21st Century Façade Skins: Future-proofing Our Assets

By October 05 , 2017

Creative, innovative, imposing, controversial. Capturing a moment in time and history, and serving as a statement of engineering progress and architectural design – today’s façades push boundaries, communicate brand image and use exciting, collaborative materials to produce provocative and advanced performance solutions.

Day in and day out, across the globe, there seems to be a recurring theme in the care of our façades; a distinct lack of appreciation for our building skins. Whilst much of our work in the UK and Europe is driven by strict budgets and miles of red tape, the emergence of Super Skyscrapers in the Middle- and Far East means that the need for a façade care plan has never been more imperative.

As long as a façade is still perceived as a commodity and not as a living, breathing skin within an urban space, there will be little in the way of positive action to retain its initial architectural design – it will simply weather, age and fail until it reaches a point of no return.

I believe that fundamental thinking needs to change within organisations, businesses and communities that reside in the surrounding space. Building skins need contextual thinking to receive greater care, inspection and understanding.

The façade industry in recent years has witnessed significant changes. New materials, innovations, functions and performances have created an everchanging building skin landscape.

The discipline of façade design and construction has become segregated by the need to work with varying specialists, often resulting in a lack of thinking and planning on how to practically care for the external building fabric in the future. Its future condition needs to be addressed during the design stage so that an understanding of how the building’s fabric changes could and should influence material selection and the overall design finish is achieved. By predicting the future weathering cycles we can help create more sustainable buildings and positive urban landscapes, where innovations are in line with façade skin performance.

Traditional Procurement vs Proactive Asset Protection – Why We Need to Act NOW

Traditional procurement plays a big part in why building managers and owners allow the façade to decay, the stress to build and material to fail. Many buildings receive nothing more in the way of their routine maintenance than regular window cleaning – until one day it becomes impossible to ignore the façade any longer which has now deteriorated to a seriously bad condition. This becomes detrimental to business and undermines the value of the building as an asset.

In my experience I have seen that this takes the form of 5-10 year façade cleaning cycles. Being a reactive approach, however, this cycle creates more expensive façade restoration projects as the façade deterioration and the repairs increase over time. However, during these cycles, clients continue to spend large sums of money on traditional window cleaning procurement, leaving the building envelope to reflect negatively on their brand.

What Should You Consider in a Façade Care Plan?

As building owners and managers, we need a unique framework, designed to proactively care for the building skin. Together, we must understand the building skin; we must manage it, and we must care for it. Maintaining buildings for the future through inspection, cleaning, measuring and caring for the complete building envelope in a consistent and longterm planned program should be the basis of all care plans. Only a fresh, innovative, holistic, service driven, asset-protection-driven, building-specific, elevation-specific solution will do. It is important not to make presumptions, and not to generalise: together we have a responsibility to protect and future-proof our built environment.

Any service provider looking after a building skin should guarantee quality, care and the protection of your building, both as an asset and as a legacy. It should guarantee every building — as well as each material and elevation within the building façade — its own specific care plan. The key is to look for a provider that guarantees a proactive service and a program that’s completely aligned with the needs of the owner, and of the building.

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