Since 2001, Dr. Fritz Gartner has been Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Josef Gartner GmbH in Gundelfingen in Bavaria. In the interview, Dr.Jochen Mignat asked him, on behalf of IGS Magazine, about significant developments in façade construction, which he has helped shape for the past fifty years.
GARTNER IS A SERVICE PROVIDER WHO COMBINES THE ART OF CRAFTSMANSHIP AND ENGINEERING TO CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE FAÇADE TECHNOLOGY
A dynamic company has to reinvent itself constantly without neglecting its roots. We have always maintained and developed our core competence in metal construction. Gartner started out as a small blacksmith’s shop in Gundelfingen an der Donau. We earned a good reputation with our reliable craftsmanship. Inspired, among others, by conversations with Mies van der Rohe. Gartner started building the first metal façades from 1954, first in Germany and then also abroad from the 1960s. Most of all, we combined the art of craftsmanship and engineering to continuously improve façade technology, and we dared to take on new challenges. In this way, we were able to develop the integrated façade for heating and cooling, the double skin façade and the closed cavity façade. Today, we produce façades such as for the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Apple headquarters in Cupertino and Bloomberg in London, which I never considered possible before.
How did your father get to meet the famous architect van der Rohe? Wasn’t Gartner first known for its metal construction work and for the construction of factory halls, especially in the local Gundelfingen region?
My father was curious and interested in what was being built elsewhere. In 1953, on a journey to the United States, he studied metal façades in New York and Chicago and had conversations with Mies van der Rohe, who inspired and fascinated him. Upon his return, he received an enquiry for the façade of the Kaufhof AG headquarters in Cologne, based on the curtain wall façade of the Lever House in New York which he had studied in the USA. This was our company’s first big façade project.
By the way, my father didn’t speak English. After I joined the company in 1964, I accompanied him on journeys to England as an interpreter and translator. With courage and trust in our skills, we also managed to enter this market. English architects and building owners first asked for a product catalogue. But we didn’t have one. Instead we surprised them by addressing their needs directly and implementing them in a customised manner.
Metal façades used to be more of an unknown field for engineers which was considered less attractive, since metal builders mainly produced window constructions.
Companies used to be more focused on artisan traditions and less on scientific findings. This was my chance, as development was required everywhere. With my basic knowledge as an engineer well versed in structural analysis and heat insulation, I was able to achieve a lot in this sector. We entered new markets and had to adapt our work to the conditions on site. When we were called to Hong Kong in the early 80s, our profiles and constructions were not suited to this market due to the typhoons and the tropical rainfall. So we quickly set up a team with eight people. We worked day and night at an architect’s place in Hong Kong. We succeeded in making a construction with pre-integrated natural stone cladding for heights of around 200 meters, and in the end it worked.
LISTEN TO WHAT THEY WANT. DON’T SAY STRAIGHT AWAY “NO, WE CAN’T DO THAT, WE’VE NEVER MADE THAT BEFORE”, BUT SEE HOW YOU CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
We are continuing our legacy. My father always used to tell me this story: Even my grandfather, a metal builder, couldn’t accept that his trade was limited to the small town of Gundelfingen. So he travelled to the neighbouring city of Augsburg and listened to what the local architects wanted. The local artisans didn’t produce some parts the way the architects wanted them. My grandfather then received these orders. My father’s message was: Listen to what they want boy. Don’t say straight away “No, we can’t do that, we’ve never made that before”, but see how you can solve the problem. Think about it, sleep on it. Have the courage to tackle new challenges.
I also like to think about technical problems, sometimes they keep me up at night. Then I make the first construction sketches and discuss them with experts at the company. At some point, it clicks, and we find the common thread to technically implement the client’s design concepts into the façade. My age provides me with a great advantage today because as a pensioner and adviser I’m no longer responsible for the specific implementation. So I can think of the concept, and they must deal with the implementation. But I trust my successors at the company.
What role do architects, façade consultants and customers play in the development of new façades?
Building owners and architects still come to us with new architectural ideas for a façade for which there is no immediate technical solution off the shelf. They often challenge us with bold first ideas which are not yet perfected, and which are technically difficult to implement. Then, we advise them and develop customized solutions which correspond to their design concepts. Good architects and customers are always open to the best technical solution. Then, we discuss new constructions and evaluate their feasibility. It is only in this intensive collaboration that the best technical solutions emerge, and very often a simple solution proves to be the best.
TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENTS IN TERMS OF SPECIFIC DETAILS IN ORDER TO OBTAIN THE BEST ARCHITECTURAL AND TECHNICAL SOLUTIONS, THIS IS OUR SPECIALITY
In particular, we like to work with customers who have clear aesthetic concepts and who look for an ideal solution both for architecture and for technology. Because the façade design especially shapes the external appearance of a building. You only succeed if you interact with architects and building owners in an understanding way, if you listen to them and understand them. For instance, clients often wish for narrow, invisible profile widths as well as filigree structures. Such technical improvements in terms of specific details are our speciality. They are the icing on the cake. By combining efforts to find the best technical and architectural solution, mutual trust and job satisfaction also increase. And this is where we succeed in making ground-breaking constructions.
MY MAIN CONCERN IS HOW PEOPLE CAN LIVE COMFORTABLY IN A BUILDING AND WORK EFFICIENTLY.
My main concern is how people can live comfortably in a building and work efficiently. As the interface between the inside and the outside, the building envelope in particular controls the light and the room climate, and therefore the users’ well-being. Façades made of glass and metal should first protect against wind and weather conditions and at the same time provide high transparency. To achieve this, many and often conflicting constructional requirements must be met. Façade construction has made great progress in terms of thermal insulation. As we moved forward we were able to improve insulation and comfort more and more. In addition, an energy-efficient building envelope has a key role in sustainable construction. Many innovations were created in cooperation with the glass industry. In this way, a 5-cm thick glass façade with three glass panes today insulates just as good as a 1-m thick brick wall. Sustainability and durability are an essential criterion of our constructions. Since our façades usually have a life cycle of more than fifty years, we cannot overlook anything that could compromise the stability of the façade in the long term.
Which significant innovations in façade construction were made by Gartner?
We have applied for hundreds of individual patents here and abroad, including many of our own developments. I would like to pick out three specific inventions. In 1968, we developed the integrated façade for heating and cooling. In this type, façade profiles not only hold the glass, but are also heating and cooling surfaces at the same time. The hollow profiles made of steel or aluminium contain water which can be heated up or cooled down. The elements form a closed water cycle which is connected to the house heating network. For low-temperature heating, it generates a pleasant indoor climate even right next to the glass façade and reduces heating costs. At the BMW Welt in Munich, we managed to integrate even electric cables and sprinkler pipes into the hollow profiles.
INTEGRATED FAÇADES, DOUBLE SKIN FAÇADES AND CLOSED CAVITY FAÇADES ARE KEY INNOVATIONS BY GARTNER
With the double skin façade, which we used to clad the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt in 1997, even high-rise buildings can be ventilated naturally. Fresh air is also an important factor for people’s well-being. Furthermore, there is no need for large air conditioning systems thus reducing energy costs.
In collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute, we have developed the Closed Cavity Façade (CCF), which sets new standards in sustainable construction with a Ucw value of 0.59 W/m2K. In the closed double skin façade, highly transparent glasses can be used together with highly efficient solar protection. In traditional façades, such low Ucw and g values can only be achieved if the light transmission of the glass is limited, for instance, by solar protection coatings. Transparency requirements always conflicted with heat protection. Only the completely closed façade cavity in the CCF makes it possible to use highly transparent glasses together with permanently effective and highly efficient sunshade systems with light control and retroreflection. Operating and maintenance costs are also permanently reduced with this construction. In 2010, we installed the first CCF at Roche Diagnostics in Switzerland. Today, there is increasing demand for CCF in sustainable construction, and it is also used in highrise buildings such as the Roche skyscraper in Basel or 22 Bishopsgate in London.
Buildings and façades have become much more complex in the last few years. How does this change the work of a façade manufacturer?
Free shapes and façade elements are designed on the computer today where no part is like any other. Therefore, we have been designing all façades in a three-dimensional manner for a long time, and, like at Apple in Cupertino or Google in London, we often work based on BIM (Building Information Modeling) with other trades, as complex building shapes would not be buildable otherwise. Many of our façade units have an RFID code to make logistics, assembly and maintenance easier.
MANAGEMENT SKILLS ARE CRUCIAL TO BE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH A FAÇADE PROJECT OR A CONSTRUCTION ON TIME AND IN A TECHNICALLY ACCURATE MANNER
Overall, the requirements for our project management and the organisation of the building site are increasing, since today we have to manage more relations than ever before. This is also the case for suppliers and subcontractors whose specialist knowledge is an intrinsic part of the process. These management skills are crucial to be able to complete a façade or a construction on time and in a technically proficient manner. Today you can only succeed if you bring together a team of specialists who communicate well with one another. In large projects such as Apple or Google, for example, we have relocated specialists from various departments of the company into one team with their own rooms in order to facilitate coordination. Great logistic skills are also required in these kinds of projects to procure the necessary parts from suppliers all over the world, to take care of precise production and to deliver them to the building site just in time.
