Ceramic Frit Does Double Duty

The downtown of Mesa del Sol, a 25-square-mile development in Albuquerque, will feature a cultural, office, and retail core whose design is unlike most others at the heart of similar master-planned communities. Designed by Antoine Predock, FAIA, with locally based Jon Anderson, AIA, as executive architect, the Town Center building will be clad in a glass curtain wall whose ceramic frit—that doubles as a film screen—was inspired by the cellular structure of bone.

The Town Center building will be the office, cultural, and retail core of Mesa Del Sol in Albuquerque
Town Center building

Images courtesy Forest City Covington NM LLC

The Town Center building will be the office, cultural, and retail core of Mesa Del Sol in Albuquerque (top). Designed by Antoine Predock, FAIA, and Jon Anderson Architect the building features a curtain wall whose ceramic frit controls daylight transmission, during the day, and serves as a film project screen at night (above).

The 78,000-square-foot, steel and stucco structure features a curved glass facade. Video clips produced by Sony, a Mesa del Sol tenant, as well as aerial images of the town will be projected onto a 60-foot-tall by 280-foot-wide double-walled screen that arcs in a 360-foot radius. This curved silicon glass element is the curtain wall. It mitigates solar gain through a combination of low-e coatings, interior solar shades, and a customized silk-screen ceramic frit pattern derived from a bone’s internal lattice structure. The frit becomes a film screen at night.

The L-shaped structure has ground-level shops and restaurants with a two-story covered open-air public zone for meetings and gatherings. Fittingly, one of the building’s other tenants is an experimental film and digital media teaching studio. “The arrangement of entries, and the building’s openness to pedestrians connect social life with the outdoor environment: the sky and multi-directional views,” says Predock, an Albuquerque native. “This town center responds to the conditions of the site while addressing the deep time of New Mexico.”

Deep time is exactly the idea that developer Forest City Enterprises was hoping for, says Chris Anderson, director of commercial development: “The concept reflects a building emerging from the desert like an unearthed artifact.”

Mesa del Sol is a joint project of developers Forest City and Covington Capital Partners. The expanse of flat acreage, with sweeping views of the Sandia Mountains, could eventually contain 37,500 houses and 18 million square feet of commercial space when it is built out in 2040. Peter Calthorpe, a leading proponent of New Urbanism based in Berkeley, California, is the master planner. His design emphasizes walkable streets with plenty of parks and open space.

Predock’s $11 million Town Center building is scheduled to open in October.

In addition to its low-e curtain wall screen, the building also features photovoltaic cells incorporated into a glass trellis at a restaurant terrace, and rainwater harvesting from the roof—elements that contribute toward a targeted LEED Silver certification.