Thanks to the city’s humid subtropical climate, facade designers and fabricators face a special set of challenges in Houston. Unchecked, steady sunshine and high temperatures can permeate the building envelope, leading to a heavy reliance on mechanical cooling systems. Meanwhile, Houston’s Gulf Coast location makes it vulnerable to tropical storms.
Wind damage in downtown Houston following Hurricane Ike in 2008. (Chuck Simmins / Flickr)
Sanjeev Tankha, principal and director of facade engineering at Walter P. Moore, argues that the solution to performance issues including solar gain and wind lies in a holistic approach to facade design. “All aspects of building envelope performance—from materials science to building physics analysis, structural analysis, research and development, waterproofing and weatherproofing, longevity and life cycle analysis—must be given a platform to engage effectively in the design process,” he said. “Our industry must come to terms with and take on the challenge to respond effectively to the elements of solar heat and wind mitigation.”
Tankha will share his experience responding to the local climate next month at Facades+AM Houston. A half-day spinoff of the popular Facades+ conference series, Facades+AM brings regionally-specific discourse on high performance building envelopes to AEC industry professionals, students, and policymakers.
In the real world of building design and construction, observed Tankha, environmental performance is regularly sidelined in favor of other concerns. “Performance of the building skin, in any given project, is often trumped by financial pressures to the detriment of overall building performance,” he said. “I would like to see more commitment from AEC stakeholders to make performance issues a core value in our work.” The key, he explained, is making performance a priority from the get-go. “The early design work needs to embed these values in the development so they are not add-on features,” said Tankha. “This is a philosophical debate that is held on every project, and many times building performance comes out on the losing side.”
In Tankha’s experience, less can be more when it comes to addressing solar gain and wind. “I always encourage the use of passive technologies and passive building systems first before the overlay of active systems,” he said, pointing to historical strategies including building form and orientation. “I see some of that design philosophy coming back and now coupled with advancement in materials, coatings, and efficient mechanical systems, we have a palette for a holistic approach towards exploring effective solutions.”
To hear more from Tankha and other building envelope specialists, register today for Facades+AM Houston.Top facades specialists will convene in Houston next month for Facades+AM. (Roy Luck / Flickr)