PLACE Designers | Searching for the Holy Grail

The way that we build today is a very complicated process.  The sheer number of individual trades and material components that go into a building is mind boggling.  You may say that is job security for architects, but in fact it probably leads to increased technical specialization which to my mind erodes the traditional place of an architect.

I was taught that simplicity was a trait to be highly valued in design.  The idea is, if you can find the simplest way to solve a problem elegantly, you have found the best solution.  I think that Apple tries to achieve this with their products and they have quite a following.  I find that many older buildings, buildings that have been around for a century, have a kind of simplicity and elegance that comes from not getting overly fussy.

When I talk about pursing the “holy grail” in terms of architecture, I am choosing to focus on the building envelope, primarily the wall system.  Our exterior walls are asked to do a lot when it comes to maintaining a healthy interior environment.  Frankly, our building science in the past decades has really failed us when it comes to achieving this.

There are a lot of innovative wall systems out there that try to solve this problem, ICF (insulated concrete forms), SIPS (structural insulated panel system), composite metal panel systems, composite blocks.  We have used these on projects and certainly the projects came out well.  However, we have also found significant trade-offs in actual implementation that make it hard to claim they are more effective (in time or cost) than traditional construction methods.

For me to say that I have found the “holy grail,” it would have to be a system that can be installed by one trade and provide a finished interior and exterior face.  It would have to have great insulative properties, of course.  It would need to be attractive.  Currently I have two candidates that have real potential.  One would be concrete tilt-wall sandwich panel, and the other is clay masonry units.  If you would like to try to find the “holy grail” of building envelope design with me, let me know.

More to come soon.  If you want to get in touch please let me know!  Thanks for reading!

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