What is Façade Intervention?

26 May 2021

This article by David Ford, PE, RRC, RWC, LEED AP, was originally published on LinkedIn.


As Practice Leader of the Enclosure Diagnostics team, I’ve spent quite a bit of my career at Walter P Moore working on facade interventions. When I think about it, I’ve probably worked on over 1,000 different building facades across North America in my 20+ year career. I truly find these projects interesting and exciting because every facade is different; each have their own problems and deficiencies, as well as their own strengths. The facade speaks for the building and it’s usually what people remember most about the structures they encounter. In our Enclosure Diagnostics Practice, we get to invigorate that life of the building.

Just like in our own lives, there are stages of turbulence along the way that need fixing or require extra attention. When this happens to a buildings’ walls or windows, our team comes in to disrupt whatever is causing the issue and ultimately to correct it.

So why do we intervene?

There are so many reasons a building could need facade intervention, including:

  • To help in energy performance and occupant comfort
  • To better protect interior systems or structural supports
  • To extend service life

We bring a whole life-cycle philosophy to these projects, meaning we don’t want to enhance just the facade, but we want to support all aspects of the building as well.

In my experience, the reasons a building owner would want to revisit their facade systems fall into three categories: reactive, preventive, and proactive. But there’s typically overlap too. We may start a reactive intervention, discover areas to make some preventative changes, and update our design to include those as well.

Let’s look at each category.

Reactive Interventions

Most of the facade interventions I’ve done have started here.

These are the classic issues we expect from aging buildings. Something’s going wrong and the exterior walls are not performing the way they should. They’re letting air and water in. Maybe the brick is visibly crumbling. Our team is engaged to assess the problems, figure out the root causes, and then prepare a strategy to correct the issues and repair the existing damage.

Some problems that fall in this category include:

  • Life Safety/Fall Hazard
  • Material Failure
  • Water Infiltration
  • Air Leakage
  • Biological Growth
  • Thermal Comfort

Preventive Interventions

These are similar to reactive interventions, but here we are trying to get ahead of the potential damage instead of waiting to repair it once it’s happened. Many of our reactive interventions will include preventive measures to stop the same issues from recurring.

However, we’re seeing more building owners plan for these types of projects, apart from existing issues. They are starting to consider the full lifespan of their buildings, as well as the safety of their occupants, more seriously.

Some measures and improvements we might see here include:

  • Historic Preservation
  • Energy Efficiency Upgrades
  • Blast Hardening
  • Flood Control
  • Air Quality Management
  • Health and Wellness Monitoring

Proactive Interventions

My team at Walter P Moore is noticing a trend towards this type of intervention as well. The building in question may not have any facade issues or potential risks, but it’s time to refresh the look or reposition its primary purpose.

These projects are growing, as more and more building owners are considering increased sustainability measures as well. Where we used to tear down and rebuild new, the industry is shifting to adapt older buildings to new needs. A new facade is an easy way to rebrand a structure and reinvigorate usage, with a much smaller impact on the climate.

Some considerations we might design for here are:

  • Aesthetic
  • Repositioning
  • Reprogramming
  • Energy Generation
  • Climate Change Impacts
  • Resiliency

What is the process?

Though we categorize these different types of interventions, the design process we use for each of them is basically the same and it really hasn’t changed much over the years. However, new technology is emerging that will speed up the process and make it easier for clients to make the right decisions.

Where we used to use blueprints and hard copy elevations to perform visual assessments by hand, now we can use drone footage to annotate directly on smart models in the cloud. Everything is digitized, from calculations to sketching. And we’re starting to adapt tech to predict how and when these interventions need to happen within the life of a building. It’s incredibly exciting and we know it will change the game for clients and for design teams.

So, when should you call us?

If your buildings are experiencing any of the issues mentioned above, we are here to help! But we can be involved at any point in the life cycle of the building, whether your building needs intervention at this moment or not. Even when your facade is performing correctly, we recommend continuous monitoring and planning for maintenance. We can provide annual assessments to ensure facade performance and recommend maintenance protocols to extend service life.

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