Restoration of Iconic Buildings Means Big Business and Big Energy Savings

The Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco is one of many older, iconic buildings that are benefiting from retrofitting and restoration.

As reported by National Geographic this month, iconic buildings are often celebrated for their architecture that has withstood the test of time, but what lies beneath those favorite, enduring facades – the cladding and infrastructure — does not usually hold up so well. The majority of the world’s most famous structures were built long before sustainability, climate change, recycling and energy efficiency were key trends and mainstream buzz words.

Enter the age of retrofit and restoration, which has (thankfully!) become the prevailing practice in preserving vintage structures worldwide. Aging buildings of note are being updated with new windows and claddings, lighting, heating and cooling systems, all of which are preserving the historic nature of the buildings, saving owners and operators money while also conserving energy.

Some iconic structures that have set an example for others to follow include the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.

  • The Depression-era Empire State Building completed a $13 million energy-efficient retrofit in 2013 that cut energy consumption by almost 40%, saving over $4 million annually. The upgrades are expected to eliminate105,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions over 15 years.
  • In keeping with its original raison d’etre as a symbol of engineering prowess, the Eiffel Tower undertook a 4-year, $37 million renovation, completed in 2015. It included everything from installing solar panels to LED lighting, and adding enhanced glazing on glass. In addition to saving energy, the structure now generates much of its own electricity with wind-powered turbines in the building.
  • The 853-foot Transamerica Pyramid, built in 1972, was the tallest building in San Francisco until it was eclipsed last year by the 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower. But it’s keeping up with the newer structure thanks to a sustainability retrofit and a gas-fueled cogeneration plant in its garage that generates 70% of the building’s electricity. In 2011, the Pyramid was certified LEED Platinum, the country’s highest rating for green buildings.

Revitalizing iconic buildings is only a small part of the huge commercial market for restoration and energy efficient retrofitting. New York, for instance, is also tackling the improvement of energy efficiency in less prominent landmarks, investing nearly $500 million to improve its million-plus buildings.

Buildings consume 73 percent of the electricity in the U.S., and indirectly create 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions—more than industry or transportation. Experts estimate that only 10% of the 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. are now “high performance” thanks to upgrades. The remaining 90% represent a huge market opportunity.

Leaders in the building material and restoration industry such as Sto Corp. have been on the forefront of commercial restoration providing state of the art products and systems that can help preserve an historic structure as well as safeguard a property’s value by conserving energy, reducing operational costs, improving interior comfort, and enhancing curb appeal.


Sto Helps Transform Affordable Housing Complex

Sto was instrumental in helping to restore the Georgia King Village residential towers in Newark, New Jersey.

Built in 1976, Georgia King Village in Newark, New Jersey, was in need of a makeover.  L+M Development Partners who acquired the two 18-story, affordable housing towers in 2016, were taking on a distressed structure, but were confident they could restore the complex. One rehab priority was installing a new exterior to replace the uninsulated precast concrete façade; the envelope was so porous that Georgia King residents were consistently unable to maintain a comfortable temperature in their apartments.

Over the next few years, L+M Development added a fresh new design and structural improvements transforming the Georgia King Village into a more efficient, more comfortable, and more attractive complex, while preserving its affordability.

Working with Sto Corp. products and experts, L&M upgraded the towers’ building envelope, using StoTherm® ci Essence, a system that combines the quality of StoTherm® technology with a StoGuard® waterproof air barrier incorporating air, water, and vapor control layers and protection against moisture intrusion.

With a new cladding system that incorporates the StoGuard air and moisture barrier, the refurbished Georgia King Village towers are high, dry and handsome.

Sto TurboStick®, a relatively new product, was also used to improve the speed and efficiency of installation.  The product is a ready-to-use, single component polyurethane foam adhesive for securing Sto Insulation boards in StoTherm exterior wall claddings. It helps workers install the boards faster and easier than traditional adhesives.

“We wanted to bring high-end products like the StoTherm system to this project so we could make a positive difference for the people who live there by improving their comfort as well as enhancing the appearance of the towers,” said Elli Himelstein, Project Manager with L+M Development

With eight facades, multiple drops and a difficult design pattern to follow, it was a challenging, project. Nonetheless, Georgia King Village residents were able to remain in their apartments for the duration of all these improvements. Their lives were not disrupted to accomplish the upgrade.

