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Mon 6 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Fads for clads

ME Architect looks at some of the new developments in cladding that have become available in the Middle East.

Fads for clads
PV panels can be both functional and aesthetic.
Fads for clads
Futuristic cladding from James Law Cybertecture. (Image courtesy of James Law Cybertecture).
Fads for clads
Futuristic cladding from James Law Cybertecture. (Image courtesy of James Law Cybertecture).
Fads for clads
Cladding on James Law’s Cybertecture Egg in Mumbai. (Image courtesy of James Law Cybertecture).
Fads for clads
Ceramic cladding on two projects from Alshaya Building. (Image courtesy of Alshaya Trading Co.).
Fads for clads
Ceramic cladding on two projects from Alshaya Building. (Image courtesy of Alshaya Trading Co.).
Fads for clads
Frittered glass on F+P’s Copenhagen Zoo. (Image courtesy of Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images).
Fads for clads
Zaha Hadid’s The Opus in Business Bay in Dubai. (Image courtesy of ZHA).
Fads for clads
Reflective glass and louvered cladding in Dubai, UAE.
Fads for clads
The innovative laminated glass facade on Siauliu Arena in Lithuania.(Image courtesy of IQ Interlayers).
Fads for clads
The innovative laminated glass facade on Siauliu Arena in Lithuania.(Image courtesy of IQ Interlayers).

ME Architect looks at some of the new developments in cladding that have become available in the Middle East.

Cladding is one of the most important decisions architects will make when designing and building a project.

Apart from the obvious provision of shelter, cladding has the potential to increase or decrease energy consumption, generate additional power and increase the overall life-cycle of a building. More than that though, cladding helps to form the identity of a building.

Jean Nouvel's L'Institut du Monde Arabe clad in anything other than its intricate and brilliant patterned screen would be a travesty. Likewise, Frank Gehry wouldn't be Frank Gehry if his façades lacked their signature combination of unique material and bizarre form.

Though they both evoke equal parts shock, awe and disappointment, Japan's Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion and the Taj Mahal in India would be unimaginable without their carefully chosen cladding.

In the Middle East, architects are usually contracted by developers who are eager to see something that's never been done.

They are looking for something no one has ever seen and, to that end, they push architects and engineers to step out of the proverbial box and create something unique. MEA looks at cladding solutions that can help architects do just that.

Ventilated Ceramic Cladding: The best kept industry secret

A light, natural, water-resistant product that is strong, sustainable, ventilated and easy to install sounds like a perfect cladding solution.

More durable and lighter than stone, and far more energy efficient than aluminium, there is a façade on the market that can look like any facade you could imagine, however is not being utilised because of one three-syllable word and a stream of perceptions.

Ceramic. A word most people associate with glazed bathroom tiles and pottery is in fact an innovative means of cladding that could be used to great effect within the Middle East.

"People have not caught on to this cladding technique; because when I speak to developers and architects about ceramic cladding their reaction is ‘I don't want the outside of the building to look like the inside of a bathroom'.

They are thinking about small pieces of ceramics on bathroom walls and floors, but there is far more range than that", said Leonard Fernandes, Technical Sales Manager at Alshaya.

With ventilated ceramic cladding, also known as porcelain stone cladding, slabs of about 2m X 60cm in size are used. The slabs are created from clay, and mechanically compressed to create a very strong final product.

"[Clay] is a natural material. When you talk about granite, or stone cladding, you excavate it, which is depleting the resources. Clay is abundantly available, so it is sustainable, and as the ceramic material is artificially made its technical properties are far superior to that of stone", said Fernandes.

The ventilation properties of ceramic cladding are an important feature that sets it apart from traditional facades.

The substructure of the ceramic cladding is very similar to that of aluminium, however unlike aluminium, which conducts heat and traps the heat inside the building envelope, the ceramic slabs are held together by discreet clips, creating a ventilation gap around each ceramic slab that "allows the building to breathe", says Fernandes. Adding to the ventilation gaps, the ceramic material itself transfers a lot less heat than does aluminium. This is a particularly important benefit within the hot Middle East climate says Fernandes, explaing that, "Ceramic cladding does not react to any harsh climatic environment; it does not react to heat like aluminium does.

Aluminium cladding is not ventilated and the material itself is a high thermal conductor of heat. Aluminium absorbs the outside heat of, let's say, 45 degrees and this increases to 80 degrees, which is the temperature that is transferred into the building."

