In this edition of the Glass Word, IGS Magazine’s Lewis Wilson sits down with Klaus Lother, the charismatic CEO of Permasteelisa Group. He imparts unparalleled wisdom as we explore his thoughts on climate change, competition, pioneering façade design and engineering and gain exclusive insights into past, present and future projects from this prolific group.
Lewis: In such a competitive market, how does Permasteelisa Group maintain its position in the industry and differentiate itself from the competition?
Klaus: In the last few years, our Group has pursued a strategy in line with its founding values: technology, quality, innovation, and excellence in project management. We focus our efforts on the acquisition of projects which demand our expertise, experience and the leading-edge approach of Permasteelisa. In this market sector, we develop advanced technical solutions to first meet our clients’ needs and secondly, to steer us towards further evolution and improvement – in technological aspects as much as in logistics and management. Far from resting on our laurels, we continuously seek innovation through ongoing in-house research and partnerships with universities and the like. It is in this spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration that we are able to progress and deliver technically complex façade solutions that break the mold. Finally, our long-standing commitment towards our clients is based on efficient processes within our organization and ultimately the successful delivery of projects.
We are a truly global company, but this does not mean we are willing to work anywhere and everywhere at any cost. On the contrary, we focus our enterprise and cater to clients in markets that demand the very best facade solutions and where we find opportunities that are suitable for us in terms of technical and commercial characteristics. Projects characterized by high complexity, use of advanced technologies and high-performance standards for which we can make the difference; without the selling price being the most important – and sometimes even – the only driver.
We keep project execution at the highest levels to provide our clients with the quality they expect while, at the same time, ensuring the generation of vital margins to keep the level of investments high in support of our proprietary cutting-edge technologies.
We are paving the way with these strategies firmly in mind and practice, and have already undertaken and implemented measures that are creating an environment that catalyzes the opportunity for growth.
Lewis: Off the back of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, there has been a heightened sense of urgency surrounding climate change and sustainability in architecture and façade design. How has/does Permasteelisa Group contribute to a more sustainable future?
Klaus: Indeed, the attention to ecological sustainability for all players in the construction industry has become increasingly relevant and urgent in recent years. Developing an “Environmental Product Declaration” for our curtain wall systems is only the tip of the iceberg in our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. Permasteelisa has always stood out for its commitment to eco-sustainability; the use of sustainable materials and processes, an unwavering commitment to the development of solutions to guarantee energy savings, making more livable buildings for occupants and, finally, improving the quality of the world in which we live.
We are constantly working to improve our façades, developing technologically advanced solutions that allow the achievement of outstanding thermal, acoustic and safety performances, meeting, at the same time, the aesthetic goals of architects and clients. It is no coincidence that many of the projects we are involved in are able to accomplish, not only environmental certifications like LEED and BREEAM, but also the WELL certification which is intended to monitor the quality of environments for building occupants.
We are also actively supporting our clients in reducing embodied carbon through our façades, as well as through the calculation of operational and end-of-life carbon emissions over the lifetime of their buildings.
It is this holistic approach to decarbonisation, one that encompasses the entire supply chain, all project stakeholders and end users, that I believe is necessary if we are to make significant strides towards achieving the ambitious targets driven by the global Paris agreement, guided by policies like the ‘Green Deal’ and aligned at the global level with the UN’s 2030 sustainable development goals.
Lewis: Permasteelisa Group are pioneering research on the sustainable design of buildings and the development of façade components and systems to achieve this. Can you give us a peak into the current developments that the group is undertaking in terms of alternative materials?
Klaus: The popularity of mass timber (solid laminate timber systems) has grown substantially in contemporary architecture. This, I believe, can be attributed to a combination of factors including, but not limited to, the climate crisis, net-zero targets and a drive towards creating a circular economy in the construction industry.
We are currently working on Google KGX1 King’s Cross in London, one of the world’s largest timber and glass façade projects. Designed by BIG and Heatherwick Studio, the aptly named ‘landscraper’ reflects Google’s unique approach to building large-scale headquarters in an urban environment – one that called on our expertise and innovation to design and engineer a façade surface of 23,367sqm for the 50m high and 330m long development. The complex building accommodates numerous terraces and gardens that required sophisticated façade constructions such as timber mullions spanning across three floors. To give you a peak into the design, the facades of the east and west sides will consist of approximately 950 cross-laminated timber mullions (up to 10m high) with more than 90 different cross-sections and two stacked, heat-strengthened triple glazed units each.
