Friday, November 18, 2011

To clad Vuiton in Onyx call Michael Ra at Front Inc.

Michael Ra's and Front Inc's specialty is skinning, skinning buildings that is.

Think of all the "starchitects" out there and all those crazy buildings. Somebody has to figure out the skin: How to engineer it, keep the water out, keep it from falling off in hurricanes and earthquakes, how to manufacture it, how to install it, how to maintain it, how to build it on budget on time.

You have to clean the windows and it's very dusty in the UAE.

What if the architect wants Onyx? Call Front Inc.

Lvmn Paradise Building in Osaka by Kengo Kuma + Associates. Photo from Flickr courtesy of Hiromitsu Morimoto.

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Michael Ra visited the Georgia Tech College of Architecture this week.

He explained how they did the onyx: Take a sheet of Onyx; clad both sides in glass; slice the onyx in half so that you end of with 2 panels of onyx faced glass. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?

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At least the onyx is flat. What if you need curves?

Or curved glass, or glass panels.

P1020521-2011-10-16-Georgia-Tech-CofArchitecture-lecture-by-Michael Ra-Partner-Front-Inc-slide-Mechanical-Drawing
In any case you have to design it so it can be manufactured and installed.

P1020522-2011-10-16-Georgia-Tech-CofArchitecture-lecture-by-Michael Ra-Partner-Front-Inc-slide-Glass-Test
You've got to test it. This is the glass "ceiling" for the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.

I asked Michael how he came to be a skinner. He said that Illinois Institute of Technology is strong in the engineering aspect of architecture. He must have had a knack. One of his instructors hired him right out of school.

P1020528-2011-10-16-Georgia-Tech-CofArchitecture-lecture-by-Michael Ra-Partner-Front-Inc-slide-Mechanical-Drawing
He seemed to enjoyed the challenge that resulted in drawings like these as much as he enjoyed finished project.

P1020514-2011-10-16-Georgia-Tech-CofArchitecture-lecture-by-Michael Ra-Partner-Front-Inc-6x
Isn't specialization limiting? Doesn't is stifle creativity? For Michael, it doesn't seem so. In fact I'm pretty sure that he loves what he's doing.

And if your clients include Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, Frank Ghery and a host of others around the world, how boring can it be?

I was most amused during the Q&A. Folks asked about his firm's "agenda" was it about sustainability, conservation, being green. Micheal said his firm was young and their agenda is "getting it built."

Thanks to Micheal Ra, to Georgia Tech, and to Assistant professor Tristan Al-Haddad and to Professor George Johnson, chair of the School of Architecture for making me feel at home.


  1. A friend of mine worked for Permasteelisa and his job was all about cladding. He was involved with the Disney Concert Hall which though it looks a bit like a copy of Bilbao was actually designed first.

  2. Yeah, if you are a skinner everybody sees your work.

  3. Nice article and great knowledge. Thanks for the share. I love this story and enjoy with your words!
    honey onyx


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