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Sculptural wall wins international prize

This image shows a prototype of 3xLP, a wall of folded steel that UB architects Nick Bruscia and Chris Romano designed using computer modeling. Photo: Nick Bruscia and Chris Romano


Published November 14, 2013

UB architects have won an international competition with their proposal to build a wall from panels of super-thin steel folded into wild geometric patterns.

Nick Bruscia, clinical assistant professor of architecture, and Chris Romano, research assistant professor of architecture, took home first place in the TEX-FAB Digital Fabrication Alliance’s digital fabrication competition, called SKIN. They beat 67 other entrants from 14 countries.

The contest asked competitors to reimagine building façades — to present creative ways of improving the look and function of building “skins.”

Winners were announced last month at the ACADIA Adaptive Architecture conference, which UB co-chaired.

Chris Romano (right) and Nick Bruscia with the prototype, which was erected this summer near the entrance to Silo City in Buffalo. Photo: Douglas Levere

Bruscia and Romano’s project, titled “3xLP,” would utilize an ultra-strong steel fabricated by Rigidized Metals Corporation on Ohio Street.

The faculty members have been partnering with the company for more than a year to explore new uses for the firm’s materials.

“Textured sheet steel has yet to be used to its full potential, as the typical application for the material has been non-structural,” Bruscia says. “The texturing process, while aesthetic, also strengthens the material, allowing it to perform as a free-standing, lightweight façade system without the use of additional structural components. This is exactly how we’re using it in our 3xLP and other projects.”

Bruscia and Romano used computational modeling to generate their award-winning design.

3xLP is similar to 2XmT, a wall that the partners erected this summer near the entrance to Silo City, a cluster of grain elevators along the Buffalo River. The architects entered 2XmT in the first phase of the TEX-FAB competition, then revised their entry to focus on 3xLP after becoming finalists. In contrast to 2XmT, 3xLP is porous, containing geometric spaces through which air and light can pass.

2XmT is among UB projects that are contributing to the transformation of Silo City, taking it from a dilapidated industrial site to a hotbed of creative thinking. Last year, UB architecture and planning students built a stainless steel tower nearby to house a colony of rescued bees, and Bruscia and Romano have converted an abandoned office building on the premises into an architectural studio.

The architects plan to use their $10,000 in prize money to build a prototype of 3xLP, which will be displayed at the TEX-FAB 5 conference in Austin in February.

The faculty members’ partnership with Rigidized Metals is one result of Department of Architecture Chair Omar Khan’s efforts to cooperate with local manufacturers — outreach that has led to new courses and research on materials from metals to terra cotta.