Folding glass façade at Schüco’s booth, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
There is no standard solution for the future
by Julius Streifeneder
Jan 31, 2013

Going by what it itself has to say, BAU is the “world’s leading trade fair for architecture, materials, systems”, and every two years it brings huge crowds flocking to Munich with a show of floral and futuristic renderings in equal measure. Here it’s all about the shiny, renewable future of building – one full of promise. Of course you have to be there. Such that it was no surprise that this year’s fair once again opened its doors to a huge throng of visitors.

All manufacturers of distinction were on the list, joined by a plethora of interesting suppliers of special products and experts in specialist solutions. And the audience was a colorful mixture to match. Be it architects, bricklayers, building contractors or private house builders, there was something for everyone, which is not necessarily advantageous for the individual. The sheer size of the fair requires a quite extraordinary ability to walk and stand for extended periods – as well as a rather choosy approach. Just going with the flow will soon leave you lost in the middle of a huge forest of expanded metal and roofing tiles. Even the rather cumbersome fold-out map of the trade fair with the futuristic mushrooms on the front doesn’t make gaining a general overview any easier for those who are used to simply sweeping an index finger across their smartphone screen. But let’s forget about that for now, after all, this grand spectacle of offerings is building on a great future!

There was a good atmosphere in the halls themselves. “Schüco’s” performance, exuberantly enticing visitors with parametric degrees of freedom, turned out to be even grander than last time. The fact that the “Volkswagen” among façade system manufacturers has now introduced curved and folded glazed façades to its product range is also testimony that this architecture of blobs and free forms has indeed arrived in the mainstream – a rather unsettling realization. The stand by sash-window specialists “Air-lux” was conspicuously simple and lucid, presenting a single square sliding door. The appearance made by glass and metal construction specialist “Skye-Frame” was both elegant and informative, while the 14-meter-long and 3-meter-high glass panel by international firm “Seele” made for a spectacular show featuring the rather confident label: “We can even create a structure 18 meters by 3.50 meters if you so want.”

Velux presented an interesting, modular skylight system. The standardized glazing elements, elegantly designed down to the smallest detail, can in theory be adapted to fit any building – from a small skylight for an attic to an atrium with a glazed ceiling. An intelligent solution to accommodate any planning architect. So it’s all the more astonishing that this system wasn’t afforded a more prominent position.

Munich-based start-up “Flissade” also came up with an innovative and refined sliding window system. Thanks to a U-shaped track at the base, the window front can be easily moved, turning a loggia into a winter garden in the blink of an eye. A simple idea whereby the devil is in the detail – a clever solution to the challenges posed by sealing and thermal bridges.

New material “Resysta” was simply amazing. The fact that you can concoct a wood-like material from rice husk, oil and salt that is both waterproof and weather resistant and doesn’t look like Scottish porridge allows for a glimmer of hope that we might not be doomed after all. Then “Vorwerk” produced the pretty, organic flooring product “Re/cover Green” which does in fact look good enough to eat. Moreover, one couldn’t help but notice that there are now many new floor coverings made of fast-growing bamboo wood cropping up.

But even with a highly selective approach, real cherry-picking as it were a great deal of stamina was required; at least the harvest turned out to be somewhat manageable in the end. Gaining new impetus for the future is not an easy task, even in architecture. The trend toward offering time-proven standard products as highly adaptable solutions may have been plain to see but only within the bounds of the particular manufacturer’s own system. It seems we’re still waiting on system integration products that are not pegged to the particular manufcaturer. Future growth of a biomorphic nature was nowhere to be seen in any case.

Despite a cornucopia of attractions one was slowly overcome by the feeling that the industry has either reached the end of its innovative tether or is cunningly hiding its innovations away somewhere. The “Zukunft Bau” research initiative and the “Frauenhofer Institut”, for example, both unveiled some quite remarkable and innovative research projects, though their presentation of these novel ideas had the charm of an amateurish student exhibition with works mounted on moveable panels. Even the program of lectures boasting some rather prominent speakers had been built around the themes of “future”, “innovation” and “integration”. An interest in and indeed demand for new ideas was certainly palpable, however these appear to play a rather insignificant role in the reality of the German construction industry. The striking green exception: The bioreactor façade by “Colt” and “SSC GmbH”, which is currently being realized at the IBA in Hamburg. There’s certainly reason to get excited about further developments to come.

Taking part in the “the future of building” forum, Rainer Hascher from TU Berlin leveled some extremely refreshing criticism at the German planning sector. Among other things, he denounced the “catalog mentality” that is still so widespread among planers. According to Hascher, security is given priority over innovation, manufacturers and operators are brought into the planning process far too late in the game and there is a clear penchant for standardized solutions. Perhaps he was just saying what manufacturers have known all along. Standard products are their bread and butter. Experiments and innovations are best left students, researchers and the members of the public with an interest in the industry. Working on the maxim: You guys carry on with your research and discussions; we’ll go about our business selling what works.

With Hascher’s critical voice still ringing in my ears, BAU suddenly becomes a walk-in catalog, where you simply head from stand-to-stand on foot as though leafing through a book. Hall B6: “Armstrong Flooring” came set to impress with a well-executed, colorful stand design. “Durlum” demonstrates the elegance with which spotlights can be integrated into ceilings. At “Casal Grande Padana” one is left dumbfounded at the “Bios. Self Cleaning Ceramics”, which thanks to a photo catalytic coating will apparently retain its “brand-new” look forever, proving its worth with a live and indeed lively display involving paintballs.

Those brave enough to take a look around the “construction software” in Hall C3 were treated to a most interesting introduction to the world of 3D scanners. For just 25,000 Euros you too can have one of these gadgets from “Faro” in your own home. Anyone that has a stake in existing buildings will appreciate the time that can be saved being able to rely on data set. Just the notion of being able to create a CNC-milled copy of myself with a devise like this, a 1:10 model to put on my desk, was enough to make me forget my aching feet in an instant. The stroll through this varied, real-life catalog of today’s construction industry was rounded off with a beer and a pleasant chit-chat at the “Stala Tech” stand about profiled steel tubing and sophisticated plug connections from Finland. The hardships and the crowds forgotten. I’m already looking forward to the next edition.

Armstrong is one of the leading manufacturers of floor coverings, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
The stand of German manufacturer Armstrong is equipped with colorful floor and wall coverings, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
At this year’s BAU trade fair, Flissade presented functional sliding window systems, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
This parametric 3D facade system from Schüco can be arranged flexibly, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Durlum integrates their LED lighting elements directly into the ceiling, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Translucent concrete at the booth of Luccon, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Media façade by Swiss manufacturer Alucobond, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Vola offers its fittings in different colors and materials, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Detail view of a window system at Schüco’s stand, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Vorwerk presented the new organic flooring product “Re/cover Green” at this year’s BAU trade fair, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
Visitors could test Gira’s building technology systems, photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark