Associate Rachel Michelin, right, gives members of the Singapore Building Department a tour of Chicago’s Leo Burnett Building as part of an informational visit by the group to learn about the city’s façade ordinance. Photo by Ivy Li.
Thornton Tomasetti assists building owners and property managers in complying with various façade ordinances in cities across the United States. We are well-suited to perform this work, because of our experience in evaluating and repairing existing building envelopes, as well as the number of our staff who have been trained to perform up-close reviews at heights. After experiencing several building envelope failures in their city-state, the Singapore Building Department intends to develop and implement a façade ordinance of their own. They are currently in the research stage and turned to Thornton Tomasetti to learn about our expertise and experience with the local ordinance.
The seven-member delegation, consisting of directors, engineers and an attorney, were on an information-gathering tour of the U.S., with stops in Chicago, New York and Boston. The group met with various entities affected by façade ordinances—owners, property managers, building department officials, architects and engineers—to determine how these ordinances were implemented as well as potential benefits and drawbacks. Their goal is to enact similar legislation, with a third-party independent review of façades, to ensure a high standard for design, construction and building maintenance.
Chicago Principal Lance Parker was contacted by a member of the Singapore Building Department and coordinated the meeting. The delegation met with Principal Bill Bast and Associate Rachel Michelin, both of the Renewal practice. Rachel presented a summary of the Chicago Façade Ordinance going back to 1974, and our own corporate and personal history and experience with ordinance rules and regulations. “The group was very knowledgeable and had done their homework on Chicago’s history,” Bill said. “They asked great questions and we had a constructive discussion.”
Rachel with the delegation discussing the façade access equipment at 35 West Wacker. Photo by Ivy Li.
After the presentation, Rachel took the group on a tour of the Leo Burnett Building at 35 West Wacker Dr., where we continue to perform consulting services for façade improvements, structural modifications and public scopes of work (i.e., the Nik Wallenda tightrope walk). At the time of the delegation’s visit, we were wrapping up a façade repair project at the west elevation of the building and were able to take them up to the roof to show the rigging and façade access system. Since critical façade examinations (a required component of the ordinance for buildings more than 80 feet tall) require a hands-on inspection, we wanted to demonstrate how we would typically access the façade, and show that the setup required by the contractor can be quite extensive.
One area the delegation focused on is the design and installation of cladding and curtain walls. There have been failures in Singapore, which were attributed to poor design and/or installation. The group found the idea of building enclosure commissioning, a service that Thornton Tomasetti offers, particularly interesting. Building enclosure commissioning allows for an independent, third-party review of the building envelope throughout the design and construction process, which would assist in preventing building envelope failures or defects.
The delegation also noted Singapore’s much warmer weather (the average low temperature is around 75 degrees F). Unlike in Chicago, freeze-thaw damage is not a primary consideration. Residential construction in Singapore is also predominantly stucco, which is not as prevalent in Chicago because of our climate. However, Singapore’s heat and humidity can provide its own challenges, such as stucco failures related to moisture damage. They also noted having had problems with glass shattering in curtain walls, an issue which is often blamed on latent defects in the system. We discussed implementing some type of review during construction, and suggested building enclosure commissioning as a way to ensure the façade is designed and built as intended.
In addition to meeting Thornton Tomasetti, the delegation also spent time with the City of Chicago Building Department, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA/Chicago) and another engineering consulting firm.
We found it interesting to hear about the building challenges and failures in Singapore, even though they were considerably different from those in Chicago. After regrouping in Singapore, the next step for the delegation is to draft an ordinance to be implemented. Since our meeting, they have contacted us with a few follow-up questions, and we hope to continue our relationship as they proceed to implement a façade ordinance in the city-state.
– Rachel Michelin
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