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Facade Design: Technological Changes brought by BIM

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Geoffrey Haines, MD, Desktop Engineering Ltd., in his white paper describes how using a 3D BIM approach to facade design has improved and extended the technology of facade industry. He examines the Technological Changes brought by BIM to Architectural envelopes, especially to Façade design. With the continuous progress of building industry technologies and people’s constant pursuit of sustainable buildings, BIM has been a new subject heatedly discussed and explored in the building industry. BIM has played a huge role in the construction of many complex projects, such as Shanghai Tower (the world’s second-tallest building with a height of 632 meters), Shanghai Disney Resort (winning the U.S. AIA 2014 award for BIM application), and Tokyo Sky Tree (the world’s tallest tower at 634 meters).

Architectural envelopes are the coat of a building, organically integrating building aesthetics, building function, building energy efficiency, building structure, and other factors. Today, as architectural envelopes of different materials and in different structural forms have been seen all over the world, architectural envelopes are synonymous with grandeur, elegance, and modernity, and become an important symbol and outstanding feature of a modern metropolis.

Façade fabrication, in terms of type, has developed over a century from simple exposed-frame glass to semi-exposed-frame or hidden-frame, with full-glass, as well as using various metal, stone, or artificial panels. In terms of structure, façade fabrication has developed from a simple frame to a unitized, point-supported, double-skinned, membrane. In addition, more energy-efficient, ecological façade panels, photoelectric façades, and intelligent façades are gathering momentum.

Obviously, façade design technology is advancing rapidly. It helps architects free their minds and enables façade design to develop from being simple and monotonous to diversified, complex, and modern.

Challenge of project management mode

Façade design (especially for complex curtain walls) is a highly professional engineering task requiring a distinguished appearance, technical functionality, and significant investment in installation planning. So, like structural design, plumbing design, and electrical design, façade design requires special expertise. Typically, architects designing façades try to avoid a single manufacturer’s product so that the contractor can bid alternatives. This means that the architectural drawings are not coordinated with shop drawings from a manufacturer until construction has started and by that time much expert knowledge has been missed with several potential consequences: 1) the final design deliverables fail to embody the progress of façade technology and new products; and 2) the design scheme cannot meet the building energy performance requirements in an economical way.

For close coordination between façade design and main building design, an independent third party as façade design consultants is important. At the building schematic phase, the architects ask the façade design consultants for advice on their schematic design, so as to make possible the best building appearance; at the design development phase, the façade design consultants determine the system to-be-adopted, reserved room, etc. for the architectural envelope to provide more refined façade design drawings for façade contractors bidding. The façade consultants should be able to produce a 3D model that incorporates the architect’s construction and fabrication drawings.

As an art of building, façade design fundamentally has an anti-logic basis. As aesthetic theory goes, there is no debate for taste. Sticking to conventional thoughts will never lead to the palace of art. However, parametric design is not contradictory to traditional building design. It is oriented to the future, and has many unimaginable forms. It is a tool that can inspire designers.

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