Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AE7: Folded Glass Facades

Glass in modernism was theorized as a material whose transparency dissolved the separation between inside and outside. In effect it was a material that disappeared by allowing light to pass through while blocking air, bugs, and most projectiles. Today glass is seen less simply. Instead its presence is explored via a number of procedures, from casting and bending to silkscreening and other surface enhancements. One aspect of this is the transformation of curtain walls from two-dimensional surfaces to three-dimensional, vertical terrains.

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[Trutec Building in Seoul, Korea by Barkow Leibinger Architects | image source]

As the production of both architectural designs and construction elements (materials, systems, etc.) has evolved with computers, more complex and varied designs are possible. One example are folded glass facades, which take once-modular components of glass and steel and make them appear more malleable. Barkow Leibinger Architects' Trutec Building in Seoul, Korea synthesizes the modular and the folded by taking a regular rectangular grid and infilling the cells with a prismatic pattern of triangular and trapezoidal glass panes.

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[Trutec Building in Seoul, Korea by Barkow Leibinger Architects | image source]

This combination of regular grid and prismatic cells comes across most clearly in the top image, with the highly reflective glass giving the alternating images of sky and built context. It creates an irregular but relatively consistent pattern across the main facade.

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[Trutec Building in Seoul, Korea by Barkow Leibinger Architects | image source (PDF link)]

Unlike the Trutec's building "folds in miniature", Krueck + Sexton's design for the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago is a folded glass facade of the macro kind. These large-scale pleats also create difference in how the building is "read": where the Trutec's glass box in effect has a 3d pattern on its facade, the Spertus 's folds create the form of the building. Simply, these are extensions of the decorated shed and the duck, respectively, but within the language of contemporary glass facades.

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[Spertus Institute in Chicago, Illinois by Krueck + Sexton Architects | image source]

The Spertus likewise uses a grid to regularize the facade, but this grid in its entirety is warped by the folds. Here the grid relates to the Michigan Avenue streetwall context, and then it consciously eschews it in favor of a contemporary take on what its neighbors are in essence: draped skins on structural frames. Where the masonry buildings nearby have depth from the materials, the Spertus folds its 2d surface into a depth the earlier buildings could not achieve.

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[Spertus Institute in Chicago, Illinois by Krueck + Sexton Architects | image source]

Many more examples of folded glass facades can be found, but these two buildings illustrate two strands of that approach to curtain wall design, the micro and the macro.

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