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Facing forward

on Jan 23, 2013

For the Shining Towers Ramboll developed a cold-bent technique to achieve the complex geometry cost efficiently.
For the Shining Towers Ramboll developed a cold-bent technique to achieve the complex geometry cost efficiently.

Façades are an integral part of any high-rise building, and the increasing scale of the region’s ambitious projects is demanding greater innovation on the part of engineers and astute consideration of the materials used and their implications at height. By John Bambridge

Recent tower fires in the UAE have in particular exposed shortcomings in the industry in terms of adherence to regulations, but it has also highlighted the importance of a thorough design, engineering and build process not just for primary structures but for the façades and envelope systems as well.

As projects restart and flow of new projects recommences a growing awareness about façades is being reflected both in dedicated testing facilities and in the emergence of dedicated façade companies.

Agnes Koltay is the director of Koltay Façades, a specialist firm that Koltay established in May 2011 after more than a decade spent engineering façade systems.

Describing her field Koltay says: “Façade engineering is kind of a niche discipline, mostly because there is almost no formal education for it. There are virtually no textbooks for façades, so first of all there’s always something new, and secondly it’s such a complex discipline.

Mostly you start off as an architect or as a structural engineer and through experience become a façade engineer, and this is actually what you need to deliver a project - a mixed discipline team with people from structural engineering and architecture backgrounds.

“You don’t necessarily need a façade engineer for a low-rise building or a villa or a fairly typical smaller building - the contractor is perfectly qualified to build it out of the design intent drawings without any customised design or pre-engineering, but for a bigger project the quantities and budget may be such that they allow for the investigation of something new, something interesting, like maybe the structural use of glass.”

Koltay Façades’ next project, and the firm’s first design project in Dubai, is a $10.89m research and production facility and headquarters for Pharmax Pharmaceuticals, on which Koltay is ready to deliver something that is “interesting, new and unusual.”

The façade engineering consultancy firm has been subcontracted by UAE-based architect Tarek Qaddumi. The firm has been tasked with producing an 8,360m2 translucent box, breaking the traditional black box mould of pharmaceutical plants.

Koltay enthuses: “Finding the optimal solution for a cost-efficient façade that performs well in the harsh hot local climate and delivers the targeted aesthetics of a glowing translucent box needs some time.”

On another project, the recently completed Shining Towers project in Abu Dhabi, the irregular shape of the towers required plans for the façade engineering to be integrated from the early design phase, which started in 2008.

The main works contractor, Target Engineering Construction Company, took over the site in September 2009 and continued construction up to ground floor, at which point Ramboll, which has had a specialist façade division ever since its acquisition of Whitbybird, took over project supervision.

The twin-tower project was conceptualised by H&H Architects, “as a pair of dancers moving together without touching,” according to a project brief by Ramboll. Abhijeet Kulkami, Ramboll associate director of structural engineering says: “The leaning effect of the office tower and the curved residential tower with a non-concentric core produced considerable challenges in the design.”

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