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Wienerberger Building Material Solutions

Façades & Skylights: Post-Covid

By: Ahmad Dalain

Owners, engineers, and contractors of façades and roofs envelopes shall adapt to post-COVID circumstances. This article addresses the general adaptation of all kinds of construction as construction primary activity and then it will address more focus on lightweight façades and skylights (roofs) made of the membrane.

Introduction

Let’s be honest, there is a lot of information about COVID-19 crisis, we have no choice but to filter them out. Our brain typically picks things that are already primed in memory or repeated often in a kind of pattern, i.e. something recently stored in our memory. E.g., you would recall the 2008 credit crisis or earlier one and predict when the present crisis will finish. That is pattern biased decision because it does not address other important up to date information, or in other words, you have answered health questions by answering a different question about economic recovery. Make no mistakes, COVID-19 is health crisis remember this when you make decisions, other things are symptoms & consequences which shall vanish gradually after reaching terms with health concerns.

According to all concerned entities combating the pandemic, that includes worldwide governments and non-government organizations, apart from vaccine researches, there are so far two main axioms agreed on to form a primary foundation in the post-COVID world aims to curb the virus spread into a declining curve which are the following:

  • Axiom1: Social distancing in all aspects of life.
  • Axiom2: Increase hygiene awareness and implement it strictly in all aspects

Above seems few, but they already have had an immense impact on our lives as we knew it, i.e. we went into lockdown, no offices, no meetings, almost stagnant international travel and sometimes local ones, queues grow vastly longer, consumption of hygienic gears skyrocketed. Obviously, there is a lot to say, however, the scope of this article is to investigate the impact of those two axioms on façades/skylights (roofs) construction industry.

The Adaptation Actions

Welcome Pavilion at YASMALL (Abu-Dhabi) - First ETFE project in the Middle East Welcome Pavilion at YASMALL (Abu-Dhabi) – First ETFE project in the Middle East

Straight forward, the construction industry shall adopt the following in general:

Contractors shall revise methods of construction to be shorter in duration with less dependency on manual labour work and enhance the usage of up to date technology plants and equipment. This does not mean we shall lay off manpower completely as this has by far worse impact on society, what is meant here is that part of the work which has been redundantly being done in traditional ways while the up to date technology has a faster and more feasible methods.

In other words, the lesser duration of construction is going to be in line with social distancing by simply finish earlier and with a lesser gathering of manpower. Let’s keep in mind that travel restriction is seso-like (on/off) and for an unforeseen period of time.

Designers and engineers shall bear in mind as a top priority the hygiene aspect when selecting materials being used in construction, whether they are helping in easy disinfection or they are harmfully keeping the virus for a long time? The designer’s responsibility shall be extended in selecting smart materials without extra unnecessary heavier weights, abnormal long lead time of procurement, complicated fabrications, or complicated shapes that need an extensive time of coordination.

The reason behind that in existing circumstances is very obvious, we shall mind social distancing in all aspects of people’s life, construction personals are no exception, and in addition to that, we shall always aim to finish in shorter durations until we reach terms with health concerns.

Owners shall mind selecting the contractors and designers who do respect the above-mentioned 1&2. In addition to that, perhaps it is making sense to boycott any company that does not respect the main two axioms as this may impact the people who work for that company and therefore ethically not acceptable, add to this, the impact on the job itself as well of contamination.

THE Adaptation Actions In Façades/ Skylights (Roofs) Made Of The Membrane

PTFE roof at King Abdullah Sports City (Saudi Arabia)
PTFE roof at King Abdullah Sports City (Saudi Arabia)

COVID-19 is an unfortunate situation, but ironically the lightweight membrane façades and skylights (roofs) are simply ticking both axioms outstandingly! Envelopes made of PTFE, PVC, and ETFE are prone to be of the highest interest in the post-COVID world as follows:

The membrane is -by large- light material, E.g. PTFE is 20 times lighter than 6mm Annealed glass, ETFE is 50 times lighter. In order to make this clicks easier in the reader’s mind, take a 45,000 sqm skylights (roof) made of the membrane, under ideal situation and without hindrances of other trades, the full installation of the membrane can be done within 16 weeks on average with minimal access and lifting equipment comparing to other heavy hard envelopes. As you may notice, that is indeed lined up with the axioms.

Saudi Arabia Cordoba Mall (Riyadh)- First ETFE skylight
Saudi Arabia Cordoba Mall (Riyadh)- First ETFE skylight

That is said, it does not suggest that all kinds of envelopes must be changed to membrane material, there are wide kinds of functions which only hard cladding can play-in, but what is suggested here is to maximise the use of membrane envelopes as much as possible to meet nowadays circumstances in terms of reducing construction duration with minimal access & lifting equipment, as all that pours into social distancing.

Membrane hygiene comparing to other hard cladding materials is very much superior and that is due to its ability to transmit a high range of the natural light spectrum. For example, PTFE translucency varies from 9% to 40%, while ETFE transparency reaches 95%, if clear without frits. The natural light as disinfectant agent is unquestionable, yet in more details, the ETFE, for instance, can pass 95% of the entire natural light spectrum including UV that why it does not only help in maintaining a higher level of hygiene but you can cultivate green plants too.

Certainly, skylights, roofs or façades made of the membrane, especially ETFE is second to none when it comes to natural light transmission and accordingly helps in areas enveloped hygiene. The membranes can easily be coated with self cleaning films E.g. TiO2 (Titanium dioxide on PTFE, PVDF on PVC) that helps in easier cleaning and eventually keeps light transmittance levels as desired.

Finally, once again the two axioms sound few, but the extension of their impacts is quite huge. We cannot quarantine all impacts in one article specially that we are still on the learning curve about this pandemic.

Ahmad Dalain

Director of Projects

Ahmad Dalain is the Director of Project at Taiyo Middle East LLC, a daughter company of Taiyo Kogyo Corporation Japan worldwide leader in membrane construction and innovation with unprecedented experience since 1929. With 40 companies all over the world, Taiyo is the biggest membrane contracting company in the world. Dalain is a structural engineer with a Master’s degree in structural engineering science, and with more than 22 years’ experience focused on membrane construction innovations in the Middle East and other parts of the world. He is considered one of the few most prominent experts in the field of tensile structures (PTFE, ETFE, PVC, and other innovative materials) in the Middle East with many landmark projects executed under his directions watch, the last of them was the 70m height AL WASL DOME membrane façade at EXPO 2020 (The biggest projection screen in the world).

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