Zahner, a global engineering and fabrication company, is giving architects the power to bring their facades to life through new web-based software.

Entitled CloudWall, the program challenges traditional building aesthetics and allows the user to manipulate the façade of a building with a program that considers fabrication, costing and delivery.

CloudWall sits on Zahner’s free software platform called ShopFloor. Unveiled this month, the firm says it is specifically designed for building “complex facades and other architectural components.”

“We’ve built a tool that uses our factory floor like a massive rapid prototype machine,” said L. William Zahner, CEO and president of Zahner, who adds that the model is new to the architecture industry.



To embark on a design, an image can be uploaded and designers will be able to apply “undulated metal fins” and perforations to the building. Other architectural considerations are included along with a project price that changes  as users go through the design process. This could be considered quite a powerful feature when designing to budget constraints.

Once the design is complete, parts are purchased and the creation can be pre-engineered and fabricated on Zahner’s physical “shop floor.”

“We’ve built a set of tools that we can give the end user and let them leverage what we learned,” explained Zahner engineer Craig Long. “You have the capability of changing out the type of patterning, the spacing, the density, all of these things that create different looks or different feels we’ve put into tools that you can use on the web without having to even call us.”

“With our tool, everything you design is quantifiably buildable.”

Herzog & de Meuron’s  de Young Museum Copper Facade

Herzog & de Meuron’s de Young Museum copper façade

CloudWall was actually developed as Zahner’s created an undulating metal façade for its factory head office in Kansas City. Designed in collaboration with local firm Crawford Architects, the software assisted in designing a curtain wall of glass and aluminium for the new 10,000 square foot building.

According to Crawford Architects, the façade was inspired by ripples of sand and sees a series of unique metal fins applied to the building.

Zahner was recognised by The American Institute of Architects in 2007 with an honorary membership for his dedication to the industry and his knowledge of metal building envelopes. The book Contemporary Architecture by Christine Killory (2013) notes that starchitect Frank Gehry, who has designed many  undulating structures, regularly relies on Zahner’s firm to create his own metal facades.

While this is is the first time Zahner has offered its software expertise to the public, in 2005, the company created a system to create the decorative copper façade Herzog & de Meuron’s  de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Broad Art Museum, Chicago

Broad Art Museum Facade by Zahner

The firm designed the first “image-mosaic perforation algorithm” for the 8,000 metal panels that make up the façade that mirrors the surrounding Golden Gate Park.

In the next few months, Zahner will be expanding its ShopFloor suite with technology that will “enable designers to build standard glass and metal facades, but with a variety of customisable material claddings”, the firm explained.

Along with the creating the opportunity to design facades which challenge traditional rectangular structures or create distinctive exteriors, the software will also offer benefits to to the inhabitants of the building. Undulating facades and glass curtain walls, fabricated facades can be very cooling, offering ventilation or direct light, absorbing solar gain for winter and deflecting sunlight in summer.

Frank Gehry's 8 Spruce Street

Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street

Visually, the facades generally offer an organic sculptural shape to their buildings, encouraging a fluid aesthetic as seen in projects such as Zaha Hadid’s Broad Art Museum project in Michigan, which features a striking corrugated stainless steel surface.

While not Zahner’s work, another project that captured global attention in recent years is the very non-conventional facade that makes up Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street Tower in New York. The facade features undulating waves of stainless steel designed to reflect the Manhattan sunlight changing the appearance of the skyscraper throughout the day.

With one third of all greenhouse gas emissions globally attributed to buildings, along with a rise in population in urban areas, facades provide a strong opportunity to deliver sustainable, environmental and health benefits to cities and to building inhabitants.