A façade technology think tank

A look inside the R&D activities at Enclos’ Advanced Technology Studio
June 21, 2011

The Enclos Advanced Technology Studio in Los Angeles, www.enclos.com, is a small, unassuming storefront in downtown L.A. Upon walking through the glass doors, however, visitors discover a glass-centric, creative universe where a team of diverse professionals address the top concerns of the rapidly changing glass industry.

"In the past, what glazing companies have called [research and development] has been confined to something that needed to be done for a specific project," says Mic Patterson, director of strategic development for Enclos, who is part of the Advanced Technology Studio. "True R&D—true research done independent of a project—has been very rare. That's what we wanted to do here at the studio. We recognize that this is different from what our production design and engineering departments are doing. And we recognize this as an opportunity to represent the capabilities of our industry to architects and general contractors."

The studio serves as a think tank for advanced façade technology and R&D, and the physical space looks its part. The white walls at the front of the loft warehouse space are lined with various cable fittings, tall glazed fins and architecturally exposed structural steel options. Towards the back of the studio, the walls are papered in giant sheets demonstrating R&D ideas—some likely to become reality, others simply brainstorming efforts to address industry concerns. The team has hung poster-sized images and schematics of real-life solutions to Enclos projects, above tables displaying 3D models of glazing components used in those projects.

The studio space is open, encouraging communication and discussion among team members, who sit at desks throughout the center of the long room. The team is talented and diverse, hailing from backgrounds in graphic design, animation, computer programing, and on-site project management, to name a few. The work they're producing for Enclos, and the industry, is cutting edge. Enclos' Advanced Technology Studio is tasked first-and-foremost with addressing the emerging challenges and demands for the glazing industry, Patterson says.

R&D central

The architectural industry is placing increasing demands on façade systems for improved performance and appearance. The studio's R&D activities include acoustic and thermal performance improvements, investigations into energy-saving façade designs, and gains in façade blast performance.

"Look at rapid climate change and increasing residential density," Patterson says. "This brings up acoustic and thermal issues, concerns of comfort, when you have people living in a building, rather than just working in a building. ... The entire glass industry is being presented with an unprecedented opportunity to respond to these new demands. The Advanced Technology Studio is our strategy for responding to those escalating demands."

One specific glazing type of growing interest in North America that the Advanced Technology Studio is investigating is double-skin facades. "There is an ongoing debate in our industry about whether these approaches to building, such as double-skin facades, are economically viable," Patterson says. "But, we could be in a situation in the future where we're looking at oil that's $200 or $300 a barrel. If that happens, energy performance becomes critical, and double-skin facades become an important component in terms of solving that problem."

Another recent trend, prompted by sustainability and economic concerns, is retrofitting, and the studio team is working to develop glazing systems designed for future retrofits. "One problem we're facing in the industry is that in the past, no one anticipated the need for retrofitting. We're left with aging facades that are some 40 years old that never worked that well in the first place, and no consideration was ever given to how to retrofit that system down the road," Patterson says. "We are looking at that aspect of glazing design—systems that allow for future retrofit, or that can be easily adapted."

The studio's team also addresses the more nuts and bolts issues of Enclos' operations. For example, the studio is researching solutions to reduce construction waste. "It's not a sexy area, but it's an important area, especially from a sustainability standpoint," Patterson says. Material waste and packing become a clean-up issue on the job site. "The site is trashed, and everything gets landfilled," he says. "The bedrock of sustainability is reduce and recycle. We keep an eye on that in all we do. For the specific concern of material waste, we are looking at ways to minimize the packaging of our materials, or creating packaging that can be shipped to the job site and shipped back for reuse or recycle.

The studio is also creating solutions for cleaning exterior glass. "One of the top three questions we get from designers is, 'How do you clean it?'" Patterson says. "So, we're looking for novel ways to clean glass for various system types."

Sometimes the brainstorming activities go nowhere. "They're just creative problem solving exercises. We develop a half dozen different solutions, and from those select any that appear promising for future development," Patterson says. "Then we'll move into prototyping."

Knowledge for the industry

If the glass industry doesn't keep up with the changing demands of the building industry, it will get left behind. As a result, the Advanced Technology Studio shares findings from almost all of its R&D efforts with the industry at large. "The goal of the studio is to take what we're learning to the market," Patterson says. "Some things we hold close to the chest, but the bulk of what we're doing we're sharing with industry."

The company re-launched its website, www.enclos.com, to in part, "take what we're learning and put it out there," Patterson says. The website includes technical content about products and façade performance, in addition to complete descriptions of Enclos projects.

Additionally, the Advanced Technology Studio publishes much of the findings from its technical research. The studio published its Façade TecNotes Series in 2009, nine volumes of technical reports that address topics including skylights, healthcare projects, building information modeling, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. In 2010, the studio began publishing its Insight book, a compilation of R&D white-paper reports. The first publication addressed topics such as the impact of 3D visualization on the building facade, rapid prototyping, metal panel deflection and architecturally exposed structural steel. Several volumes of Façade TecNotes Series, and the 2010 edition of the Insight Series, are available on the Enclos website http://www.enclos.com/library-pdf. Patterson also recently published a book, "Structural Glass Facades and Enclosures," that serves as a 250-page guide to structural facades.

Finally, the Advanced Technology Studio employees present reports of their R&D efforts at building industry events, including the 2011 Glass Performance Days in Finland.

Project-specific development

The Advanced Technology Studio dedicates part of its efforts to Enclos-specific projects that involve high-tech components and sometimes new materials. "These are not your conventional design build bids, but projects where we are brought in early to help develop design solutions," Patterson says. "We're responding to questions of health and safety, to means and methods, including thinking about how a system can be made and erected."

One major aspect of the studio's contributions on specific projects includes developing methods to communicate design solutions, through 3D renderings, video animations and rapid prototyping. "All of this is critical when you're dealing with complex designs and newer materials," Patterson says.

Enclos is seeing a growing number of projects that require innovation from the Advanced Technology Studio. "This is increasingly happening, which is fueling growth of the studio," Patterson says. As a result, Enclos is working to set up another studio in Manhattan.