Lewis: Can you share with our readers a couple of examples of innovative projects from the Permasteelisa Group portfolio where your high-performance façade systems and advanced technologies have been used and the benefits they imparted on the projects?
Klaus: Technology is not an end goal in itself – it is a way to improve the quality of life, and at Permasteelisa Group we know how integral our products are to reducing the carbon footprint of modern cities. The difference between an advanced façade and an outdated low-tech system can be vast, not only from an aesthetic viewpoint but also from, more importantly, an ecological perspective.
That’s why we constantly focus our efforts on improving our systems to produce more efficient, ‘better’ performing building envelopes.
I can mention, for example, 22 Bishopsgate in London. At a height of 278 m, it is the tallest skyscraper in the City of London and the tallest skyscraper worldwide that features a particularly sustainable Closed Cavity Façade (CCF). Our German brand Gartner cladded the office tower with 67,000 sqm of closed double-skin façade with story-high units that are limited to a minimum depth, not exceeding 250 mm. The closed cavity of the highly transparent glass units accommodates motorized dual-color venetian blinds, providing sun and glare protection. The story-high (4,040 mm / 159 1/16”, 3,550 mm / 139 49/64” or 3,890 mm / 153 5/32”) façade units with their individual widths feature structural glazing sealant and Low-E coating on the inside and LSG panes with selective coating on the outside which are glued directly to the thermally broken framework without carrier frame.
Another project is the iconic Battersea Power Station, where our Italian and British teams of the Permasteelisa brand worked on the two Frank Gehry-designed buildings in Phase 3A, designing & engineering, manufacturing and installing around 27,200 sqm of complex 3D shaped unitized façades. The envelope comprises three main elements: customized, unitized glass façade units creating the internal walls of the cladding, unique white surfaces that give the shape to the building and unique spandrel panels. Everything pivots around a key area near the spandrel panel and the transition between this and the vision glass. The levels of complexity presented by this façade were as many and varied as the number of different units required. The innovative design required the engineering and production of around 4,000 unitized panels, with aluminum profiles equipped with double-glazed or opaque infills, all different from each other and openable both with a folding or sliding panel. The undulating shape of the façade required about 3,300 aluminum closed infill white “boxes”, defined by a non-repetitive, customized shape. These boxes create the undulating and sinuous shape desired by the architect.
The extreme complexity of the façade of Prospect Place at the Battersea Power Station was not only geometrical but also logistical. The varying typologies of panels needed to arrive on site at the right time and be stored in the right position to then facilitate the final installation. In such a vibrant construction site, where many different players are at work in the same area, being able to perform checklists and controls, hands-free, is paramount as it ensures an increased level of safety for the workers. In addition, perfect integration with our management systems allowed the smooth and timely tracing of every single element of the façade, thus improving quality and efficiency of the operations on site.
Lewis: From Foster + Partners to Herzog & de Meuron, RMJM and Gehry Partners (to name a few), Permasteelisa Group have collaborated with, undeniably, the most influential and prolific architects of our time. What are the challenges of turning the ideas of the world’s greatest architects into reality?
Klaus: Working with the best architects in the world is certainly a great incentive to push our limits in every project. From the KPF-designed One Vanderbilt to Renzo Piano’s Academy of Motion Pictures and Studio Gang’s Mira Tower, our Group has had to respond to complex designs and ambitious engineering feats. It is in this realm of seeming impossibility that innovation is born and nurtured, where our team and professionals thrive to deliver advanced technologies, ground-breaking engineering and high-performance façades.
The Group of today is the result of a process of continuous improvement that underpins all our daily activities, at every level of the hierarchy. Moreover, being a global Group allows us to work with the best professionals in our industry on every project, everywhere in the world. The passion for knowledge and technical excellence is what energises all our employees, and what makes us love our job and all our projects.
Lewis: Permasteelisa Group has had success across the globe, from Asia to Europe, the Middle East and US, your façade systems and technology are visible (and sometimes invisible) in projects dotted across 4 continents. What do you attribute this global success and expansion to?
Klaus: Through our international presence we can offer local experience coupled with global expertise from all our Group companies. Permasteelisa brings proficiency and ingenuity to all projects, in particular when dealing with special feature buildings and advanced façades. Beginning from the design and development phases, all the way to successful completion, we always aim to achieve or exceed the client’s highest expectations. In essence, our global success can be attributed to a philosophy of never becoming complacent, and always pushing the envelope (so to speak) in all aspects of our company. We recognise the dynamic momentum and shifting needs of architects, developers and the construction industry as a whole. Ensuring we address current challenges and provide viable solutions ensures our expertise are not only needed across the globe, but affect change for a better future.
