What is ‘Building Technology?’

LizOSullivanHeadShotBINSIDE CSI
Liz O’Sullivan, CSI, CCS, CCCA, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, SCIP

When I mention the term ‘building technology,’ I’m not referring to information technology in buildings, the software used to design them, or even new technologies in building systems.

I am talking about ‘building’ and ‘technology’ in terms of their most basic, stripped-down, Merriam Webster definitions: “The art or business of assembling materials into a structure” and “practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area; a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” In other words, when I use this term, I mean ‘knowledge of the technical processes and methods of assembling buildings.’

Drawing proper construction details requires understanding building technology; so does identifying conflicts between the construction documents and the way things are being built onsite. Unfortunately, while knowledge of building technology is an important part of the practice of architecture, it’s an area in which many of today’s young designers are weak.

We hear a lot about new high-performance technologies in buildings, but many design firms have lost the basic knowledge about detailing foundation, roof, and exterior wall assemblies to meet minimum code requirements. Without understanding basic building technology, an architect cannot properly prepare construction documents for submittal to the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) to obtain a building permit. Without understanding basic building technology, an architect cannot demonstrate a design’s constructability or its compliance with codes.

Construction documents for all buildings shall describe the exterior wall envelope in sufficient detail to determine compliance with this code. The construction documents shall provide details of the exterior wall envelope as required, including flashing, intersections with dissimilar materials, corners, end details, control joints, intersections at roof, eaves or parapets, means of drainage, water-resistive membrane, and details around openings.
−2009 International Building Code (IBC), Chapter 1, 107.2.4 (“Exterior Wall Envelope”)

A building is not made up of bits and pieces erected next to each other—rather, it is composed of interrelated systems and assemblies working together to contribute to its proper functioning. If these components are not carefully selected, specified, and detailed (with the designer taking into account their effects on all the other parts of the building), the completed building may not be able to protect its occupants from drafts, moisture intrusion, mold, condensation, cold, outside noise, or excessive heat.

Drawing construction details is hard work, but this detailing can be less tedious and less time-consuming when we have more knowledge and understanding of building technology. It enables us to produce better construction documents, and help get better buildings built.

Without an understanding of basic building technology, we cannot properly contribute to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program or other high-performance initiatives, such as those of the Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC) of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Building Technologies Program. Just as the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is an overlay to the International Building Code (IBC), high-performance building technology enhances—but does not replace—basic building technology. The question is, who is teaching architects about this today?

Architecture school curricula have become heavier in design; architecture graduates are supposed to learn almost everything else they need to know during their internships. As more knowledgeable, gray-haired architects retire, many of the mentors for interns and young architects know less about basic building technology than those of the past.

CSI recognizes this problem. This past summer, the institute’s Building Technology Education Program Feasibility Task Team recommended to the board “CSI should create a Building Technology Education Program (BTEP) Development Task Team with members from various design, construct, and owner disciplines to create an education program.” In September, at the CSI Annual Convention in Nashville, the board accepted the recommendation based on the findings of the BTEP Feasibility Task Team. The team’s chair, Paul Simonsen, announced this at the 2013 annual meeting.

The Building Technology Education Program is intended to “benefit the industry by raising the technical knowledge of the participants.” This program will be for everyone in the construction industry—not just young architects. The more everyone can understand the concept of all parts in a building being interrelated, and that a modification to one assembly may require modifications to others, the more effective all of us in the construction industry can be.

Granted, CSI chapter meetings have long offered meaningful continuing education, often about building technology. Many other professional organizations and for-profit companies also develop building technology education classes for design/construction professionals. However, these all deal with limited topics. So far, no one has offered a comprehensive course on basic building technology.

CSI is the group to do this. Its members have both a hunger for knowledge, and knowledge to share. We deal with whole buildings, from subgrade preparation to data communications cabling, from pre-design to construction closeout, and on into facility management for the life of the building.

My experience at CONSTRUCT and the 57th CSI Annual Convention reminded me of these qualities of CSI members. In education sessions, on the exhibit floor, and in casual conversations between scheduled sessions, I was reminded of our capabilities and our desire for solutions in an increasingly complicated industry. Launching a comprehensive basic Building Technology Education Program can improve the construction industry, by offering a foundation of basic knowledge everyone can pursue.

Liz O’Sullivan, CSI, CCS, CCCA, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, SCIP, is a member of the CSI Building Technology Education Program Feasibility Task Team. A specifications consultant in Denver, Colorado, she heads Liz O’Sullivan Architecture LLC. O’Sullivan blogs at lizosullivanaia.wordpress.com, and adapted her February 5, 2013 post for this column. She can be reached at liz@lizosullivanarch.com.

One thought on “What is ‘Building Technology?’

  1. Rich Freewalt

    Excellent! I agree with the need and back-to-basics approach. The Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org) has a similar approach and is a very useful resource. Maybe there are partnering/synergy possibilities. Your explanation seems to focus drawings. Intended or not, I have experienced many architects not understanding Parts 1 and 3 of specifications, which maybe needs to be addressed seprately. I’m curious how BTEP will be put together and methods of educating what can be very complex topics. Let me know if there is anyway I can help.

    Reply

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