Pushing the Envelope

Island Exterior Fabricators
Written by Pauline Müller

In a bid to blend the realms of art and architecture, Island Exterior Fabricators stretches the boundaries of building envelope material use further than ever before, garnering some well-deserved kudos in the process and bringing to market applications that have traditionally been impossible to attain.

Headquartered in Calverton, New York, this innovative company is known for creating some of the most striking façades ever seen. As an active partner of every project in which it participates, Island Exterior Fabricators has all the capabilities needed to be a valuable contributor to any building design. And, the good news for general contractors is that Island is widely trusted for delivering predictable results supported by a sophisticated storage and logistics system which is second to none.

“We develop fully prefabricated building envelope systems with cutting edge technology that ultimately delivers highly-customized, high quality, and architecturally beautiful systems that may otherwise appear a risky endeavor – due to their complexity,” says Managing Partner Ed Harms.

Due to the structural versatility of the steel and aluminum frame-backbones, these wall systems are rarely limited in their application, making them great for use in constructing institutional, healthcare, multi-use, office, and commercial facilities.

While aesthetics are a major part of any artistically-rendered building envelope, function and safety definitely come first. As materials contribute to airflow, building temperature, noise control, and the integrity of a building’s superstructure, all materials used must stand up to each challenge. Therefore, part of the company’s mission is to ensure that every envelope it fabricates and installs will perform to the standards specified by the client.

Any amount of innovation generally involves breaking accepted rules to create something that is unexpected and fresh. However, as I was told as a young and impatient student, one has to first fully understand the rules in order to break them effectively. Island Exterior Fabricators prides itself on having broken the well-studied mold of traditional client-contractor collaboration. Here, project development is fully supported by transparent execution processes and open communication that simplifies complex processes.

Of course, it takes great skill to make a finished product that successfully combines quality and invention with all the desired performance elements and pleasing aesthetics and do so within budget.

“We aim to first understand the scope of the work that we are responsible for from a technological and prefabrication point of view and then from an installation perspective to enable the successful completion of each project,” says Ed.

This is why Island Exterior Fabricators has become well-known for valuing its relationships with industry partners and clients, while treating all parties’ interests fairly. Misaligned contractor and subcontractor goals are not an issue here.

Its team of over one hundred designers and engineers is driven by a commitment to finding and implementing the latest in three-dimensional computer design, computer numerical control (CNC), automated fabrication tools, and cut-make-trim (CMT) technologies to outperform competitors’ systems and methods. This allows every solution to be tailored to the clients’ requirements. The approach has also turned the company into a logistics leader, making it nimble and adaptable.

“While prefabrication of building envelopes has been around for a long time, the systems and technologies that we bring to the market are redefining how the building envelope is delivered and how it performs. It allows our products to play a far superior role in how the envelope is delivered,” says Ed.

The company’s focus shifted from “traditional” façade subcontracting to a fully offsite approach in 2010, when Ed was appointed the head of this division and turned his charge into a flourishing, self-sustaining department. Following this growth, its Calverton, Rhode Island and Manhattan operations in New York were joined by a new Boston, Massachusetts office in 2013, which was when Kyle joined the company.

Today, it has grown into a force with which to be reckoned and is in the process of completing its fourth phase of expansion that will bring its Calverton, New York fabrication campus to over 450,000 square feet on sixty acres of land.

One of the company’s many notable – and certainly one of the most technologically advanced – projects is the breathtaking and enormous nine-toned, anodized aluminum building envelope crafted for “Site #4” of the Kendall Square Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as designed by NADAAA & Perkins & Will Architects. Island Exterior Fabricators worked closely with all stakeholders, including Turner Construction, in collaboration with industry leading partners to develop a highly customized color range (and requisite quality control method) that delivered a series of anodized aluminum finishes that were previously unavailable in today’s market.

“The design intent was for the visual variability of nine different but related, unique shades of color to display differently throughout the day. This is not a common request and is no simple task, either. The entire project team put a lot of effort into this customized process to realize the design team’s ask,” says Marketing Consultant Sarah Wesseler.