In addition to the high-caliber products provided, Sto also worked with the property management team to mitigate any resident concerns. A technical representative from Sto Corp. was actually dispatched onsite to explain the re-cladding system and construction process. By walking residents through the installment timeline, which included a vision of the final result, they explained that ultimately the system would be more energy efficient, and their homes would be more comfortable and attractive.

The makeover marks the official re-emergence of the residential complex as a symbolic cornerstone in Newark’s West Ward. Today, the positive changes continue, and the adjacent community has a new vitality.  In fact, the McDonald’s restaurant adjacent to Georgia King Village recently renewed its façade and landscaping, and when choosing the exterior wall color, asked L+M for the shade they had used for their renewal project.  The multi-national restaurant chain liked it so much that they matched the Georgia King façade’s gray for their renovations.


What Films Teach Us About Architecture

Architectural documentary films provide invaluable insights into the architects and architecture of yesteryear and today.

Dozens of movies have been made in the past 100-or-so years about famous architects and architectural projects. Arch Daily recently published a piece on architectural documentaries to watch in 2018  and Arch 20, an online architecture & design magazine, recently looked at some of the most enduring and notable architectural documentaries from the archives that are as awe inspiring as they are educational, many of which are laced with human drama and politics.

Whether depicting the life and work of famous architects, past and present, a school of architecture, or a remarkable architectural feat, the new slate of films as well as the 30+ films highlighted by Arch20  have made a memorable impact and may even leave viewers as delighted and breathless as a Hollywood action film would.

From Cairo, the Capital of Egypt  (a 1914 documentary) to Frank Lloyd Wright (1998) a film directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about the famous architect’s life — including his misdeeds — and the surpassing influence he had on American architecture, or Inside Piano (2013) about Renzo Piano’s three most symbolic buildings including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the films reviewed offer insights into architectural visionaries throughout time, as well as a grand international tour of architectural wonders.

Some of the other films reviewed include:

  • Schindlers Hauser (2007) — a “cinematic photo album” directed by Heinz Emigholz, showcasing 40 of the homes Schindler built in Los Angeles between 1921 and 1952. Emigholz also pays tribute to the pioneering work of Modernist Adolf Loos (1870-1933) in the film Loos Ornamental (2008).
  • Antonio Gaudi (1985) — an ethereal visual documentary with minimal narrative that showcases the innovative architect’s work, directed by Hiroshi Teshigarhara.
  • Bird’s Nest – Herzog & de Meuron in China (2008) elaborates on the cultural and political challenges the two architects faced building the new National Stadium for the Olympics in Beijing.
  • If you’re a Rem Koolhaas fan, there are at least three films to choose from: REM (2013) directed by his son; Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2008), and Koolhaas Houselife (2013).
  • Samsara (2011) — filmed over five years, in 25 countries on five continents, directed by Ron Fricke, generated $2.6 million in box office earnings and transports viewers to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes and natural wonders.
  • Unfinished Spaces (2011) — an inspiring story about the National Arts School in Cuba and the political turmoil there in the 1960s, and about how dreams are destroyed but can be revived. The film was a catalyst for restoring the structure.
  • One of the most widely viewed documentaries, Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005), directed by the famous Sydney Pollack, portrays Gehry’s career and creative process and his twin masterpieces: the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles.
  • And finally, while not a documentary, Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang, is a science fiction masterpiece that architectural scholars consider a “must see”. It depicts a futuristic dystopian city severely divided along lines of wealth and class.

Films may be accessed online (Netflix, Amazon, etc.); get the popcorn ready and turn down the lights!


The Cavity Wall Conundrum

Complex, modern building designs require balancing the need to keep the building dry, airtight, thermally efficient, and code compliant. Photo © Vladimir Sazonov Shutterstock.com

A new e-book called the “Evolution of Building Enclosures”, published by Construction Specifier, offers a four-part series, including an article on what the magazine calls “the cavity wall conundrum”. Authored by Todd Skopic, a building science manager, the article provides an in-depth, technical look at the use of open-joint rain screens coupled with unconventional wall orientations. While these configurations can be appealing, they also pose a potentially dangerous combination; abating water ingress is an important issue to address, but these systems must be compliant with building codes, including those that test for combustibility.

Balancing the need to keep the building dry, airtight, thermally efficient, and code compliant can create what Skopic calls a cavity wall conundrum. As more architectural firms push the limits of building design, ensuring a safe and efficient building envelope is becoming more complex. The growing practice of combining open-joint rain screens with unconventional wall orientations, such as a backward-sloping configuration, offers a prime example.

