The challenges of installing facades on high-rise buildings
As our cities grow taller, the biggest challenge for high-rise buildings today is the installation process of the facades.
The process is less demanding with low-rise buildings, because you can install the facade from outside, using scaffolding or cradles. This is not possible with high-rise buildings, which is the reason why so-called “unitized systems” have been developed.
Unitized systems consist of panels – generally the height of the building slabs – manufactured in workshops. These are then brought to the building site and installed on the steel or concrete structure from the outside of the buildings using cranes, by workers located inside. These well-secured workers ensure the guiding and correct positioning of each panel onto the structure.
This technique presents several advantages, but the two main ones are:
- All panels are manufactured in a workshop in an environment that should ensure a good level of quality
- Installation of the facades can start before the completion of the main structure, providing that there is a difference of some floors between construction of the structure and installation of the façade. This reduces the overall time frame of the full building, as internal operations can begin as soon as the facades are closed.
This is why, on high-rise building facades, only unitized systems are suitable – and why aluminium will always be the preferred material.
As I see it, the main challenges in facades for high-rise buildings are the following.
First of all, the higher you go, the more the mechanical constraints increase, like resistance to wind pressure or seismic movements. As an example, the facade on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai must be able to resist up to 650 kg/sqm of wind pressure.
Another challenge is fire safety and how to avoid having fires jump from one floor to another through the facades. There have been some spectacular blazes in the Middle East the last two years, and fire regulation is becoming more and more stringent with the types of material used in the façade compositions of high-rise buildings.
The third big challenge of high-rise buildings is related to the cleaning of the facades, because this can only be done from the outside and, so far, there is no suitable automatic solution that could replace human manpower.
Last but not least, there will be more and more intelligence in the facades to manage and optimize user comfort according to weather and external conditions. I truly believe that in the near future, a big share of the added value of the facades will be in their intelligence in managing the various flows going through – and that we should strive to provide the entire solutions, being products plus flow management systems.