All posts in “Sustainable”

Art installation at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice - Photo Courtesy of Artist Agnieszka Kurant & Architect Aleksandra Wasilkowska

For the Books: Four Inventive Building Façades

Not all façades are created equal, as we know from the fact that they do not all perform equally well. But beyond performance, some façades transcend mere enclosure to become something extraordinary. Consider the following four examples of cutting-edge technology in envelope design. We think that if these façades were people, you’d want their autographs.

Madrid’s Medialab-Prado, created in 2008-09 by Langarita–Navarro Arquitectos, features an interactive digital façade composed of a 1550-square-foot LED display. Passersby witness images, animation, and may even find an opportunity to play a video game on the massive display. The architects call it a rare example of non-commercial illuminated architecture, and an alternative to commercial advertising-based displays, like those that dominate in New York’s Times Square. The curators often ask for proposals for the display, which are open to all interested artists, programmers and the like.

Medialab Prado Interactive Facade

Photo courtesy of MediaLab -Prado in Madrid, Spain

L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, designed by architect Jean Nouvel and completed in 1987, demonstrates a pioneering take on the active (dynamic) façade that was well ahead of its time. The building envelope incorporates a striking and unusual brise-soleil composed of 240 motor-controlled apertures. This one-of-a-kind sunscreen creates dramatic shadows and filtered light in the interior spaces. But beyond the aesthetics, the dynamic façade also allows for control of solar heat gain, making the building an excellent energy performer. The building earned the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

L'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France

L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France – Photo Courtesy of Jason Kottke

One might not expect that a poured concrete enclosure would make this list but the curved, punched façade of O-14, a 23-story building in the Business Bay of Dubai, is memorable for several reasons. Designed in 2007 by Reiser + Umemoto RUR Architecture, the undulating concrete features circular cutouts of various diameters. (Locals refer to it as “the Swiss Cheese.”) The opening measurements are determined by “structural requirements, views, sun exposure, and luminosity,” according to the architects. The award-winning tower seems to flow, like a length of lace. A one-meter space between the perforated exoskeleton and an inner glass skin creates a chimney effect that keeps air flowing and helps cool the building.

Facade of the 0-14 building in Dubai – Photo courtesy of Reiser + Umemoto

The Faculty of Law of the University of Sydney designed by Architects FJMT Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp and completed in 2009 is another noteworthy project. The uncompromisingly modern building incorporates significant sustainable innovation including a  double-skin ventilated façade with occupant controlled timber louvres to control solar gain and glare, mixed-mode, chilled-beam and displacement air conditioning, precinct storm water collection and an iconic light tower which fills below-grade spaces with an abundance of filtered, natural light.

Faculty of Law University of Sydney - Photo Courtesy of FJMT

Faculty of Law University of Sydney – Photo Courtesy of FJMT

Sto Beyond Insulation

Beyond Insulation: 4 Tips to Save the Planet

When the former rock star Bob Geldof said the world could end by 2030 due to global warming, few people took him seriously. But for green building experts, the date certainly stood out: That’s the target year set for architect Edward Mazria’s well-publicized 2030 Challenge, to “achieve a dramatic reduction in climate-change-causing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).”

Mazria’s plan inspired many architects and contractors to change “the way buildings and developments are constructed.” Many added more insulation to help cut energy use and create a carbon-neutral, low-GHG future.

The problem, say many, is that insulation alone is not enough. In fact, R-value is just one of a number of key issues.


Here are four more key envelope design issues that help reduce GHG emissions:

1. Dewpoint location. Where water vapor condenses at a given temperature is the dew point location. Too often, it’s situated at the stud insulation in a typical exterior wall. That means the insulation can get wet, sapping R-value and increasing the energy needed to heat or cool the building.

Here’s a solution: Use an insulated wall cladding, which can move the dew point outside of the wall. The result? According to Building Science Consulting from Westford, Mass. “With all of the insulation installed to the exterior of the structure, common problems of condensation within the structure are eliminated.” Instead, condensation occurs outside the wall’s drainage plane, so any moisture just drains away.


2. Thermal shock. Another key sustainable feature is preventing thermal shock, which is triggered by extreme temperature swings. The shock is sudden expansion or contraction of wall surfaces, which damages materials and reduces overall energy efficiency.

New products can protect against thermal shock. Thermally toughened glass is one example, as are rainscreens and double façades, which protect the insulating layer from excessive thermal change. Insulated claddings absorb sudden heating or cooling, protecting wall assemblies within. EIFS systems do the same, staying flexible and expanding or contracting as needed.


