As businesses and governments around the world try to balance the aesthetics and functionality of commercial buildings with economic and environmental sustainability goals, two project components are becoming increasingly important: collaboration and materials selection.
Today’s focus on energy efficiency, life cycle analysis and integrated building design is causing the construction industry to re-think its approach to commercial buildings. The new model emphasizes cooperation and knowledge sharing that occurs throughout the entire construction project value chain—from building owners, architects and engineers to contractors, fabricators, materials suppliers and even regulators.
As a result, specific parts of building design and construction can no longer be considered individually. Building projects must be true partnerships, which is why creating a holistic team that fully understands the impact each member has on other aspects of the building is crucial. With this approach, coordination problems during the planning and execution phase of a project can be reduced and overall quality can be improved.
Key to this is a commitment to quality assurance, as well as the ability to adapt standardized technical expertise and knowledge of local geographies. For materials suppliers, it’s equally important to promote an understanding and awareness of the innovative products and approaches essential to the green building industry, such as structural glazing, weatherproofing and insulating glass building applications, photovoltaic solar panels, and energy-efficient LED bulbs and fixtures.
Web-based project management systems operated by suppliers allow construction professionals to learn more about proper advanced materials selection for high-performance buildings, such as cement, aggregates, steel, fibers and sealants. The technical properties of these materials result in more complex designs that help conserve water, reduce energy consumption, enhance renewable resources and reduce maintenance.
Because construction is always an expensive proposition, it’s logical for building owners and facility managers to demand the use of materials with the highest possible quality. But sometimes budgetary challenges arise, and trade-offs are made. The result can be far more costly in the long term than the savings gained in the short term.
For example, silicone-based materials are versatile and can be used in many aspects of a building to achieve design freedom. They are used in structural glazing, weatherproofing and insulation applications for buildings subject to extreme weather conditions, including high winds, typhoons, earthquakes, acid rain, humidity, and regional high and low temperature conditions. They seal potential air and water leaks, which promotes thermal efficiency, improves the air and water tightness of façades, lowers energy consumption and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
Sealants may represent as little as one-tenth of a percent of total construction costs, yet their failures cause 10 percent of building problems. Substandard sealants and coatings often are substituted for high-quality silicone weatherproofing materials to cut expenses. A trade-off between upfront costs and long-term savings always exists; however, the costs of the potential consequences far exceed the original savings because of the proven difference in material performance.
Silicones may have a higher initial purchase price than some organic (carbon-based) alternatives, but unique features enable them to outlast and outperform most organics. The real benefits show up after 15 years of use.
In the case of structural glazing, silicone sealants make it possible to design modern buildings that incorporate larger expanses of glass, which have more eye appeal and bring light inside the building. Natural light makes users more comfortable and productive, and makes a building more energy efficient, thereby reducing its carbon footprint.
For example, the Burj Khalifa
in Dubai set the record in 2010 for the tallest installation of an aluminum, silicone and glass façade. With more than 24,000 cladding panels over a total curtainwall area of 132,000 square meters, the building’s shimmering façade minimizes heat transmission and saves energy. The cladding materials were specially made using advanced engineering techniques and include high-performance reflective glazing, silicone sealants and structural adhesives, aluminum mullions and textured steel spandrels with vertical stainless steel tubular fins.
In another example, silicone-based sealants were used in California to enhance the weatherproofing and extend the lifespan of the Solano County Government Center
In Beijing, the world’s largest cable-net supported glass curtainwall in the new Poly Plaza used silicone sealants. In Abu Dhabi, the Capital Gate—the world’s most inclined tower—features a façade constructed from 23,000 square meters of glass and steel. The building is 35 stories high, with floor plates staggered from the 10th floor upward to generate a profile that looks different from every direction. The custom-made cladding system created for each floor contributes to the irregular-shaped façade, with a silicone insulating glass sealant used to form more than 720 diamond shapes on the building’s exterior.
New buildings aren’t the only type of construction that can benefit from advanced silicone technology. A large quantity of existing buildings are unlikely to meet government targets for sustainability. As energy prices rise worldwide, retrofits will become more attractive to building owners due to the promise of lower energy bills and shorter project payback times.