Façade units, however, are not only becoming more complex, but also bigger and bigger. For example, we have clad Apple’s new company headquarters with curved glass panes of three meters by fifteen in size. On the upper edges of these glass panes, fresh air flows through automated ventilation louvres to ventilate the building naturally. For these large façade units, we have built our own tools such as a special manipulator to ensure safe and quick installation on site.
Your main plant in Gundelfingen, Bavaria, where around 800 of more than 1,500 employees worldwide are employed, is composed of a design office, administration, production and façade assembly as well as steel production. This concentration of various sectors into one location is extraordinary.
CUSTOM-MADE FAÇADES AS WELL AS CUSTOM MADE CONCEPTS FOR LOGISTICS, INSTALLATION AND MAINTENANCE
Gartner has always seen themselves as a service provider who combines the art of craftsmanship and engineering to produce custom-made façades according to the clients’ requirements. Since construction and production are concentrated on the factory premises, coordination and decision-making can be done quickly. This also promotes understanding for one another. Alongside construction and production, logistics, installation and maintenance are playing an increasing role in façade construction. Here, we also provide custom-made concepts. Only in this way can we install high-quality façades on time and permanently guarantee a good function. Finally, holistic thinking is required in façade construction today.
Our ability to innovate and our reliability. We stick to our commitments and don’t run away when things get difficult. We find new technical solutions based on our extensive experience and expertise. Our façades are therefore always unique, but we also love small, challenging projects.
WE STICK TO OUR COMMITMENTS AND DON’T RUN AWAY WHEN THINGS GET DIFFICULT
Another advantage is our integration in the Permasteelisa Group with their international network and resources. This infrastructure helps us, for instance, in terms of façade installation in Asia and the United States. The takeover by Permasteelisa in 2001 opened up our familyowned business to new markets and perspectives, to be able to also take on very large projects. Permasteelisa operates in the same sector and we were able to build a close relationship and trustful way of working together. At the same time, we managed to preserve the feel of a family-owned business where people support and help one another like a family. This can be seen in Gundelfingen, where many of our employees, for example, have worked with us for generations.
What makes Gartner employees special?
In addition to a good technical education, they should also be curious and courageous enough to tackle new tasks. Listening to clients and colleagues carefully, detecting and defining problems to develop new solutions as a team. For this reason, we also train employees ourselves and take great care of our apprentices, trainees and students. As Managing Director, along with the design and sale of façades, I was also responsible for apprenticeship training. My father always said that you should do the most difficult work with your apprentices. If I need usable models for façade fittings or other constructions, I always go to our apprentice workshops. Then I explain my sketches and designs to the apprentices and work out the models with them. This takes longer, but it’s unbureaucratic and provides the apprentices with an exciting way of learning by doing. You must have confidence in the capabilities of young people and encourage them. In this way, they learn to take on responsibility.
HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE CAPABILITIES OF YOUNG PEOPLE AND DO THE MOST DIFFICULT WORK WITH THE APPRENTICES
Gartner was founded 150 years ago and is likely to be the oldest façade manufacturer in the world. What are your hopes for the future?
The enthusiasm for façade construction may never end! Designing and producing façades is a fascinating task. Requirements to a building may change with time, however, people should always be the main concern. We can improve air conditioning, comfort and sustainability even further. That is a rewarding task for our young employees. But, most of all, I hope that we will continue to create high-quality buildings and façades which are worth preserving through generations.
This interview with Dr. Fritz Gartner, conducted by Dr.Jochen Mignat originally featured in IGS Magazine’s Winter 2018 Issue – Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry.
Author: Dr. Fritz Gartner, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Josef Gartner GmbH
Dr. Gartner studied mechanical engineering at the University of Munich and also did his doctorate there. The 82-year-old great-grandson of the company founder was the managing partner of the family-owned business from 1973 to 1998. The business which was founded in 1868 celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, today ranks among the leading façade manufacturers in the world, and has been part of the Permasteelisa Group since 2001. Alongside his fascination for architecture and façade technology, Dr. Gartner likes reading biographies and crime novels, and keeps fit by going swimming and mountain hiking.