3. Thermal bridging. Any time a piece of metal extends through a building wall, it’s a short cut for heat loss or gain. That means squandered energy and a bigger carbon footprint. The worst offenders are steel columns or studs that are not protected by continuous insulation, or ci.

To deal with this, more buildings employ claddings with insulation installed outbound of the structure. “Continuous insulation not only provides its own insulating value, but also helps minimize thermal bridging across the studs,” says envelope specialist Sean M. O’Brien, P.E., of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger. Eliminating thermal bridging can boost insulation effectiveness by 30 percent or more.


4. Weight matters. Using an insulated cladding system not only adds R-value – many are also lightweight systems, meaning less structural steel is needed to support them. This saves money and tons of steel, especially when the buildings are big. Smaller steel sections mean bigger floor-to-ceiling heights and interior spaces, too. Plus it takes less fuel – and less carbon – to transport the materials.

This kind of holistic thinking – less weight equals smaller carbon footprint – is central to meeting the 2030 Challenge. As Sara Hart wrote recently in Architectural Record, “Façades are no longer mere wrappers. They are another vital system that can improve or undermine the whole-building approach.”


Prefabricated EIFS panels

What’s Not to Love About Prefabricated EIFS Panels?

Written By: Michael DeLaura

Contractors have been using prefabricated, EIFS Panels as an energy efficient and expedient construction process for over 40 years. Why does everyone love EIFS Panels? The panels, which can be structural or non structural, are manufactured off-site in a warehouse, offering increased quality control, highly engineered connections, no interruption during inclement weather, and improved productivity with little or no scaffolding required.

Another thing to love about prefabricated, EIFS panels is that they can contribute to LEED Points in several categories including:

Let’s Talk about the Construction

Construction of the panels begins offsite as the floors are being poured. Once the floors are completed, the panels are transported to the jobsite and installation occurs on site using a tower crane. The entire construction schedule is reduced by 30 to 40 percent as compared to an in place application. Additionally, the panels can be either structural or non-structural, depending on the type of construction and building height. A structural prefabricated EIFS Panel consists of many components including, a metal stud frame, exterior sheathing, air barrier, adhesive, insulation, basecoat, mesh, and finish.

Metal framing of a structural EIFS prefab panel

Metal framing of a structural prefabricated EIFS panel

Prefabrication of an exterior insulated wall panel

Application of the air & moisture barrier










A double silicone sealant joint installed between the panels ties them together, providing a watertight exterior cladding assembly. A 7/8” closed cell backer rod is installed in the ¾” expansion joint. The sealant joint has an hour-glass configuration with a width to depth ratio of 2:1.

A non-structural EIFS Panel consists of the same components without the metal stud frame and exterior sheathing.

The EPS insulation has a furring channel embedded in the foam with a sleeve on each end to allow for a mechanical attachment to the substrate. The panel is attached to the substrate with mechanical and adhesive attachment. There is no need to modify an existing structure for retrofits and remodels. A ship-lap design is used as one method for joining the panels. Sealant joints installed between the panels provides a watertight seal. Non-structural panels are ideally suited for existing low-rise buildings where disruption of the existing business is critical.

Don’t Forget Specialty Finishes

Prefabricated, EIFS Panels can replicate brick, granite, limestone, metal panels, and precast finishes. Specialty finishes are easier to install and can require fewer specialty trades than traditional cladding materials. The finishes offer a cost-effective aesthetic option, increase energy efficiency, and moisture protection. A specialty finish offers an identical look to the natural cladding, but is less heavy, allowing the creation of a lighter building with the potential for a more economical structure.

Project in Rochester, MN utilizing StoCreativ Lux

Project in Rochester, MN utilizing StoCreativ Lux

A Case in Point – The Mayfair Renaissance

The Mayfair Renaissance is a 36-story tower built in downtown Atlanta constructed to match an existing precast tower on site.  The structural panels, built off-site in a controlled environment in Lexington, Kentucky, increased quality control and no days lost to inclement weather. The lightweight, prefabricated panels reduced the amount of structural steel as compared to the precast. Prefabricated, EIFS Panels have been a popular method of construction in the hotel industry for the last 30 years, reducing construction time and allowing the owner to receive revenue more quickly when compared to a traditional, in place application.  In addition, EIFS panel are more energy-efficient with a blanket of continuous insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Panels and Design

The decision to use prefabricated panels should begin early in the design process. The design professional must determine whether the project is suited for EIFS Panels.  In many cases, not all areas of the project will be panelized – there could be an in-place application on a portion of the project depending on tie-ins and connections.  However, for many projects, prefabricated, EIFS panels can provide significant savings to both the construction process and its costs.

