I have long been frustrated by the tendency to document completed projects in a series of photographs taken right after project completion, when everything is buffed and polished and looking its majestic best. A professional photographer with a large-format camera rents a man-lift to access some vantage points that no pedestrian or building occupant will ever experience and produces spectacular high-dynamic-range images that look somehow otherworldly, like a building on Neptune.
I personally find a building much more engaging during the process of construction, when it is still partially opened up, the structural frame is revealed, the cladding is crawling its way up, and a tower crane hovers over all like a crown. So, in this book, I have made an effort to include images documenting fabrication, testing, mockups, and installation. It is a challenge; what you discover when you examine such material is that while some of the images are absolutely stunning, most of them are unusable because they were taken with a cell phone or small-format pocket camera, and the images are postage stamp size when printed.
It is a tragedy, and the source of many curses from this author (I have started buying decent cameras for people who spend a lot of time on the building site, and I have begun teaching basic digital photography classes). I did, however, manage to find a few images that reflect pieces of the fabrication and installation process. But in the end, the intent to feature process over finished project may well have been in vain; there was no way to avoid using the amazing photographs of pros like Rainer Viertlböck and Paúl Rivera, and great photography combined with the inherent sexiness of SGFs will no doubt overshadow the crusty rawness of the jobsite photos.
The case studies started with a class exercise I gave in a course I had the great pleasure to teach at the School of Architecture, University of Southern California. The course, titled “Skin and Bones,” focused on SGF technology and the use of glass in the building skin. The class of 20 consisted mostly of graduate students, with a scattering of undergraduate and PhD students. We quickly discovered that they were all equal in their ignorance of glass as a building material.
We had great fun exploring glass and the glass systems and structures that comprise SGF technology. We worked out a comprehensive strategy for the case studies, which we embodied in a format that included everything from site and climate analysis to concept development and sustainability features. The structural system, glass, and the glass system were to be the core content of each case study, but I was amazed to discover the diversity of approach the students pursued. Some became immersed in climate analysis, producing pages of colorful charts and graphs.
Others explored the green aspects of the architecture: the in-floor radiant thermal conditioning, the natural ventilation system, the daylighting strategy. Most of them treaded very lightly in the core areas, leaving that work to me with respect to this book and providing me with a clear demonstration of my shortcomings as an instructor. I now know the importance of narrowing the focus! Nonetheless, many of these case studies started with a student, and I want to express my appreciation to all of them for their efforts; we had an extraordinary time with “Skin and Bones.”
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