Article by Mic Patterson, PhD LEED AP+, Ambassador of Innovation & Collaboration
In this first 2022 issue of SKINS, we pause to look back on 2021 through our most-read stories of the year, which we’ve recycled here in case you missed them (more original content coming in 2022!). Looking back, the very first thing we see is the Institute’s inaugural Vitruvian Honors & Awards (VH&A) program conducted virtually on 7 December. It was a spectacular event! The pandemic pushed us into conducting this program virtually, and at a very busy time of year, so if you missed it, let’s do a quick recap here. (The recorded sessions are located on our website. They are well worth the watch if you are at all interested in deep technical insight into some of the most innovative projects in recent times presented by the teams responsible for their execution.) But first, what is this honors and awards program all about?
Have you ever had the thought that the building industry is rather stingy in recognizing the outstanding achievements of its constituents? Isn’t it about time we recognize the outstanding projects that are advancing the building arts and sciences, along with the facade system experts playing such a central role in making better buildings? I’m not talking about the starchitects that already gather the glory. I’m talking about the people that make these outstanding buildings happen; the designers, the builders, the researchers and product developers, the building and material scientists, the many hardworking specialists that come together in collaboration and manifest our aspirations of healthy and sustainable buildings and urban habitat. Recognizing and rewarding individuals, teams, and collaborations were central to the notion of an awards program from the very beginning, from when the Facade Tectonics Institute first established an honors and awards committee to consider the possibilities.
Peter Weismantle, the Consulting Director Supertall Building Technology at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and board member of FTI, chaired the committee and played the leadership role in developing the program, including integrating Vitruvian notions of architectural excellence into the awards criteria. Sustainability, as the single most important consideration of our time, is woven throughout the awards criteria. In recognition that innovative processes are invariably multidisciplinary, collaboration is also embraced as a criterion common to the various awards. In addition, the Collaborative Achievement Award singles out and honors an exemplary collaboration. Other award categories include new facade, renovation, preservation, innovation, and integration. The Unsung Hero award is intended to bring to the fore the unrecognized individuals often behind significant achievements in building facades. The full menu of award categories and the winning entries can be viewed here. Major kudos to Pete for his dedication to this concept and extended efforts in developing the awards program. If you have ideas for additional award categories, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Event: A Virtual Banquet?
The Vitruvian Honors & Awards program is intended as a biennial daylong symposium followed by an awards banquet. The pandemic, of course, changed that for 2021. Nonetheless, the inaugural event itself was really pretty stunning in execution and, especially, content. The Institute has come to be known for the diverse, top-quality technical content of its various programs (the next FTI World Congress is coming up in October in Los Angeles), and this was no exception. The opportunity to get deep technical insight on leading-edge facade system applications is rare in this age of egregious non-disclosure contract obligations. It turns out that building owners/developers rather like the possibility of recognition of their projects and are willing to share project information in that pursuit. But they were not the ones actually doing the sharing; that was left to the individuals and teams that actually did the work, including designers, contractors, installers, fabricators, and material and product suppliers. So, the sharing was from firsthand experience and remarkably unconstrained. It becomes apparent in these events that the people in our industry enjoy sharing their knowledge and recognize the value in doing so. It is a mission strategy of FTI to provide a safe and neutral platform for just such activity so, even in its very first iteration, the VH&A symposium was an outstanding success. (And perhaps asking a global audience to fly into a central location for a daylong event is not such a great idea from the standpoint of carbon emissions? We all need to rethink some of our collective behaviors.)
A Symposium of Award Candidates
The two finalists for each category each gave presentations of their project entries. The recordings of these virtual presentations are now available on the FTI website as both technical and inspirational resources. They are invariably excellent and well worth watching. The projects presented are extraordinary and the collaborations by which they were achieved make for engaging stories.