The air conditioning costs will therefore be greatly reduced in a building with ventilated ceramic cladding, as the temperature outside will be the same as the temperature inside, and the air conditioning does not have to reduce the heat as dramatically.

Stone is a very popular choice for many architects and developers as the random, natural feel that is created by the discrepancy of each stone is visually appealing. However, high embodied energy and heavy structural loads are inherent limitations in using the material.

"If an architect wants to go with stone, the engineer might think that it is too heavy to be used as a cladding system," explains Fernandes.

"Whereas ceramics is one third the weight of stone, and can be made to look just like stone. Even the randomness of stone can be created effectively through ceramics".

Stone's colour, texture and strength will deteriorate over time because it is a material that will absorb of water and chemicals. Ceramic cladding will last much longer because it is not porous.

"Alshaya gives a warranty of thirty years on the ventilated ceramic cladding," says Fernandes, attesting the fact that "the material itself can withstand harsh climatic conditions."

Gone are the days that ceramics only lined bathroom walls and floors, "You have so much freedom with ceramic cladding", says Fernandes. "As it is artificially made you can create and texture or colour you wish.

While you cannot paint it, you can generate almost any colour because the variety of clays available. The ceramic cladding can be glossy or matte, and can be created to look like stone or even aluminium".

In a region where many people come to live and work for only a couple of years, the speed of the development and the use of materials that look good now, seem to be more important factors than sustainability and the use of more durable, easily maintained products.

While ventilated ceramic cladding has been utilised in Italy, Moscow, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK, and more recently within Al Plaza and The Avenues mall in Kuwait, it has not yet been widely accepted in the UAE.

"Perceptions about ceramic cladding need to change, and that will probably take a long time", said Fernandes.

Architectural aluminium: bespoke solutions

Options for architectural aluminium seem to be ever-changing and, as such, Technal has just released its Unitised Facade, which, compared to conventional aluminium facades, will prove a better material because it offers onsite installation for bespoke applications.

Moreover, unitised facade is mainly a workshop- or factory-oriented product, which allows for improved material performance and heightened building quality.

The Bahrain-based Technal has developed the product specifically to perform well in the Middle Eastern climate, which makes it a bit more feasible as a facade material.As always with aluminium, however, the biggest concern is its high rate of thermal bridging and increased cooling loads on HVAC units. According to Hesham Kameshki, manager of marketing and sales for Technal Aluminium Systems, climate performance is not a challenge for unitised facades.

"It performs very well. All our products at Technal are designed to meet the weather conditions in the [MENA region] in terms of temperature, wind, humidity and salt", explains Kameshki.

"It is also designed to perform well in situations of excessive ultraviolet it is really designed to meet all the weather conditions it might face."

Having supplied aluminium solutions for some of the region's landmark buildings-Al Ferdous Residential Complex, La Cigale Hotel, Al Manaa Twin Towers (Qatar); Durrat Al Bahrain Resort (Bahrain); Jumeirah Lake Tower, DIFC, Old Town Burj Dubai and Palm Jumeirah (Dubai); Al Akaria Plaza Commercial Centre (KSA)-Technal is looking to work with architects on any projects that are particularly challenging in form or function.

According to Kameshki, different types of architecture require different aluminium solutions, so it's crucial for architects to know the exact dimensions for the project they're looking to clad.

Aluminium is often used in horizontal or vertical applications as an aesthetic material, and as such, the Technal facade needs to be appropriately fit and finished to each building or proejct.

Internally, the architect also needs to know the thickness of the aluminium membrane that is being specified, as well as, the overall thickness of the glazing that will be installed in the facade.

Moreover, unitised facades are fixed panels so the architect needs to have the exact dimensions of any opening panels-i.e. design elements, ventilation or fire access-because the panels will need to be prepared before installation and installed onsite by Technal experts.

Solar glass facades: versatile, functional, recyclable

Solar glass is starting to combine functionality and visual design, which is allowing PV systems to be considered for their aesthetics as much as their energy-efficiency.

PV manufacturers like Scheuten Solar Glass utilise the functional aspect of PV systems without compromising building design and in doing so, succeed in offering a suitable technology that is also visually attractive.

