piece de resistance?
Traino, a 10-year veteran of ventilated façade installations, says the United States might be the only country that has not fully embraced ventilated walls, and there are a handful of theories why this is so. One belief is that unfamiliarity with the system makes people suspicious. “Innovation and creativity are dirty words to government agencies, bureaucrats, and code officials,” he reasons. “There is a tremendous resistance to innovation, so the system is scary to a lot of people.” Dissel has a slightly different take, however. “Things seem to start in Europe because there are less code restrictions,” he says. Here, he adds, “we have to show code officials that a system can work.”
Traino says American designers and clients also resist ventilated systems because they don't mesh well with our construction culture. “Everything is done efficiently and quickly, but a ventilated wall is a labor-intensive process,” he says. That makes it expensive, too—a reality that Stacy says may be its biggest obstacle. “There is a premium in cost over conventional cladding,” he says. “I think this is largely due to the lack of experienced installers and the greater degree of sophistication required of the installer.”
Although the average cost of a ventilated façade is $40 to $75 per square foot, it's possible to reduce those numbers. GranitiFiandre says smaller slabs require more substructures to hold them in place, increasing the structural and application costs. Larger slabs, by comparison, require less substructure; they're therefore quicker and cheaper to install.
Marazzi's Tecnica exposed- or concealed-hook system comes with glazed ceramic tiles measuring up to 24 inches by 36 inches.
Despite the cost, Traino says more architects in the Northeast, Chicago, California, and Seattle are using such systems in their buildings. Italian firm C&A Architecture and Interiors recently used Marazzi's ventilated system to clad an Arizona house in large 24-inch-by-24-inch ceramic. In San Francisco, Paulett Taggart Architects and Leddy Maytum Stacy used a modified ventilated system with wood-resin panels over rigid insulation for the Plaza Apartments, a LEED-certified low-income housing project that has won numerous awards for sustainability. “The concept is similar to a ventilated wall,” Paulett Taggart's Dissel says of the façade. “It allows air to pass around the insulation material.”
In addition to the Plaza Apartments, Leddy Maytum Stacy has used ventilated systems on an office building, a condominium, and two houses. Stacy agrees that the concept is catching on here, but he wouldn't be surprised to see it remain a niche product. “I think it will be limited to higher-quality residential buildings due to cost,” he says.
Nonetheless, for those with the nerve, verve, and budget to try them, ventilated façades are a breath of fresh air.