Frames, Walls, and Rainscreens


Neighboring buildings on Congress Street in the Fort Point Channel district provide an excellent example of the difference between a façade organized by the logics of an articulated wall and a façade with an expressed frame and infill spandrel panels.   Interestingly, both compositions aim for a similar organizational logic – an organizing frame that harks back to the pilaster-and-entablature facades of the Italian Renaissance.

In the case of the red brick building, the frame has been created through a selective subtractive operation –the windows read as smaller openings within a larger panel that has been pushed back from the plane of origin. This effect is accentuated by the corbelling at the heads of the arches and bay-scale reliefs. In contrast, the cast iron building goes out of its way to suggest that it has been built up of parts.

In both cases, the expression of the facades is relatively “honest” because the skins have real structural work to do – if only holding themselves up, if not structuring the floors behind.  As a result, we are seeing the actual transfer of vertical loads as well as the expressive resolution of gravitational forces.  In contrast, all of the buildings on the boards in our office present a very different kind of façade problem because the structure is pushed behind the skin (whether wood studs or a steel frame). As result, the façade is pure cladding – a rain screen (figuratively, if not always literally). As a result, it’s harder to justify the pilaster-and-entablature subdivision represented by the buildings on Congress Street. Instead, we struggle to find other ways to express multiple scales within the cladding systems of our projects.


Extreme Shading: Africa Edition


On our recent trip to Tanzania for work on the Dar Es Salaam waterfront, Matthew and I found an incredible wealth of 1960’s concrete high modernism. These gems are brilliantly responsive to Dar’s tropical climate with extensive external shading (often calibrated for their specific exposures) and designed for passive cooling as air-conditioning was (and is still) a luxury. Stairs and hallways are often external and configured to move air thru buildings, cooling the more cellular office or residential spaces. Cross ventilation is omni-present, though now often obscured by the configuration of interior partitions and air-conditioners. 

Relatively intact, though in disrepair, these buildings contain a wealth of techniques for regionally appropriate design in tropical climates. Unfortunately, climatically responsive design in the tropics (and for most places) is rare these days: most buildings are too reliant on air-conditioning and other active solutions. There is a lot to be accomplished with passive design, and is a key tool for defining regional character. We are certainly applying some of these devices in our current work in Dar and Abu Dhabi. 

More pictures to follow.


Scribing at TEDxBoston


At the recent TEDxBoston event, one of the organizers/sponsors was a group called Collective Next, which specializes in “applied collaboration.” After each speaker presented, a Collective Next team member would do a white board sketch summing up the main ideas. (Below, see their sketch of Tim’s talk about the Harbor Islands Pavilion process.)

 This type of graphic facilitation could be an effective method of summing up the ideas during the planning and design process. We do a “lite” version of it ourselves, scribbling on white boards, over existing maps and photos, and charting out decisions trees during meetings. The Collective Next graphics are a great model of easy-to-understand drawings that tell a story.

Click here to see the drawings Collective Next produced at TEDxBoston 2010.

–  Meera