Mike DeLaura headshot Michael DeLaura is a contributing writer for various publications. With more than 30 years of sales experience, he also is an Exterior Cladding Specialist at Sto Corp., a leading German manufacturer of construction materials with offices in the United States and worldwide.  Michael can be reached at       


Overcladding retrofit

Old-Fashioned Retrofits Are New Again: Overcladding

True or False: Postwar reconstruction techniques offer ideal solutions for improving the performance of today’s commercial and institutional building stock.

It’s true. High performance doesn’t have to mean high-tech. Rebuilding efforts in Europe following World War II stimulated a number of advances in construction technology. Many of those advances are still relevant today, providing ideal solutions for retrofits.

One example: The use of exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS) cladding as a continuous, lightweight wrap over “rubble masonry” or other poor-performing masonry buildings. This important technique – overcladding – is low in cost and quick to erect.

EIFS is best known today for use over stud-and-sheathing framing. But the brick/masonry overclad technique is growing fast, say some experts. EIFS overcladding has been a hot topic at trade conferences and events. In Toronto, the “renewal of high-rise residential buildings” has seen “overcladding as a major component,” says Kevin Day, a building-science specialist. In New York City, new green rules allow overcladding with an insulated product like EIFS with no penalty for the added floor area ratio, or FAR.

Growing costs for demolition and new construction also make overcladding attractive to many owners. Plus it’s often the most sustainable approach, “recycling in place” the older building. The new walls also boast excellent moisture resistance, acoustics and thermal performance.

Plus it’s been popular for decades.

“The introduction of EIFS to Chicago in the early 1970s revolved largely around the application of overclads and waterproofing on Main Street penthouses,” says Gary Zwayer, an industry veteran who recently retired from Wiss Janney Elstner Associates. “As long as the masonry wall is sound, EIFS can certainly be used as an overclad to stop water penetration as well as to improve the R-value of the wall.”

Overcladding can also address certain material compatibility and weathering issues. In his forensics work, Zwayer recalls studying a mortar additive that had caused corrosion in embedded steel. “I went to look at one such project in Missouri, and found that the owners had overclad the walls with EIFS,” he recalls. “That building was still in excellent shape, because the EIFS kept the water out of the brick and mortar. There was no corrosion.”

According to Russell Kenney of R.J. Kenney Associates, Plainville, Mass., the EIFS overclad can even serve retrofits for institutional buildings where masonry would be counted upon to withstand high-traffic and abusive occupancies. “In first-floor applications in public areas,” says Kenney, “we can use a high-impact mesh, which reduces the damage.”

Like other envelope specialists from the postwar Europe and disco-era Chicago, Kenney praises EIFS as a high-performance overclad retrofit solution – and a cost-effective one, too. “It’s easier and more cost-effective to apply EIFS overclad that costs maybe $9 per square foot than to try to fix the brick, at about $35 per square foot,” he explains.

“In the current economy, the savings over both the short and long term looks like a bonanza.”

Can you see the green in green building?

4 Invisible Ways to Green Buildings

Sustainable design features are often like a green badge of honor: We like them to be visible, like the solar panels, grassy rooftops and bike racks that decorate many green building projects.

But like a hybrid car, the true green – and the performance efficiencies that come with it – are often buried deep inside: Insulation and geothermal wells, for example. Or they are hidden in plain sight, like the colorful building-integrated photovoltaics from Onyx Solar, for example, or the see-through window insulation, In’Flector.

Let’s face it: Green is unseen.

When we look at two building wall systems, it’s impossible to tell which is the greenest. Yet the better building features a number of invisible advantages:

1. Energy savings. One thing that separates the LEED earner from the energy hog is the selection and detailing of wall assemblies. Air barriers are hidden from view, but one look at the property’s utility bills will show whether they are installed – properly. A report by NIST shows that continuous air-barrier systems reduce air leakage by up to 83 percent – and energy consumption by up to 40 percent.

“Infiltration in commercial buildings can have many negative consequences, including reduced thermal comfort, interference with the proper operation of mechanical ventilation systems, degraded indoor air quality, moisture damage of building envelope components and increased energy consumption,” said the report authors, led by Wagdy A.Y. Anis, FAIA, now with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Boston, and by Steven J. Emmerich of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory

2. Toxins. Wall components in green buildings contain little or no hazardous ingredients. But you can’t see VOCs, lead, mercury or PCBs anyway, so it’s hard to know when your building is really green or not.

For a shortcut, start with a cheat sheet listing materials and products that contain “worst-in-class chemicals,” says the advocacy group Healthy Building Network in Washington, D.C. These are persistent bioaccumulative toxins, or PBTs, which include chlorinated materials like PVC, brominated flame retardants, and all heavy metals.

