UB-designed metal facade wins Architect's Newspaper Best of Products Award

Christopher Romano standing with models and mock-ups of his design for the Tornspace Theater in Buffalo.

"Light serves as the connective tissue for all the components of the façade. It’s a material. It’s a central element to the multi-layered façade, where the lighting is a layer behind the steel panels, which typically isn’t done because it’s risky,” says UB assistant professor of architecture Christopher Romano. Photo by Douglas Levere

Published November 20, 2019

A perforated metal facade developed by UB architecture professor Christopher Romano and Buffalo-based Rigizied Metals Corp. has earned an Architect's Newspaper Editors' Choice award for Best of Products in the facade category.

Manipulating light and thin-guage sheet metal as design materials, the facade system was first applied in LIGHT/STATION, an expansion project for the Torn Space Theater in Buffalo.

Romano and Rigidized continue to advance the facade research for broader applications. 

The AN Best Products Awards are presented across 18 categories, including building materials, acoustics, furnishings, tech and facades. The 2019 award pool included 500 entries from around the world. Winners were selected based on originality, innovation, functionality, aesthetics, performance, and value. Each category includes one winner, two honorable mentions, and one Editors' Choice.

Adaptively reusing an abandoned gas mart, LIGHT/STATION is a striking 1,545-square-foot design studio, green room and conference facility for Buffalo-based Torn Space, a critically acclaimed, avant-garde theater company. Nestled in the shadows of historic buildings on Buffalo's East Sie, LIGHT/STATION is a signature addition to the city's urban fabric. 

Frontal image of the Light/Station.

A stunning inversion occurs at night in the latest project designed by University at Buffalo architect Christopher Romano. Called Light/Station, the project has transformed an abandoned gas mart on Buffalo's East Side into a new design studio, green room and conference facility for Buffalo-based Torn Space Theater. Photo by Studio NORTH Architecture

A badge for the Architects Newspaper Editors' Picks Best of Products Award.

The facade system is the result of a long-running partnership between the School of Architecture and Planning and Rigidized Metals, which manufactures deep-textured sheet metal panels for architectural applications. 

With a thickness of only 3/64-inch, the paper thin metal sheets feature tiny holes drilled strategically to capture or emit light, depending on the time of day. Romano and the Rigidized Metals team spent months experimenting with every aspect of the sheet metal, pushing boundaries with each iteration.

The team ran algorithms to generate the hole patterns that would be precision-cut into each piece of sheet metal, testing on smaller prototypes in order to get just the right size hole to allow light to pass through and create the desired effect.

“We did everything we could to make cutting holes into metal the most magical experience ever,” says Romano, who designed the façade through his firm Studio NORTH Architecture. He is also an assistant professor of architecture at UB. 

“It was a laborious process — 6.3 miles of cutting on the laser. We maxed out Rigidized Metals’ fabrication capacity.”

Folding the custom-made columns that hold up the building’s exterior required 180 tons of pressure.

With a thickness of only 3/64-inch, the paper thin metal sheets feature tiny holes drilled strategically to capture or emit light, depending on the time of day. Romano and the Rigidized Metals team spent months experimenting with every aspect of the sheet metal, pushing boundaries with each iteration. Photo by Douglas Levere

Light and history were core components of the design concept from the beginning.

“Light serves as the connective tissue for all the components of the façade. It’s a material. It’s a central element to the multi-layered façade, where the lighting is a layer behind the steel panels, which typically isn’t done because it’s risky,” says Romano.

A small team of UB architecture students also worked on the project. Some of the smaller prototypes were developed and tested using the school’s digital fabrication equipment under the direction of Daniel Vrana, fabrication manager in UB's Fabrication Workshop and current employee at Studio NORTH Architecture.

The LIGHT/STATION project team consisted of Christopher Romano as facade designer supported by Daniel Vrana; Brandon Stone and David Heaton as design assistants (who both graduated in 2017 from UB’s master of architecture program); Rigidized Metals as manufacturer and fabricator; and RP Oak Hill Building Company Inc. as construction manager.