In such structures, design teams want to prevent water ingress, but they also need to follow the latest building codes. Staying compliant with certain ones, such as the energy code, complicates matters by introducing certain materials that increase potential safety risks.

Managing water with building enclosures involves the three Ds: deflection, drainage, and drying. Open-joint rain screen systems offer an increasingly popular means to achieve the three Ds and behind every open-joint rain screen, is an air and moisture barrier to defend against water ingress. All of these solutions are subject to and must comply with an abundance of codes and regulations.

The 2012 International Building Code (IBC) requires buildings in Climate Zones 4 to 7 to have a continuous air barrier, which in most cases also takes the form of a water-resistive barrier. The 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), is also driving the use of continuous insulation (ci), which in some cases is combustible. It needs to comply with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 285 – a standard fire-test method for evaluating the fire propagation characteristics of exterior, non-loadbearing wall assemblies containing combustible components.

In other words, today’s design teams are trying to design building envelopes that are watertight, airtight, thermally efficient to meet code requirements, and to be NFPA 285-compliant. Solving this ‘cavity wall conundrum’ is possible, but it requires some familiarity with the competing design challenges and different industry standards.

This in-depth, technical article discusses rain screen design, and the standards for managing air and water, in context of the codes for continuous insulation (ci), air barriers, and water-resistive barriers, as well as life safety issues related to combustibility. For instance, how do cladding attachments impact a system? What is the the value of a continuous insulation system with adhesive-backed sheet membrane that isn’t penetrated? What are the differences between sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF) and expanded polystyrene (EPS) when used as insulation in cavity wall assemblies, vis a vis thermoplastic extruded polystyrene (XPS) which is a thermoplastic foam rigid insulation board? And how do these compare with mineral wool or fire-enhanced polyisocyanurate (polyiso) mineral wool in performance and code compliance? And what are all the codes?

Solving the Conundrum

Building designers are increasingly aware of the competing requirements and standards involved in modern cavity wall design. They should know continuous air barriers and insulation systems, along with NFPA 285 code and other compliance issues, which must be balanced with the goal of keeping water out of a building. Achieving this balance will help designers create the safest, most effective building envelope possible and thus solve the cavity wall conundrum. And on the building materials front, manufacturers need to test all their products to ensure they meet the extensive industry standards and testing.

The other chapters in the new e-book cover the benefits of specifying complete masonry veneer wall systems, defining and testing construction tape and flashing durability, and moisture in new concrete roof decks.


A New Era for Modular Design & Construction

The Harrah's Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where modular Sto Panel technology and off-site construction played a role.

According to a recent white paper written by FMI’s* Sabine Hoover and Jay Snyder, today’s modular design and construction trends are poised to pull the engineering and construction (E&C) sector out of its 50-year lethargy and launch a new era for the industry.

Capital projects today are getting more complex and many of these projects face chronic cost overruns and schedule delays. In fact, according to The Economist, over 90% of all global infrastructure projects are either over budget or late. The authors maintain that modular design and construction can alleviate these costly issues.

While offsite construction has been around for decades – including prefabrication, modularization, preassembly or offsite multi-trade fabrication — according to these industry pundits, it has only recently emerged as a critical method for delivering projects faster, safer and cheaper in today’s labor-constrained environment. That being said, according to the FMI researchers, only 37% of owner organizations in the E&C sector are embracing offsite construction; nearly 50% still opt for traditional design-build approaches, which do not allow for optimal project planning and execution of offsite construction.

Despite advanced technologies and digital tools that now allow firms to leverage data to address these issues, and despite the fact that there is a $1.6 trillion productivity gap in the construction industry (that much additional value could be added to the sector’s revenues via higher productivity), the U.S. is experiencing declining productivity in this sector, with China and South Africa making dramatic leaps and taking the overall lead in this category.

The authors point out that the E&C industry’s resistance to change could “cost it dearly”. It is not an industry that has traditionally embraced disruptive innovation. Most firms have lacked the vision, strategic initiative, will, expertise –  and most importantly, the financial capital to innovate. There simply hasn’t been a significant return on investment or incentive to innovate. Even so, if firms don’t learn the art of managing change and take advantage of new business models and new technologies such as modular design and construction, they will be eclipsed by those that do.

FMI sees a tremendous amount of venture capital directed into innovative sectors of the E&C industry. “Private equity firms are ramping up investments and seeking new niches that are helping firms to change corporate direction,” says Alex Miller of FMI Capital Advisors. With companies like Google, Marriott, Starbucks and Autodesk embracing offsite construction, investment money is looking to revolutionize the industry.

