Façade Engineering is the art of resolving aesthetic, environmental and structural issues to achieve the enclosure of habitable space.
Building facades are one of the largest, most important elements in the overall aesthetic and technical performance of a building. Façade Engineering is the art and science of resolving aesthetic, environmental and structural issues to achieve the effective enclosure of buildings.
Specialist companies are dedicated to this niche sector of the building industry and engineers operate within technical divisions of façade manufacturing companies. Generally, façade engineers are specifically qualified in the discipline of façade engineering and consultants work with the design team on construction projects for architects, building owners, construction managers and product manufacturers.
Façade engineers must consider aspects such as the design, certification, fabrication and installation of the building facades with regards to the performance of materials, aesthetic appearance, structural behaviour, weathertightness, safety and serviceability, security, maintenance and build ability. The skill set will include matters such as computational fluid dynamics, heat transfer through two- and three-dimensional constructions, the behaviour of materials, manufacturing methodologies, structural engineering and logistics.
Over time, the specialist skills necessary in this niche sector have surpassed the capabilities of architects, structural and mechanical engineers as buildings are designed with more complexity and with the introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM).
Building facades are considered to be one of the most expensive and potentially the highest risk element of any major project. Historically building facades have the greatest level of failure of any part of a building fabric and the pressure for change and adaptation due to environmental and energy performance needs is greater than any other element of a building. As a consequence façade engineering has become a science in its own right.
What do Facade Engineers do?
Façade engineers concern themselves with everything to do with a building’s external envelope above ground level. Many names can be used to describe the envelope, for instance:
- Curtain wall
- Other materials and cladding types
- Some façade engineers are also skilled in roofing.
Façade Engineers will consider the performance of such materials and systems in various respects:
- Structural behaviour
- Interaction with the primary structure
- Thermal gains and losses through the façade
- Occupant comfort and energy efficiency
- Natural light admittance
- Fire behaviour of the building envelope
- Acoustic performance
- Safety and serviceability
- Maintenance and buildability
Façade engineers provide advice on both existing and new buildings. They may be involved in design, working alongside the architect, QS and structural and mechanical engineers, or may work within contracting or manufacturing. Alternatively, they may be involved in surveying or diagnostic and remedial work. Some façade engineers are involved in research and testing.
What is a façade engineer?
Façade engineers come from a range of backgrounds but most usually architectural, structural or building physics. In order then to become a facade engineer, they have then developed a wider breadth of cladding skills and a deeper knowledge than they would encounter within their original discipline.
Many façade engineers will be generalist façade engineers. These are able to advise across the full range of materials, systems and performance types.
Specialist façade engineers will typically first have attained a level of knowledge across all façade types and then have chosen to specialise in one particular aspect of façade engineering. Examples are façade engineers whose emphasis is in building envelope physics, using analytical modelling skills; or façade engineers that specialise in a particular cladding material such as stone or glass.
Parallels exist with other professions with generalist and specialist divisions e.g. legal where there are solicitors and barristers, and medicine where there are general practitioners and consultants. It may be difficult for clients at the inception of their project to decide which type of façade engineer they require. A general practice façade engineer is best placed to determine this for the particular circumstances of a client’s individual project and advise on façade specialisms that may be needed.
What value can façade engineers contribute to a project?
- Performance led design. Delivering facades that do what is required of them!
- Excellence in design
- Risk control
- Driving cost out
- Continuity through fabrication and installation stages
- Attention to quality as the design becomes a physical reality
- Verifying performance
- Cladding performance when the occupants move into the building
- Troubleshooting when problems occur
How does this differ from what others in the design team already do?
Facades have become complicated beyond the skills of architects, structural and mechanical engineers. Facades require a dedicated engineer with a particular range of skills and experience, who understands their behaviour and can undertake their design, manufacture and installation better, more efficiently and more comprehensively than can a traditional architect, structural or mechanical engineer.