Keynote address: Sir David King on the climate crisis
This is a MUST WATCH. I’ve seen many presentations addressing the ongoing climate catastrophe. This is the best of them. Sir David contextualizes the crisis historically and factually right up to the current time, with a focus on developments in the Arctic where warming has already significantly exceeded the 1.5°C that the IPCC and others have warned as the safe limit to global warming. The implications of this as delineated by Sir David are both convincing and alarming. This should be required viewing for all humanity! Great thanks to Helen Sanders for bringing this former professor of hers, while pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, to our attention and convincing him to take the time to participate in this event.
Collaborative Achievement Award
We could write at length about the winning entry in each category, and intend to do so in upcoming issues of SKINS. For now, I want to point you to the following.
The terracotta curtainwall system, winner of the Outstanding Collaboration Award, was my personal favorite entry of the entire program (it would have been my pick for the Outstanding Innovation Award; there was an interesting discussion among the jurors during their deliberations on what constituted innovation). What I find most compelling is what the project team was able to accomplish in the context of a true research project, completely independent of any building-specific project application. The building industry is notoriously negligent when it comes to investment in R&D, a leading reason why it lags behind other industries in technological innovation. Perhaps this project, presented in some detail at the VH&A symposium, provides a new development model for multidisciplinary industry/academic collaborations capable of achieving breakthrough innovations that move the industry forward. The potential for practical application of the terracotta system remains to be seen, but that is largely beside the point. The process of innovation is characterized by a low return of scalable products, thus the need for massive innovation to have any significant impact.
The team, led by the brilliant facade designer John Neary with HOK New York, included facade contractor Permasteelisa, TriPyramid Structures —a specialty systems designer and fabricator, and Boston Valley Terracotta. The curtainwall design included a prestressed structural terracotta mullion, with TriPyramid developing the tension rod system and process to facilitate the prestressing of the terracotta mullion assembly. The scope of the project was from concept through full-scale mockup. The video presentation can be seen here. All that’s left to make this a potentially viable facade product is a program of structural testing, which is unlikely to happen in the absence of a seriously interested building developer. But this project may inspire just such interest. Why terracotta? Their presentation discussed the potential durability and embodied carbon advantages of the material. And, it’s beautiful; check it out!
Jury Panel Discussion
Another personal favorite of the event was the discussion with the jury panel (and not because I had the privilege of moderating this session). I have participated in my fair share of juries over the years, and I was particularly impressed with this panel—all thought leaders and industry luminaries—but what impressed me was the depth of their considered deliberations and the insights they shared into the entries themselves. They also had excellent input on the award program itself and suggestions on additional award categories for consideration for our next program scheduled for 2023. This session is well worth a listen>
We wanted to document the inaugural VH&A proceedings in print and brought back our former Programs Manager, the uber-talented graphic designer Katie Gould, to do the job. The result covers the winners and runners-up in all categories, and is simply spectacular! Contact Raditia Lasry to purchase it.
The rather surprising success of this ambitious undertaking—as an inaugural event in the midst of the pandemic—owes ultimately to the many firms and individuals that had the interest and took the time to submit their outstanding work, far too many of which remain unrecognized by this program simply because there were not enough awards to go around. I think we can take a queue from Hollywood here; they have the awards events down pretty well, thank you, and there seems to be plenty of room to spread the recognition around. I’m confident that the Institute will build on what we’ve started here as we move forward.
Also contributing indispensably to the success of the program through extended and tireless efforts are FTI’s Executive Director, Val Block, and her spirited sidekick, Raditia Lasry; big thanks to them both.
Finally, as a fiercely independent non-profit, none of this would be possible at all without the contributions of our dedicated and faithful sponsors, listed below, and our loyal and committed individual and organizational members who provide the resources we need to build the bridge to truly resilient and sustainable buildings and urban habitat. Great thanks to them! And to the rest of you, join us on this critically important journey!
Best regards to all,
Great thanks from all of us at
The SKINS Team:
Mic Patterson, Facade Tectonics Institute
Val Block, Facade Tectonics Institute
Nick Carrillo, WWCCA
Event Calendar Editor
Alberto Alarcon, Kuraray
Event Calendar Editor