Facade Alterations by Bruner/Cott Turn Steam Plant Inside Out

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Bruner/Cott renovated a 1925 McKim, Mead & White steam plant to create a new student event space for Amherst College. (David Lamb)

Bruner/Cott renovated a 1925 McKim, Mead & White steam plant to create a new student event space for Amherst College. (David Lamb)

Renovation transforms decommissioned McKim Mead & White building into campus event space.

When Amherst College decided to convert a former steam plant into a student event space, the choice likely struck some observers as odd. Designed in 1925 by McKim, Mead & White, the coal-burning plant was decommissioned in the 1960s; since the 1980s, it had been used as a makeshift garage for ground equipment.  The facade of the neglected building needed to be opened up to reveal its potential while respecting its good bones. “It wasn’t in great shape, but it wasn’t in terrible shape,” said Bruner/Cott‘s Dana Kelly. “Impressively enough, the school recognized that it had qualities that could be harnessed for a new student space.” The brick building’s industrial aesthetic was a particular draw, said Kelly, whose firm has spearheaded renovations at the nearby MASS MoCA (itself a former industrial complex) since the museum opened in 1999. For Amherst College, Bruner/Cott took a similar approach, balancing preservation and alteration to support the new program without disrupting the historic building’s essential character.

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Thorsten Helbig on Engineering Cutting-Edge Facades

Knippers Helbig provided custom parametric modeling, full facade engineering service, and structural design for Massimiliano Fuskas' Shenzhen International Airport. (Courtesy Massimiliano Fuksas)

Knippers Helbig provided custom parametric modeling, full facade engineering service, and structural design for Massimiliano Fuskas’ Shenzhen International Airport. (Courtesy Massimiliano Fuksas)

As an engineer, Thorsten Helbig, co-founder of Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering, has a unique perspective on facade design. “We conceptualize a facade as an integral part of a whole, as part of a larger system,” he explained. Helbig, who will deliver the morning keynote address at next month’s Facades+ NYC conference, identified two focal points. The first is the relationship of the building envelope to structure. The second is performance: “What can the facade offer back to the building?” Helbig asked

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Facade Expert Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido on the Perils of Homogenous Design

Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou, China. (Courtesy JAHN)

Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou, China. (Courtesy JAHN)

According to Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, president of Chicago-based JAHN, contemporary facade design neglects one of the building envelope’s foremost responsibilities: storytelling. “There is a focus now on using the building massing to convey the key message,” he said. “However, I think it’s through the facade that we can bring a more compelling narrative about how the building functions.” As an example, Gonzalez-Pulido pointed to Mies van der Rohe’s One IBM Plaza, which he can see from his office. “When you look at the mechanical floors, they’re treated differently,” he said. “In the lobby, the glass is different. This is actually the responsibility of the facade—it’s more than a piece of glass and metal to cover the building.” Read More

Video> Facade design experts discuss sustainability, energy efficiency

Today’s facade designers cannot afford to ignore the question of sustainability, and in particular energy efficiency. James O’Callaghan (Eckersley O’Callaghan), William Logan (Israel Berger & Associates), and Will Laufs (LaufsED) sat down with our partners at Enclos during April’s facades+ NYC conference to talk about the push and pull between aesthetics and environmental performance in building envelopes. Top AEC professionals will continue the conversation at facades+ Chicago on July 24–25. For more information or to register, visit the conference website. Early Bird registration ends June 29.

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