Facade-product specification is becomingly increasingly sophisticated
Cladding has come a long way in terms of development, and the new 50mm flat-face panel introduced into the market this year by Rigidal has proven a hit.
“The Centria product has proved hugely popular so far with consultants and main contractors recognising the benefit of a single-source façade solution,” says Neil Doe, Formawall product manager at Rigidal.
“We recognised a niche in the market for a well-engineered flat wall solution. The market needed a new approach as many schemes with locally-sourced solutions were starting to look tired,” he adds.
Other competitors have jumped on the band wagon. Doe, however, sees this as an advantage for both his company and the sector. “For us, this is really good news,” he says.
“It seems odd to be excited about the competition launching a rival product, but it does go some way to demonstrate that we timed the demand right. I have long been an advocate of a bit of healthy competition, and in this case ours comes with a huge marketing budget and well-known brand name.
“Rather than affect our business, we are confident that the competitors’ presence in the region will simply raise awareness and demand for a flat wall solution, which is something we can offer from a local source,” says Doe.
Paul Haslam, business development manager at Multiforms, which has an architectural façade division, concurs. “As the downturn has affected a lot of companies, we now see more competition from the larger companies venturing into the middle value project range of $60m to $100m. The market has flattened, and contracts are being chased by all major players,” says Haslam.
In terms of sector development, there has been an increase in demand for firewall designs, whereby the façade system acts as a fire barrier. However, Doe says cladding companies need to update their testing regimes in terms of fire-testing standards.
In the past, FM4880 was the benchmark for polyurethane foam systems. But this standard has since changed, and FM4880 now only applies to internal wall solutions. “The new benchmark for testing is actually FM4881 for external wall systems, but it is amazing how many people still refer to FM4880,” says Doe.
He says that while Formawall is based on US designs, Rigidal is “in the process of updating these, and will have some new standards released within a couple of months.
I think the interrogation of specifications we are seeing is as a result of consultants having more time on their hands, and more desire to demonstrate their worth. For us, the heightened awareness of standards in our industry can only be a good thing. As people become more aware of the importance of envelope design, the subtle differences between systems becomes more obvious.”
As for the future, it seems the sector is seeing a revival in business following the rise in GCC construction projects. Rigidal, for example, is working on the Muscat airport expansion, as well as projects in Saudi. “We have also been quite successful recently on a new aluminium smelter in Saudi. To date, we have orders in hand for over $8m on this project, with more phases to come,” said Doe.
Qatar and Saudi have provided opportunities for the sector, reports Multiforms, which designs, produces and installs bespoke unitised curtain wall, stick systems, structural glazing and all the associated aluminium and steel components required for high-end building facades across the MENA region.
“We are mobilising for the commencement of major projects, such as SABIC in Saudi, and we are also currently developing and expanding our business into Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Kuwait, among other territories,” adds Haslam.
However, “completely new projects for us seem to be taking a back seat to working through the ones that have been in the pipeline for the past year. Projects we have quoted over a year ago are now being reignited,” says Doe.
“There comes a time in a deflated market when the cost of a project bottoms out and clients can gain the best possible commercial advantage. Prices are driven down in a recession, but eventually recover. It is a bit like the ‘buying low’ and ‘selling high’ model that every stockbroker dreams of, though with us the commodity is the project,” says Doe.
Meanwhile, Multiforms completed all the façade works for Foster & Partners’ Index Tower in the Dubai International Financial Centre, which is due to open soon.
“The Index Tower is orientated in such a way that the eastern and western concrete cores shelter the floors from the harsh desert sun and the general climatic effects of the region. The south-facing façade that Multiforms produced and installed utilises extensive sun shades o lower solar gain, says Haslam.
Another Multiforms’ project nearing completion is Emaar Boulevard Plaza. The Plaza towers are inspired by the intricate detailing, veils and layers of medieval Arabic architecture. The two towers arch in a convex as they rise, and are formed using a combination of glass, metal and stone skin. The towers form two deep-shadowed arches offering sweeping views of Downtown Dubai, explains Haslam.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sustainability, the sector is still behind. According to Doe, “sustainability is sadly still a bit of a luxury, but there are exceptions. We are working on a project at Masdar where we effectively have a twin-wall façade for very low U-values on the roof.
The roof construction is probably one of the most complex we have ever done, and is all aimed at controlling the internal environment. In this case the performance of the building has taken precedence over the cost plan, and it sends a good message.”
He adds that sustainability be undertaken when legislation requires, rather than good intentions that get “lost during the tender process”. Haslam says that “sustainability is a complex and sometimes political agenda, as there is no single tool for measuring sustainability, and the industry as a whole is using many tools, methods and systems to try and measure this.”
Sustainability is one key element of achieving world-class benchmarking in the façade sector. “Being world-class boils down to three key ingredients: our relationship management, design capability and adaptability,” says Haslam.
“We employ experienced key personnel to manage our client relationships; our design team is excellent, with a deep working knowledge of the widest scope of projects.”
Launching new products is also a key in the current market. “Formawall has gone from a standing start to a pipeline of well over 350,000m2 of projects scheduled for delivery before the end of our financial year.
“We accept that they will not all convert, but even 15% of that would be an amazing achievement. In terms of development, we have already began working on chemical trials for an 80mm system. Dubai Municipality has said it has no plans to change the U value requirements on wall systems until 2014, and even then it is only likely to require a 70mm core. With the 80mm version of Formawall, we are hoping to set the benchmark,” says Doe.
The downturn has necessitated a revision of traditional business models and expected growth areas. “Our business model has changed, and the 70-30 domestic/export pattern has simply been reversed.
“Abu Dhabi is busy at the moment, but projects seem to take forever to actually happen. I think that the UAE is still building; I do see things happening. That said, it is a very cost-sensitive market at the moment,” says Doe.