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for Continuing Education credit here.
Although there are no hard numbers,
anecdotal evidence suggests that, in particular circumstances,
curtain walls age faster and more painfully than the rest
of a building. It seems that theyre coming unglued,
so to speak, with increasing regularity. As many of the curtain
walls of 1960s and 70s high-rises begin to show signs
of deterioration, owners must weigh the costs of the many
reparative options available, and they must enlist design
experts to determine the best course of action. The problem
is becoming pervasive enough that facade consulting is a growing
multidisciplinary specialty in the architecture profession.
Built in 1970, the Richmond, Virginia,
City Hall houses the staff and administrative offices of the
city government, mayor, city council, and school administration,
as well as offices for 18 departments and agencies; it is
home to more than 800 employees. The building had served the
community well for 27 years, but in the mid-1990s, the city
discovered that the facade was losing its structural integrity
at a steady and alarming rate.
In 1997, Richmond commissioned a team
of consultants led by Fred Ortiz, AIA, of Scribner, Messer,
Brady & Wade Architects (SMBW) of Richmond, and Daniel
Lemieux, AIA, of Wiss Janney Elstner (WJE), of Fairfax, Virginia,
to identify the extent of damage and devise a plan to revive
the building and the city halls image as expressed in
its architecture. Thus began a four-year effort involving
forensics, emergency remediation, cost analysis, facade removal,
redesign, and replacement.
and after: Richmond City Hall got a new and
improved identity when its deteriorating marble
facade (right) was replaced with one of granite
and aluminum (left).
Photography/Drawings: © Scribner, Messer,
Brady & Wade Architects
This kind of commission appears to be
a backward approach to architectural design, and not every
architects cup of tea. Not only does the architect start
with someone elses design, it is a design that has failed
to a greater or lesser degree, with serious consequences.
And yet, there are regionally committed practitioners who
feel a civic obligation to aid urban revitalization. The
City Hall project resonated with the core value of our practice,
says Willard Scribner, FAIA, principal of SMBW Architects.
In an era when cities throughout Virginia and the Southeast
face pressing infrastructure needs and declining resources,
we seek ways to help address these needs through design excellence,
innovative strategies, and funding vehicles.
The following story is based primarily
on the study prepared by WJE for SMBW, which eventually led
to a new architectural image for Richmond. As part of the
study, SMBW and WJEs project team reviewed all the available
documentation regarding the original design and its construction,
repairs, and renovations over the years, and routine maintenance.
Next, they performed an on-site survey to verify the as-built
construction of the building, including materials, components,
and systems. They found that the infrastructure was functional
and in relatively good working order, but that the marble
panels of the building envelope were not. As a matter of fact,
cupping/bowing, edge-cracking, and other conditions were visible
in many of them.
The city hall is a marble-clad rectangle
with a tower that rises from the center of a four-story plinth
that is divided into quadrants. The tower is a straightforward,
uniform structure, articulated by perimeter columns that are
detached from the exterior curtain-wall system so that the
fenestration appears to be made up of deeply recessed windows.