

This building is structured as a triangle, with a different programme at each point. This maximises privacy at the edges, before allowing the three uses to converge at a central courtyard. Meanwhile, the corners of the triangle are lifted to provide spaces for public activities – in Zohar’s words, “extending the function of the building beyond its walls”.

While the overall façade is composed from painted metal pieces – a nod to Rem Koolhaas’ proposed EU flag design – the building envelope uses composite fiberglass panels. Because these are somewhat translucent, the brightness inside the building fluctuates throughout the day.

“In our work we don’t approach design with a preconceived form, but rather create novel building shapes based on function. And the use of specific materials strengthens the impact of our ideas,” Zohar explained.

Drop the facade

Complementing these case studies were two panel events, both chaired by Ian Maddocks of BuroHappold. The first of these, entitled ‘More than one way to skin a building’, examined just how smart a façade can be, and asked how its performance can be balanced against style.

Terry Goodwin, a consultant to the global metals industry, compared building façades to the outside of a car or even the wrapper of a tin can. In any market sector, he said, you need a combination of form and function, although one may dominate the other depending on application. Alireza Razavi, of Studio Razavi Architecture, added that for a building’s skin to be successful, all its components need to fall into line – everything from the detailing to the structural engineering should talk.

The panelists discussed how data-driven design is helping architects optimise their façades. Yuval Baer, of YBGSNA, remarked that while the industry still had a long way to go, many individual buildings had used these tools well and were ecologically and aesthetically inspiring. Razavi suggested the industry could make better use of post-construction evaluation, which would allow the data to be fed back into the design process, but said appetite was being hampered by high costs.

Nick Brown, of AkzoNobel, talked through the ways that building façades were actively generating electricity, harvesting thermal energy via a transpired solar collector. “If you can start building houses that can generate their own heat, that’s a game changer for the two or three billion people in the world with no access to a grid,” he said. However, he warned that technological adoption in construction was often slow, particularly compared to the automotive sector.

Baer added that, since building lifecycles can be short, architects need to be flexible in their approach to façade design. As he put it: “You have to create a relationship between the environment and the interior conditions, but you can’t do more than that, because when you give the skin a specific task it can turn into a dead machine.”

Building lifecycles were a focal point at the second panel discussion, ‘The circle of life’. Here, the panelists debated the circular economy and its impact on material choice, as well as whether future refurbishment should be factored into architectural proposals.

The consensus was that pre-fabricated, modular buildings might help enhance sustainability, particularly where the façade has a shorter lifespan than the rest of the building. “Façades become more vulnerable to innovation as they become more integral to how the building performs, so I think the really intelligent ones won’t last longer than 10 years,” said Indrek Tiigi of Allianss Architects.

Mark Kelly, of Gensler, said his firm was currently working on a pre-fabricated façade system, which would enable you to reconfigure separate panels after the warranty runs out.

Environmental impacts

Interestingly, the panelists did not see recyclability and sustainability as synonymous. Yuval Zohar commented that, rather than thinking solely about recycling, we should try to consider how long each building can wield a positive impact on the culture around it, while Allard Meine Jansen, of Allard Architecture, said sustainability needs to be viewed in the context of urban planning. “We orientate on the industrialisation of neglected areas rather than expanding round a city,” he explained. 

Terry Goodwin added that once buildings are demolished, it can be hard to separate out their constituent materials, making recycling more challenging for the construction industry than it is for packaging. “The circle of life is very different for concrete, wood and steel,” he remarked.

The panelists also mentioned that they often face client pushback when they try to implement sustainable ideals. Zohar, however, was optimistic that the rate of technological progression may soon eliminate this problem. “When sustainability almost directly equals cost savings, and clients can see that sustainable is also good for the bottom line, is when a shift will happen,” he said.

With so many topics to cover over the course of a single day, the ECCA event could not do more than skim their surface. However, it was certainly a useful forum for the development and exchange of new ideas. As ECCA members moved onto their gala dinner, they did not lack for talking points. One hopes that these are conversations that will continue over the weeks, months and years to come.

This event write-up appears in the Summer 2017 edition of LEAF Review

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