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UB-designed metal façade wins Architect’s Newspaper award

Christopher Romano sitting at a table next to a piece of the perforated metal that is used to make the facade.

UB architecture professor Christopher Romano designed the perforated metal facade that won Architect's Newspaper's Editors' Choice award for Best of Products in the façade category. Photo: Douglas Levere

By DAVID J. HILL

Published December 2, 2019

“Light serves as the connective tissue for all the components of the façade. It’s a material. It’s a central element to the multi-layered façade, where the lighting is a layer behind the steel panels, which typically isn’t done because it’s risky.”
Christopher Romano, assistant professor
Department of Architecture

A perforated metal façade developed by UB architecture professor Christopher Romano and Buffalo-based Rigidized Metals Corp. has earned an Architect’s Newspaper Editors’ Choice award for Best of Products in the façade category.

Manipulating light and thin-gauge sheet metal as design materials, the façade system was first applied in Light/Station, an expansion project for Torn Space Theatre in Buffalo.

Romano and Rigidized continue to advance the façade research for broader applications. 

The AN Best Products Awards are presented across 18 categories, including building materials, acoustics, furnishings, tech and façades. The 2019 award pool included 500 entries from around the world. Winners were selected based on originality, innovation, functionality, aesthetics, performance and value. Each category includes one winner, two honorable mentions and one Editors’ Choice.

Romano’s design of the façade for Light/Station also received design awards last year in both the Commercial and Small Project categories from the Western New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Light/Station, with St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in the background.

The perforated metal façade design was first applied in Light/Station, an expansion project for Torn Space Theater on Buffalo's East Side. That's St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church in the background. Photo: Douglas Levere

Adaptively reusing an abandoned gas mart, Light/Station is a striking, 1,545-square-foot design studio, green room and conference facility for Buffalo-based Torn Space, a critically acclaimed, avant-garde theater company. Nestled in the shadows of historic buildings on Buffalo’s East Side, Light/Station is a signature addition to the city’s urban fabric. 

The façade system is the result of a long-running partnership between the School of Architecture and Planning and Rigidized Metals, which manufactures deep-textured sheet metal panels for architectural applications. 

With a thickness of only 3/64-inch, the paper-thin metal sheets feature tiny holes drilled strategically to capture or emit light, depending on the time of day. Romano and the Rigidized Metals team spent months experimenting with every aspect of the sheet metal, pushing boundaries with each iteration.

The team ran algorithms to generate the hole patterns that would be precision-cut into each piece of sheet metal, testing on smaller prototypes in order to get just the right size hole to allow light to pass through and create the desired effect.

“We did everything we could to make cutting holes into metal the most magical experience ever,” says Romano, assistant professor of architecture who designed the façade through his firm Studio NORTH Architecture. 

“It was a laborious process — 6.3 miles of cutting on the laser. We maxed out Rigidized Metals’ fabrication capacity.”

Folding the custom-made columns that hold up the building’s exterior required 180 tons of pressure.

Light and history were core components of the design concept from the beginning.

“Light serves as the connective tissue for all the components of the façade. It’s a material. It’s a central element to the multi-layered façade, where the lighting is a layer behind the steel panels, which typically isn’t done because it’s risky,” Romano says.

A small team of UB architecture students also worked on the project. Some of the smaller prototypes were developed and tested using the school’s digital fabrication equipment under the direction of Daniel Vrana, fabrication manager in UB’s Fabrication Workshop and current employee at Studio NORTH Architecture.

The Light/Station project team consisted of Romano as façade designer supported by Vrana; design assistants Brandon Stone and David Heaton, who both graduated in 2017 from UB’s master of architecture program; Rigidized Metals as manufacturer and fabricator; and RP Oak Hill Building Company Inc. as construction manager.