What is Building Science? Does it refer to calculations used to design a beam? Or, is it designing the right amount of foot-candles need to safely light a parking lot at night? Science is something that is always changing and expanding; finding better ways to understand or make things. Science and architecture are often treated as two different fields of study. At schools of architecture, the science generally associated with the art of designing buildings is traditionally taught in the engineering classes, and is taught separately from design, as two different areas of study.
Today, if we want to design high-performance works of architecture, we need to understand Building Science as it relates to architecture. Joseph Lstiburek has written many great articles for Building Science Corporation, as well as for the Ashrae Journal. Both are great resources on many topics such as roof, wall, foundation, and vapor barrier systems. For example, knowing how to properly design and install a vapor barrier in a wall assembly for differing climate conditions is critical to avoid moisture and (ultimately) mold buildup in a wall cavity. The type of insulation selected and where it is placed in the wall assembly is important as well. Wall failure due to water damage and the loss of heat or cooling through the wall, is also part of creating a high-performance buildings. This is building science.
This concept of building science is based on a systematic approach, or, a whole building design, according to the Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences.
In the 1700’s Jean Rondelet started this evolution in the architectural world, blending science with how architecture was constructed. Rondelet was an architect who wanted to control the structural design of his buildings. As materials like cast iron became cheaper to manufacture in the 1700’s, it changed the character of architecture and construction. The methods required to calculate the structure also changed. The blending of the science of structural engineering with art of architecture was new to both disciplines
So, what does this mean to the architectural world today? In the age of sustainable design, building science is not limited to the structure of the building. All areas of engineering must be included when we design high-performance buildings. We can’t just scratch our heads when it comes to integrating science into our projects, or leave it up to the engineer just because it involves science, not “design”. We need to understand the impact that moisture, changes in temperature, and material choices will have on the buildings we are designing for the people who will work and live in them. Building design that is based on building science is about designing for human comfort, energy savings, durability, and anything else that falls under the heading of good building design that keeps the natural and human environment in mind.