3. True waterproofing. Moisture problems may be visible on some buildings as wetted materials, efflorescence on brick, rusty streaks, and even mold patches. But in many cases, envelopes with water problems may look no different than those that are truly watertight.

Yet green buildings are detailed to prevent unintended water ingress. According to the Building Science Corporation’s Dr. Joseph Lstiburek, “Rain is the single most important factor to control in order to construct a durable structure.” Effective management of liquid water depends on continuity of the water barrier and its connections to windows, louvers, curtain walls and even minor penetrations. Green walls have well-designed drainage planes, flashings, weeps, and weep baffles, and cleverly incorporate high-performance waterproofing.

4. Structural and durable. Moisture is only one step in the direction of durability. All the building products must be durable, especially those exposed to the elements.

Green buildings are made of products and materials that retain their green properties under the variable conditions of the jobsite and the building life. A structural air barrier, for example, made with a fluid spray-applied to a durable substrate, will last as long as the waterproofing, helping to equalize pressures and preventing rainwater penetration, as Anis writes in the Whole Building Design Guide.



Sustainability Becomes Art

Art Comes to Life Through a Bucket

In our busy day to day lives, it takes a lot to make a person stop, take notice, and think for a minute.  I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a sustainable sculpture of Sto Buckets that did just that!  Artist Jason Peters created the amazing Sto Bucket work of art seen above.  Peters, who resides in Brooklyn, NY, says, “In my work I attempt to trigger and explore both intellectual and emotional reactions to the ways in which objects interact with their surrounding environment.  I can shift the focus from individual pieces to the environment as a whole, helping viewers experience the ways in which my work changes that environment.” In 2004, Jason had traveled to New Mexico to visit with family.  As he was driving around, he suddenly saw a giant yellow pile in the back of someone’s yard.  Since Jason uses found objects of large quantities to make his sculptures, he immediately felt some inspiration from seeing the yellow flash by, and knew he had to stop and investigate.  Jason found the house where the pile resided, and approached the owner about the contents of the backyard.  It turned out to be a contractor who sold Sto products, and he had a collection of empty Sto buckets.  The contractor was willing to part with most of the buckets to allow Jason to have them to create a piece of art. This “serendipitous” event, according to Jason, started the beginning of a series of bucket sculptures, some of which can be seen here.

Sustainable Art Sculptures

A selection of some of Jason’s work including more in his line of bucket sculptures.
Jason uses found items to create his sculptures making his work sustainable.
All photos courtesy of Jason Peters


“If it hadn’t been for that moment, I might not have used buckets,” said Peters.  The Sto bucket guided Jason to a new avenue of his work.  The Sto bucket was able to take on a new life, recycled into a living sculpture, able to trigger a reaction in onlooker’s daily lives.

For more information on Jason Peters and his work, please see

Nanotech Building

Nanotech Changes Future of Building, Bit by Tiny Bit

Does your building have carbon nanotubes inside?

It’s okay if you’re not sure. But increasingly, this advanced science is finding its way into new paints, coatings, glass materials, finishes and structures.

“Even though the construction sector has been rather slow to adopt them, nanotech innovations are steadily infiltrating the built environment on two fronts: by optimizing and enhancing the performance of many existing technologies and by offering a new class of material products that were not possible before nano-engineering,” explains Peter Yeadon, AIA, RIBA, a partner with Decker Yeadon, New York.

For example, TOTO’s patented, super-smooth SanaGloss glaze “minimizes debris, mold and bacteria from sticking to porous, ceramic surfaces.” Other self-cleaning and self-healing materials, including glass such as Pilkington’s Activ and coatings such as Sto Corp.’s Lotusan.

These products possess highly water-repellent microstructures, which help shed water and, with it, mold and dirt.

There are also nano-enhanced steels and rebar coatings such as those from the Australian company Nanotech, which offer corrosion-resistant properties whether exposed or in concrete.

Cool stuff! Yet the products face limited interest, says George Elvin, a researcher and director of Green Technology Forum, Indianapolis: “The cost of many nanotech products and processes are still high, and the building industry has always been slow to adopt new technologies.”

But sustainability is driving interest in nanotech, Elvin counters: “Nanotechnology for green building will reduce waste and toxicity, as well as energy and raw material consumption in the building industry, resulting in cleaner, healthier buildings.” Driven by performance and sustainability, the U.S. market for nano-enhanced building products is projected to grow to at least $400 million by 2016, according to Green Tech Forum. (327 words)