This was groundbreaking work, resulting in a building that will, without a doubt, stand out on the Cambridge skyline. The institutional mixed-use student housing project will be completed this summer in collaboration with Turner Construction Company, Studio NYL, and others. “Three-quarters of the scope incorporates our traditional, large-format, mega-panel platform system alongside our unitized curtain wall system. Together they create a highly articulated, ornate, and integrated set of systems, delivered as a single ‘turnkey’ façade solution,” says Kyle.

This gargantuan project proves just what the company can do. The anodized aluminum with rain-screen cladding was created by thickening the metal’s natural oxidation layer to improve the surface’s durability, creating a texture similar to the satin finish of Apple’s MacBook. Each 250-square-foot panel was prefabricated in-house to custom specifications. The beauty of it is that the natural variation in the metal is said to shift color from around the fifth floor upward towards the top of the building.

“This creates a dynamic and highly interesting façade that is accentuated by the shape and profile of the metal cladding, which is a series of ‘butterfly’ triangular cladding elements that were fabricated in-house,” says Kyle.

The enormous façade panels were attached to the mega-structure at night to be able to finish on schedule. “What started as a request by the construction team, resulted in what we feel is a highly efficient methodology due to the stress it has taken off the crane usage during the day,” Kyle adds.

To add to this remarkable achievement, is the Pace Gallery on 32 East 57th Street, Chelsea, New York. Designed by Bonetti & Kozerski Architecture, elements like Italian volcanic rock are juxtaposed with expanded aluminum foam panels, and enormous fifteen-foot glass lights from Poland, giving viewers much more to drop their jaws for than fine art.

“As a comparatively small project, [the Pace Gallery] has five or six of the most unique and tailored building envelope assemblies we’ve ever put out. It is another example of significant collaboration with a client and a design team in order to achieve their architectural goal,” says Ed proudly. The gallery is set to open its doors in September this year.

In addition to these two memorable projects, the company has also been working on a number of other, equally important, projects in the past year. It completed work on the Quay Tower in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s “Pier 6” as well as a custom zinc-clad rain-screen for Barnard College in Manhattan. Island is also commencing work on WS Development’s “Block L-4” project in Boston’s Seaport District, where another high-performance unitized curtain mockup was recently installed for Turner Construction.

Also close to Island’s heart is a project at the Hale Family Clinical Center at Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with Suffolk Construction, Shepley Bulfinch, and SGH. This project also demanded incredibly well-choreographed logistics to deal with vast amount of materials that had to be coordinated around the installation. Over three thousand panels were fabricated and installed to achieve a highly complex, curtain wall façade. A ‘single-source’ approach to the façade allowed Island to incorporate more than half a dozen key finish materials onto a continuous performative wall assembly, including custom-formed aluminum rainscreen cladding delivered in multiple gloss levels, integrated louvers and custom-extruded screening systems, insulated glazing units (both clear, and in the client’s signature blue tone), as well as a high-performance concrete rainscreen cladding for the base.

This project also incorporated a phenomenal amount of design knowledge as it had to consider and abide by certain medical standards like particular airflow requirements, ensuring patient’s health and safety by limiting the spread of airborne pathogens. It stands testimony to the company’s design capabilities as well as its capacity for partnership with project designers.

As the company’s relationship between design sophistication and extending materials beyond their traditional capabilities has grown, the demand for next-generation building envelopes has followed. “We see the newly emerging market for some truly high end, high-performing wall systems, [particularly] in Boston’s Seaport area, as a conduit for this type of development,” says Kyle.

Because of this, the company is focused on identifying projects that are well-suited to aluminum-framed, prefabricated wall systems early in the design process. There is also a strong drive towards sustainable thermal performance, in which Island Exterior Fabrications excels in both developing suitable solutions and in terms of rendering high-performance elements, something it plans to continue.



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