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ICAE2018 at San Sebastian (Spain): a bridge between research and design of architectural envelopes

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From 20th to 22nd July, San Sebastian, in the north east of Spain, became the set of one of the most interesting and attractive events for those dealing with façade systems and technologies, and in general for those active in the field of architectural envelopes. Organized by Tecnalia (, the International Conference of Architectural Envelopes (ICAE) has been an excellent opportunities to gain insights into world-leading research, to see successful and innovative commercial projects, and to share opinions and investigate future trends and directions.

The three-day programme comprises a wide range of cutting-edge and more traditional topics. The former included for instance the increasingly relevant connection between information and communications technology (ICT) and facades, the role of robotics, the possibilities offered by the additive manufacturing and 3D physical modelling,  and in general the impact that the digital age is having of the façade world. The latter included topics that traditionally debated when dealing with building envelopes, but the actual contents and discussion were on the latest development in these areas. In this group, the main topics were new materials such as structural glass, variable diffusivity membranes, and bio-composites, new tools and processes such as the concept of façade leasing, acoustics, and the renovation of existing low-performance envelopes using innovative solutions such as multi-functional timber based-façade elements.

One of the most valuable elements of the 2018 ICAE edition was the contamination between research-leading experts coming universities and research centres that are world-leaders in this field, and designers (both architects and engineers) from some of the top design firms in the world. The list includes, in random order, the University of Cambridge, Delft University of Technology, Free University of Bolzano, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Eurac Research, Tecnalia, Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC), Arup, Permasteelisa, Focchi, Schüco, Eckersley O’Callaghan, BuroHappold, and many more. This mix of players helped in having very different points of view, and therefore questions that helped to rethink old problems in new ways or opened new research directions. For instance, it was very interesting the new current research on glass connections that are supposed to be almost non-visible or the possibilities offered by the internet of things (IoT) in terms of huge amount of data collected and analytics.