The Challenge: 

Can a façade system provide not only thermal resistance, but also a high degree of transparency?

The Solution: 

KieranTimberlake Associates has developed a strategy to achieve high performance in façade systems over a series of three projects: the Melvin J. and Claire Levine Hall at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; the Loblolly House, a vacation home on Taylor's Island, Md.; and the Sculpture Building and Gallery at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. In each project, the architects took a slightly different approach based upon the specific needs of the site and program and also upon the lessons learned from previous projects.

James Timberlake and Stephen Kieran lead a practice that has conducted a research study into active façades over a series of projects.
James Timberlake and Stephen Kieran lead a practice that has conducted a research study into active façades over a series of projects.

The earliest of the three projects, Levine Hall, was completed in 2001 and employs a double-glazed curtain wall. The space between the two layers of glazing serves as a return-air plenum for the HVAC system. As a result, the interior glass wall is maintained at room temperature, reducing radiative heat loss, and the inside of the building remains comfortable.

The 2006 Loblolly House uses a double skin, designed to fit a residential setting. KieranTimberlake placed two sets of folding doors 18 inches apart to create an interstitial space that is sealed at the top and permeable at the bottom. The exterior layer of the double façade consists of translucent polycarbonate hangar doors that fold horizontally. The interior layer comprises a set of glass doors that fold vertically. The differences between the two layers allow the façade to operate in three distinct configurations, each with its own thermal performance: (1) Both sets of doors can be opened completely, allowing breezes to enter the house directly; (2) the interior doors can be closed with the exterior doors folded up and acting as a sunshade; or (3) both sets of doors can be closed, with the air in the interior plenum being heated by the sun to create a thermal blanket.

The third and most recent building, a 60,000-square-foot sculpture school at Yale, opened this year. Its thermal performance needed to meet the demands of the extreme northeastern climate and still admit plenty of natural light for the artists working within. Standard ventilating-cavity double-skin walls were discounted because of thermal concerns during the harsh summer and winter months. Instead, the team devised a system that includes 8-foot operable windows, triple-glazed low-E vision panels, and a translucent double-cavity spandrel panel. The warm air trapped in the cavities creates a thermal layer to increase performance, and the entire façade admits light into the interior.

The R+D jury appreciated the engineering of the systems and the team's commitment to exploring different options and technologies within a small subsection of the firm's buildings.

Juror Eric Owen Moss was impressed overall, but a bit disappointed that the designs don't look further ahead. “The basic linguistics, the form, and the modules belong to a discussion that is 100 years old,” Moss said. “I think the art of it really has to do with the sophistication of making the systems and the versatility of them.” The jury was also impressed by how the firm learns from its experiences.

“What's great about this is that it isn't trying to make a product,” said juror Reed Kroloff. “This is a firm that is investigating an entire way of working on buildings.” KieranTimberlake continues its research long after the construction of each façade is complete. All three projects are monitored to make sure that performance is consistent and systems are working as intended. Any unexpected side effects are analyzed for reference in upcoming projects.


PROJECT Melvin J. and Claire Levine Hall

CLIENT University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

ARCHITECT KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia (James Timberlake, Richard Maimon, Steven Johns, project team)

PROJECT Loblolly House

CLIENT Stephen Kieran

ARCHITECT KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia (Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, David Riz, Marilia Rodrigues, Johnathan Ferrari, Alex Gauzza, Jeff Goldstein, Shawn Protz, George Ristow, Mark Rhoads, project team)

PROJECT Sculpture Building and Gallery at Yale University

CLIENT Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

ARCHITECT KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia (Stephen Kieran, Jamie Unkefer, Kate Czembor, Johann Mordhorst, Zinat Yusufzai, Jeremy Leman, project team)