While FMI claims that over half of all E&C firms expect more change in the next 5 years than in the last 50 years combined, the question remains: will they change? Will they adopt a new framework for success? Will they collaborate on a more streamlined approach to the design-manufacture-construct process? Can construction manufacturers leverage technology to reinvent the entire construction value equation and drive innovation?

There is plenty of evidence that leveraging off-site construction and modular design can mitigate the impact of weather delays and create safer on-site construction environments, as well as improve productivity, increase project efficiency, and enhance collaboration between offsite fabricators and general contractors. It remains to be seen however, if E&C firms can reinvent themselves, not only to keep up with the competition, but to stay relevant in the future.

The authors offer the analogy that disruption is more like a hurricane than a tornado – destructive but offering sufficient time to respond if industry participants are willing to do so. They believe it is in fact possible to respond and survive. Ironically, disruption is rarely led by current industry experts or insiders, but rather it is generated by innovators from outside the industries they disrupt.

*FMI is a management consulting and investment banking firm focused in the E&C, infrastructure and built environment sectors.


Sto Introduces New Air Barrier & Waterproofing Product — RapidGuard

Sto has introduced a new, state-of-the art air barrier and waterproofing material.

Now you can stay ahead of fast-paced construction schedules with a new easy-to-use air and moisture barrier product from Sto. Sto RapidGuard™ is a single-component, multi-use air barrier and waterproofing material that seals rough openings, seams, sheathing joints, cracks, penetrations, and transitions in above-grade wall construction.  Introduced this week; it is now available in the US and Canada.

“The material is fast-drying, and its flexible coverage makes it easy to provide high-quality air and moisture control across multiple applications,” said Karine Galla, Product Manager for Sto Corp.  “It gets the job done quickly and enables applicators to finish their work despite potentially adverse weather conditions.”

RapidGuard works seamlessly with Sto waterproof air barrier membranes, including Sto Gold Coat® Sto EmeraldCoat® Sto AirSeal® and StoGuard VaporSeal®

Costly shutdowns due to rain can be avoided because Sto RapidGuard adheres to damp substrates without blistering or increasing drying time. The product can even be installed in near-freezing temperatures.

The innovative new product has excellent elongation, allowing it to bridge cracks and seams in wall construction without tearing or compromising the established air and moisture barrier.  It works seamlessly with Sto waterproofing air barrier membranes, and is compatible with concrete, concrete masonry, brick, gypsum sheathing, wood, galvanized material, and cement-based sheathings. Because it is a single-component product, there is no need for tape, mesh or fabric; it can be easily applied without the use of special tools or applicator training.


AWCI Celebrates 100 Years with Centennial Book

AWCI has published a history of the wall & ceiling industry in a new book celebrating the organization's Centennial anniversary.

In March, the AWCI (Association of the Wall & Ceiling Industry) celebrated its 100th Anniversary in at its annual convention and INTEX Construction Expo in Orlando, Florida. Part of the celebration was to mark the publication of a new book to commemorate the organization’s birth in 1918; the special edition Centennial Book provides an historical overview of the wall and ceiling industry during the past 100 years.

The handsome, large-format book documents a century of industry growth with a decade-by-decade synopsis of the wall and ceiling industry, with many vintage and contemporary photographs that also tell the story.  As illustrated in the new book, wall and ceiling construction has always been a basic service; it survived the ravages of a turbulent century, continues to innovate and remains a robust industry today.

Sto Corp. was the proud sponsor of the 1920’s section of the Centennial Book; a memorable decade that started with the introduction of Prohibition and ended with the stock market crash in 1929, with flappers, Lindbergh’s pioneering trans-Atlantic flight, and the migration of Americans from farms to cities providing memorable milestones. On the wall and ceiling front, Gold Bond gypsum wallboard was introduced, and the labor movement grew in strength. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) had 5 million union members in 1920; higher pay and shorter workdays were contested issues, and skilled tradesmen were in short supply. (Sound familiar?) In 1926, 2,500 Chicago journeymen plasterers went on strike demanding a $2/day wage increase. Overall, each decade in the book provides many insights in the development of the wall and ceiling design and construction business.

As told in this industry memoir, the AWCI has taken a leading role in setting standards since its inception, facilitating union agreements, protecting and promoting the trade. As a forum for unity and direction, the AWCI has helped transform the industry into what it is today and should be applauded for its industry leadership and support for superior building standards over the past 100 years.