More architects are turning to composites to create dazzling designs.

Highly complex facades featuring dramatic curves are becoming a signature of today’s architects. New technology and materials are helping designers create these increasingly intricate facades that push the boundaries of engineering.

“Younger architects, developers and contractors are hungry for standout unique projects,” says Andy Bridge, vice president of industrial markets and director of research and development for Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. Composites are poised to help architects in this mission. And as architects push the limits, they are more open to considering the possibilities available from previously unexplored materials.

To date, the biggest obstacle facing the use of composites in architectural applications has been a lack of familiarity with the product. But with new composite-based projects going up around the world, and new guidelines now available governing FRP’s use in architecture, experts predict that composites are likely to become a greater part of the design conversation.

Capitalizing on Today’s Trends

In many ways, composites fit perfectly into many of today’s top architectural trends. “They can produce highly curved shapes for truly innovative designs,” says Robert Steffen, Ph.D., PE, associate professor in the Department of Construction Management for Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. In addition, Steffen adds, “The texture, color and appearance of composites can be customized far beyond what can be done with metals.”

Composites also dovetail neatly with today’s interest in sustainability. The U.S. Green Building Council predicts that up to 48 percent of new nonresidential construction in 2016 will be green, and that number is expected to grow significantly in coming years. Architects are seeking materials that are environmentally friendly to manufacture and highly durable once installed. Composites fit that bill.

Bill Kreysler, president of Kreysler & Associates in American Canyon, Calif., and chairman of ACMA’s Architectural Division, points out that composite systems are environmentally efficient to manufacture since less material is needed to perform the same function as traditional building materials. This gives manufacturers a comparatively lower environmental footprint. Moreover, Kreysler adds, “Those of us in the composites business know our material is extremely durable. It’s been proven over decades.”

Stephen Van Dyck, a partner with LMN Architects in Seattle, adds that architects may also be more willing to work with composites due to today’s wider use of 3-D modeling technologies. “[Architects] are now using tools like Rhino, which is the same essential platform that boat builders have been using for years to communicate ideas to their manufacturing floor,” Van Dyck explains. He notes that many of these new software platforms also are able to easily convert design data into fabrication information. “The processes are converging,” he says.