The Building Envelope: What It Does and Why It Matters

For our new clients and anyone trying to learn more about construction, we thought we’d break down the “building envelope.” What is it, and what is it for?

Roy's Furniture building envelope facade brick masonry concrete restoration
Roy’s Furniture, one of our projects in Chicago.

We specialize in restoring façades — with brickwork especially — and the “envelope” is the technical term for all that the “walls” or “sides” (basically) include. We consider the exterior envelope of a building to be one of the most critical features to a structure overall.

The building envelope is literally the physical separator between the building’s uncontrolled exterior and its controlled interior.

That’s a fancy way of saying that the envelope is really the outer shell and all its parts. This is comprised not only of walls — whatever the materials: brick, concrete, you name it — but windows (or “fenestration” in technical speak again), roofs, doors, and floors. It’s everything that keeps what’s on the inside all secure. So, it’s our job to make that whole box (so to speak!) as secure as possible.

This part of construction serves a few primary purposes, though it can have many secondary functions.

Controlling and protecting the interior from the external environment.

The most obvious thing? The weather, honestly. Are we building in Chicago, or in Arizona? The local climate and weather patterns decide much about the envelope, insulation, and just what we can do with the details about it. We want to “control” that interior as best we can.

Supporting the weight of the interior and the “loads” of the building.

In order to plan the envelope, your team will spend much time carefully modeling and engineering the building. This depends on many factors: What will the building be used for? How many levels are there? How much weight will it carry? Where is it located? This is one area of our expertise.

Completing the architectural and aesthetic vision.

This is the least objective purpose of the envelope. While we have to choose materials based on their viability and strength for a given structure, we can absolutely work with the architect or client to fulfill their visual goals for it. You’ll need experience all around — to know how to compromise aesthetics and durability.