Bridging Aesthetics and Technology: Balancing Building Concept
with Details in the Design Development Process of the Facade System
by John Neary AIA LEED AP

AUGUST 27, 2018

New York City College of Technology/ Department of Architectural Technology
Advanced Design Studio VIII on Facade Detailing, 
Spring 2018
John Neary AIA LEED AP Adjunct Assistant Professor/ Michael Miller Adjunct Instructor

Figure 1: Arch 4810 visits Schüco's New York City Showroom.

Last semester at New York City College of Technology (CityTech), we introduced fourth year students to the joy and pain of facade detailing, balancing the usual design problem of an overall building concept with design details and models of facade systems. Rather than limiting the pedagogical scope to technical requirements of facades, as some courses on detailing do, we attempted to bridge the aesthetic and technical, bringing lessons from professional practice and construction experience into the classroom. The student response was enthusiastic.

Students in this studio were familiar with the basics of building technology and had already completed the building design studio sequence leading to this final semester of the Bachelor of Technology in Architectural Technology degree program.

The class met twice weekly, and began with short lectures on facade design, covering: energy and building codes, system types, glass and cladding materials, and tutorials on modeling and presentation work. One class per week started with freehand sketching of a detail to encourage a habit of drawing, and careful examination of details. The students’ work in this area showed definite progress over the course of the semester.

Figure 2: Left, example sketch by John Neary. Right, detail sketch by Hyone Kim.

The first studio exercise was research of an existing facade and creating digital models of key details.

Figure 3: Precedent Study: Lever House, by Waleed Bhutta and Arturo Madrigal

Figure 4: Precedent Study: Chrysler Building, by Michael Kossov

Figure 5: AESS lobby facade detail model, by Dinquin Mei

This was a warmup for a midtown high rise design project. Beginning with a conceptual analysis of ground floor connections to the adjacent context, it included tower massing and facade studies. The students then developed a lobby entrance facade intended to reinforce conceptual priorities they established for the site and developed key details in drawings and models at half-full size.

Figure 6: Tower Project: Bamboo space-frame double facade detail model, by Xiahao Xu

Figure 7: Tower Project: Tension rod facade detail 3-D model, by Jose Perez

Figure 8: Tower Project: Glass Fin facade detail 3D model, by Suji Park and Hyone Kim

Figure 9: Final Review, May 15 2018. Faculty from CityTech, architects from HOK and Gensler, and students discussing a project incorporating a stock curtain wall system by Wausau (Waleed Bhutta pictured).

At the juried final review, students explained the connection between large-scale site-responses and consequent choice of facade details.

The use of ‘stock’ systems due to limited time introduced a real-world dimension of constraint to the design exercise  and raised the issue of how conventional architectural components can address the particulars of place and context. (We chose the Sentech catalog as a resource.) The answer lies in a thoughtful and sensitive response to site conditions that informs the details, as in the  most engaging reference case studies by the students.

In the future, we hope to further engage industry partners for technical expertise in structural and thermal modeling and construction. The field trip to the VCL piqued student interest in the detail design and fabrication process. Extending  the course beyond a single semester would enable fabrication of more complex mockups in addition to study models. This physical realization bridges conceptual and technical pedagogy in the design studio experience and connects the academy with industry.




The New York City College of Technology, Department of Architectural Technology, is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system emphasizing technical architectural education. It is rooted in the vocational programs of the WWII GI Bill and has evolved into an advanced technical education counterpart to the more common liberal arts-based architectural design programs. The department offers offers a 4-year Bachelor of Technology degree, and is currently proposing a five-year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree option.

John Neary is a senior facade specialist at HOK, Michael Miller is a designer at HOK. Special thanks to Sanjive Vaidya, Architecture Dept. Chair; Kevin Hom, Dean; Phillip Anzalone, Assistant Professor;  Michelle Neary, Gensler; Blake Kurasek, HOK.

John Neary, AIA LEED AP
Senior Facade Specialist