PV systems directly convert solar irradiation into electric current without any intermediate thermal, chemical or mechanical steps. No CO2 is released in the transformation of sunlight into energy and no noise is produced.

Furthermore, solar energy is inexhaustible and available in almost any context-1000 kWh irradiation per m² results in solar cells producing around 100 kWh of electrical energy per year.

Whether it's been specified for use on the roof or a facade, Scheuten's Optisol series extends the creative freedom for ambitious architecture while creating eco-friendly power generation.

Especially within the Middle East, where green buildings and responsible design are becoming the mainstream, ecology and aesthetics are equally important.

To that end, Optisol is a facade solution that seems to walk the tightrope between a technical/economic solution and an optimum aesthetic design.

Energy self-sufficiency is being explored by several Middle East architects as the sun is the one resource of which the region has in abundance. Scheuten has gone out of its way to make sure it offers environmentally-responsible options for its users, which often translate to added LEED points.Optisol solar glass is constructed using only ecologically compatible materials-an environmental certification in line with DIN ISO 14001-and Scheuten is the only supplier to accept the return of facade elements for recycling.

Laminated glass facades: new option for an old material

Architectural glass is a product that has been around for thousands of years and has contributed to some of the world's most iconic facades. Its versatility is unparalleled in that it can be bent, coated, fused, sandblasted, tempered, etched and sometimes, laminated.

The main use of laminated glass today is related to the safety or security properties of a laminated glass unit. Besides being purely functional, laminated glass can contribute to structural strength, solar control, acoustic insulation and a limited variety of design options.

"Technically speaking, there are several ways to add function or design to a laminated glass unit," says Andreas Nordmann, CEO of IQ Interlayers FZE. "The most versatile option is not often exploited yet for the architectural use: to add inserts between the bonding interlayers in the laminated glass sandwich."

Currently, the materials being used to laminate glass, the traditional interlayers, have limitations that preempt the use of more than one insert per sandwich of glass.

Freedom of design with regard to inserts is limited by the chemical compatibility of the materials, UV stability and necessary bonding strength, among other factors.

However, new advances in interlayer technology is overcoming many of these limitations and paving the way for the future of evermore innovative uses of glass for facades.

Siauliu Arena in Lithuania is an example of holographic glass that not only creates an exciting facade but also combines with the interlayer to improve the building's structural strength, provide IR insulation, increase impact resistance and improve acoustic performance.

The holographic film, activated by artificial or natural light, breaks down the light into the colors of its spectrum. Depending on the light, angle and viewing point the façade shines in different colors and intensity.

New advances in laminated glass have allowed holographic inserts to show pictures, text or redirect light to offer new design options to one of the industry's oldest materials.

Four questions for Agnes Koltay, Whitby & Bird’s associate director for facades1. What is challenging about working with facades in the ME?

The local experience cannot be gained from books as there is little literature on hot climate façade engineering. It is a new field of engineering and even newer in climates like Dubai. We rely heavily on our local and global knowledge when coming up with the most suitable façade solutions.

2. What's the most innovative façade you've ever worked on?

What we are doing in the Opus project is quite new. There are only a few instances worldwide where this type of glazing was actually used on buildings, and will be definitely the first application in the UAE. Designed by Zaha Hadid and developed by Omniyat, The Opus resembles an ice cube with the core melted out. This fully glazed freeform void is composed from roof, wall and soffit cladding systems, using flat, cold bent, single curved and spherical bent glass units. 3. What makes it so innovative?

It is very complex, as it needs to look like a glass surface, but meanwhile it is a wall-cladding system and a roof-cladding system and it has flood glazing and it has double glass glazing, so basically it combines different materials with different glass treatments and different systems, made to look like it is one continuous smooth surface. We had to borrow from automotive glazing technology to provide workable solution for The Opus.

4. Is W&B working with Zaha Hadid on any other futuristic facades?

On the Office Complex project for Citadel Capital in Cairo, we are looking at a special printed interlayer to be laminated into the exterior lite of the double glazed unit. The interlayer allows for different designs to be printed on the exterior side with no visual impact on the interior.

The interior environment will be neutral; the glass will appear evenly transparent when looking from the inside out. The glazing assembly has excellent solar performance, actually, the MEP designer made us confirm and reconfirm three times that the expected solar gain is really that low.

For the same building, we are currently looking at glossy and lightweight Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) custom shaped cladding elements.

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