Building Envelope: Definition, Types & Design

Instructor: Shenley Schenk

Shenley holds a Master's of Science in Interior Architecture as well as a LEED Green Associate Certification.

How important is physical separation of the interior and exterior of a building? Important enough that human well-being depends on it. In this lesson, we'll define building envelope, establish materials used, and discover what drives the design.

What Is a Building Envelope?

Recall sitting in your office shivering from cold drafts, or fanning yourself from the heat? Building envelope design is the cause. A building envelope is the structural barrier between the interior and exterior of a building. It is responsible for maintaining climate control within the interior of a building. Climate control refers to cooling and heating a building. The building envelope also keeps the interior free from moisture, sound, and light. The building envelope structure includes the:

  • Roof,
  • Walls,
  • Foundation,
  • Doors, and
  • Windows.

Explore what influences the materials and the design used in a building envelope.

Common Materials

Common materials are used to form the building envelope structure and contribute to the structure by having long lasting, insulating, water repellent, sound blocking, and light filtering characteristics. Common roof material includes asphalt, composite, wood, metal, clay, slate, and rubber. Typical wall material includes brick, stone, stucco, glass block, wood, concrete, and vinyl. The building envelope foundation simply consists of stone, brick, or forms of concrete. Window frames and doors share common materials such as aluminum, composite, fiberglass, vinyl, and wood. Specialty coatings and tints, along with gases, are commonly applied to any glass on both windows and doors. Building envelope material is dependent on the climate, culture, and available resources.

Design Influence

Like building envelope material, building envelope design is also dictated by climate, culture, and available resources. However, it is agreed that the basic design must establish structural support, climate control, function, and aesthetics. The design refers to the architectural, engineering, and technical applications of material used. Diversity in culture is extensive and speaks heavily to the aesthetics of the building design. Variation in available resources is vast and dependent on numerous variables. Climate can be categorized and directly impacts the structural support system, form of climate control, and how the building envelope needs to function. Climate is often one of the largest influences on the design of a building envelope.

Types of Climate Envelopes

Building envelopes can be designed around four main climate types; arid, tropical, cold, and mixed.

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