Why Do We Need Specialist Façade Engineers?

The façade/building envelope is the visible expression of the architect’s vision for a project; it reflects the identity and character of a building. Indeed, buildings are recognized merely through their external appearances, and to a large extent it is what determines the project’s success or failure in the eyes of the general public.

The façade role, however, is not all about and only about the aesthetics or visual expression. The facade assumes many other vital functions which are beyond the perceived visual quality of the building. The façade is the filter between the external environment and the internal livable space with significant impact upon the overall performance of the building and the well-being of its occupants. This thin multi-layer multipurpose skin at the boundary of the building is where the architecture meets the structure and meets the building services. This element of the building is also where several engineering disciplines are called to work together. The successful delivery of the façade relies upon an effective integration of all these disciplines throughout the procurement process, from the design and engineering through production/fabrication to installation, commissioning and handing over.

The façade/building envelope has an unparalleled impact on perceived qualities of architecture-in terms of both aesthetics and performance and consequently on the overall value of the building.

While the contribution of facades to the overall value of projects is not disputed by anyone, the role and contribution of façade engineers and the added value they bring to the project are, however, not yet fully understood by many professionals in the construction industry. Therefore, it is very common to see façade engineers being appointed late into the design process. Indeed, in many cases façade engineers are called upon only when problems are encountered during site installation stage, or at an even later stage; during the operation of buildings!

Building envelopes/facades were certainly engineered well before the term “Façade Engineering” entered the building lexicon, However, it has become, nowadays, very challenging for the design team to cope with the overwhelming number of materials, fabrication and construction techniques being introduced to the market on an unprecedented rate, for which they need to be acquainted with to ensure that the right materials are selected for their projects. In addition, the increased complexity of building shape and forms, combined with the environmental and sustainability requirements and the consequent increasing demands for higher energy efficiency and low carbon footprint of the built environment, created the need for specialist consultants with appropriate level of a cross-disciplines knowledge and skills to assist the design team during the project development in finding practical and sustainable solutions that fulfill the various , and often conflicting, requirements of facades/building envelopes without compromising the architect’s vision.

Furthermore, with costs of facades that can reach easily 25% of the overall building cost, and with an historic record of facades having the greatest level of failure of any part of a building, they are considered to be one of the most expensive and potentially the highest risk element of any major project. Hence requiring greater attention from the design team throughout the project’s procurement process from start to completion.

Façade Engineering is the art of resolving the aesthetic, environmental and structural issues to achieve the enclosure of habitable space (Society of Façade Engineering, UK).

Though, façade engineering is relatively a new discipline- it is believed that the term “Façade Engineering” was initially used, in the late 1980s, to describe specialist services not usually covered by traditional disciplines but rather bridging across them (Dr M.Kraph, IGS Magazine, Issue 01, 2011)-It has been quickly adopted by the construction industry and it is, now, firmly recognized as a specialist discipline in its own right worldwide. The services of façade engineers are sought-after by building owners/developers, designers and contractors throughout the project’s procurement stages from inception through design development to completion, commissioning and handing over.