October 26, 2010
by Jacqueline Pezzillo Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: The Liquid Wall Prototype: A Case Study in Innovation
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.19.10
Speakers: Tristan Al-Haddad — Assistant Professor, School of Architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology; Peter Arbour, Assoc. AIA — Project Manager, RFR Consulting Engineers; Robert Del Vento, Jr. — Sales Manager, Coreslab Structures; Kelly Henry, LEED AP — Architecture Project Manager, Ductal by Lafarge; Frank Sciame, Hon. AIA — Chief Executive Officer, F.J.Sciame Construction Co.
Moderator: Nina Rappaport — Publications Director, Yale University
Organizers: Center for Architecture, in conjunction with “Innovate:Integrate — Building Better Together,” on view at the Center for Architecture through 01.15.11
Sponsors: Lead Sponsors: Coreslab Structures; Ductal by Lafarge; F. J. Sciame Construction Co.; Gensler; Georgia Institute of Technology, Digital Fabrication Laboratory; Lutron; Mancini·Duffy; MechoShade Systems; Oldcastle Building Envelope; Peter Arbour / RFR Consulting Engineers; Permasteelisa North America; Plaza Construction; Structure Tone; Syska Hennessy Group; Turner; Zetlin & De Chiara; Sponsors: Francis Cauffman Architects; Polytek; HeliOptix; STUDIOS Architecture; Trespa North America


The Liquid Wall.

Peter Arbour/RFR Consulting Engineers

This year’s presidential theme, defined by AIANY President Anthony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA, is “Architect as Leader.” The concept celebrates the role of architects as innovators and champions of new breakthroughs in construction techniques. It requires vision, risk tolerance, and teamwork. The possibilities of this type of leadership can be seen in “Innovate:Integrate — Building Better Together,” an exhibition of building technology at the Center for Architecture, exploring the collaborative process of design and construction. “In searching for the right platform for an exhibition on leadership in the industry, my thoughts turned to the building process,” explained Schirripa.

The Liquid Wall Prototype, winner of an open competition for curtain-wall design and part of “Innovate:Integrate,” is a first large-scale prototype to be displayed at the Center. Conceived by a team of designers, manufacturers, and construction managers from RFR Consulting Engineers, Coreslab Structures, Ductal by Lafarge, F.J. Sciame Construction, and Georgia Institute of Technology, it represents a breakthrough in performative façade design. According to Peter Arbour, Assoc. AIA, project manager at RFR Consulting Engineers, who conceived the design of The Liquid Wall Prototype, the goal was to “design something that could be easily constructed, was economical, and easy to maintain.”

Conceived as a panelized system, the frame is made of two forms of Ductal, an ultra-high-performance concrete. Digital modeling and CNC milling created undulating flexible molds in which the concrete was set. Triple glazing reduces acoustic transmission while providing high thermal performance, natural day lighting, and transparency. The glazing, designed as replaceable, repairable panels, is installed directly into the concrete frame. Within spandrel cassette panels, non-freezing liquids flow and capture solar energy that is transmitted for use as radiant heat, domestic hot water production, and dehumidification of ventilation systems. The heat recovery systems are optimized to function in both winter and summer. Thermal performance is considered exceptional for this unified curtain wall system due to the elimination of metal units bridging the exterior and interior.

Based on the success of this prototype, designed in a mere four months, “the opportunities for design and constructability are limitless,” said Frank Sciame, Hon, AIA, CEO of F.J. Sciame Construction Co. Although there is a buzz about The Liquid Wall being offered as a manufactured product, it is spurring a regime of testing in curtain-wall design. After the success of this project, Arbour said we can expect “a revolution in the design of building envelopes.”

“Innovate:Integrate” is on view at the Center for Architecture through 01.15.11.

Jacqueline Pezzillo, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is the communications manager at Davis Brody Bond Aedas and a regular contributor to e-Oculus.