Lewis: COVID-19 has, to say the least, been highly disruptive to the construction industry over the past couple of years. In your view, what effects has the pandemic had on the industry? And how do we collectively overcome the unprecedented challenges that this pandemic has created?
Klaus: To quote Steve Jobs, “innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat”. The pandemic has forced us to take a hard look at the way we operate; from developing new processes to re-evaluating working environments and the way we connect with clients and colleagues, the key has been adaptability. Just as we respond to and solve complex engineering challenges, we have had to adjust to this ‘new’ working climate. It has also had an impact on building design trends; it seems to have heightened the collective consciousness to design more practical, modular structures that are adaptive and circular.
Of course, COVID has also led to some delays in the development of many projects around the globe due to the halting of construction sites during lock-downs, and will probably have impacts in the long term on the cost of raw materials. That said, thanks to our strong solidarity, agile approach and promptness to put in place home working for our employees, we have been able to overcome the initial difficulties and keep on developing projects with the usual quality and attention to time schedules.
Klaus: The three brands represent 3 different and particular souls inside our Group, all sharing the same technical knowledge, quality and competence. They work in synergy and frequently together on some projects, which allows our group to offer unique resources to our clients to best fit the needs of any job developed within and by the Group.
Lewis: Permasteelisa Group are one of the most accomplished global contractors of our generation with a reputation for delivering imaginative and mold-breaking building envelopes. What is the next step for the company and what projects can we look forward to in the near future?
Klaus: We are currently working on a number of exciting projects that I am honored to share with IGS readers.
The Helix is a tree-covered glass structure and part of the PenPlace development in Virginia. The design of the tower, by NBBJ, is inspired by “biophilia” – intended to reflect humanity’s innate connection to nature. The Helix offers a variety of alternative work environments for Amazon employees amidst lush gardens and flourishing trees native to the region. A true double helix in shape and structure, it features two walkable paths of landscaped terrain that spiral up the outside of the building, featuring plants found in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Among other scopes of work, Permasteelisa Group is designing, engineering, manufacturing and installing a steel and glass ribbon façade and skylight. It includes a 11,500 sqm ribbon façade consisting of 4,800 triangular façade units with triple glazed glass and 635 mega panels, a steel-aluminium hybrid structure, up to 12 m long and approximately. 2.5 m high and curved. The project is also LEED Platinum targeted and will run on 100% renewable energy.
Located at the corner of Congress Street and Boston Wharf Road, Boston Seaport Block L5 (designed by architects Gensler and Henning Larson), is primarily dedicated for office use but includes space for a performing arts center and a penthouse. The design was conceived to emphasize human-centricity with amenities ranging from several outdoor terraces to a street-level interior public promenade. The tower geometry consists of sloped unitized façades on three sides either at a 15° angle step back per floor on the west and north façade or at a 20° angle on the east one. The complex aluminum-and-glass envelope is composed of multi-layered elements to create visible façade depth. The tower fins have an inset aluminum panel with a custom finish that matches the podium terracotta.
In Frankfurt’s banking district, a new complex of four high-rise buildings with a shared, publicly accessible podium is developing. A joint venture from architects UNStudio, HPP Architekten and Groß & Partner, FOUR Frankfurt is intended to revitalize this quarter with a unique mix of offices, retail, apartments, hotels and dining. The two residential towers, 178 m and 125 m high, will be among the tallest in Germany and will be clad with façades in dynamic shapes designed, engineered, manufactured and installed by Permasteelisa Group.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazine’s Spring 2022 Issue – Decarbonising the Glass Industry: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Author: Klaus Lother, CEO, Permasteelisa Group
A German national, Klaus brings 28 years of industry experience to the position, primarily acquired in management roles at Permasteelisa Group. Klaus joined Josef Gartner GmbH as an engineer in 1993 and was appointed CEO in 2002. More recently, he served as Permasteelisa Group CEO for the European region. Since 2019, Klaus has been the Permasteelisa Group CEO, bringing his proven management skills, a deep understanding of the Curtain Wall industry, and unparalleled knowledge of the group’s values, history, processes, and knowhow. He graduated in Mechanical Engineering, Production Technology (Dipl.-Ing.) at the Technical University in Munich.