Despite rising fears of a diminished role for architecture in new construction, Faulders Studio principal Thom Faulders embraces his role as a building envelope specialist.
As the AEC industry increasingly moves toward specialization and compartmentalization of building design, many fear for architectureâs diminishing role in the built environment. âThe multiple foci at the core of specialization have given rise to a world that is advancing while fragmenting,â wrote architects Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, in Refabricating Architecture (McGraw-Hill, 2004). âWe applaud the advancement, but deplore a fragmentation that is no longer unavoidable and so needlessly diminishes architecture.â
A common complaint among architects involved in speculative developments, for example, is that their creativity is often relegated to the faĂ§ade while other stakeholders design the building structure, services, and interiors. This restrained scope contrasts sharply with the responsibilities of the premodern master builder, who directed all aspects of a buildingâs design and construction. While the sense of loss due to diminished agency is understandable, architectsâ apprehension in this case also suggests a disdain for building envelope design as a self-contained practice, or as a purely ornamental form of design.
Thom Faulders, principal of Oakland, Calif.âbased Faulders Studio, offers an alternative perspective. Rather than viewing envelope design as a limitation, he sees it as an opportunity. Over the studioâs 22-plus year tenure, Faulders has amassed a notable collection of faĂ§ade-dominant projects, including the multilayered skin of the Airspace Tokyo multifamily building and the mineral-accreting Geotube Tower proposal in Dubai. âIt stands to reason that a higher percentage of an urban population will have some kind of experience or engagement with a building's faĂ§ade, much greater than the percentage of those occupying a building's spaces contained within,â Faulders notes. âIn this framework, I don't see being relegated to working on the outside of a building as being a limiting factor for the architect."
Although Faulders Studio is not a faĂ§ade consultancy in the traditional sense, the office continues to push the expressive potential of the building envelope, most recently with Wynwood Garage faĂ§ade in Miami. Designed by local firm Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners Architecture, the 250,000-square-foot, eight-story parking garage includes ground-level retail and a single level of commercial offices at top. Located within Miamiâs Wynwood Arts District, a creative destination known for its street art collection, the Wynwood Garage possesses ample surface area for making a dramatic statement in dialogue with its context. Given the commission to design the buildingâs faĂ§ade, Faulders created a visually striking urban canvas with perforated aluminum panels. A high-contrast pattern vaguely reminiscent of soap bubbles contained within a box (although more angular and distorted) connects the buildingâs many floors while obscuring the individual parking levels from the outside. Thin aluminum panels protrude from the seams between the âbubbles,â adding visual depth to the surface.
âHere, surface touches space in all directions, and like the shared membranes of foams and bubbles, the building skin is in direct contact to the proximities of interior and exterior spaces,â Faulders says. The lack of repetition and multiscalar qualities of the pattern distort the viewerâs comprehension of the building program and size. The pattern also adjusts with the height above ground: âDelineated outlines are more expansive higher up, and address visual registration from a distance,â Faulders explains. "At closer proximities the faĂ§adeâs pattern blends with the urban texture of the neighborhood; and nearer to street level, focused areas of articulation guide the eye downward to pedestrian street activities.â The envelope design intentionally lacks a sense of closure; it is what Faulders describes as âan open-ended condition that is never at rest.â
In a metropolitan setting like Miami, Faulders considers the cladding to be an urban project first and an architectural project second. This approach was promoted in the 1960s by late British architect Cedric Price, who recognized the inherent uncertainty of the built environmentâand its relationship to its original programsâover time. âInbuilt flexibility or its alternative, planned obsolescence, can be satisfactorily achieved only if the time factor is incl