Building Science for Architects

Building science is where architectural design meets the practical realities of intelligent construction. Learning the fundamentals will provide you with a solid technical foundation to help you design buildings that are as durable, efficient, and comfortable as they are beautiful.

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Receive American Institute of Architects continuing education credits while you learn

Building science specifically for architects

About ten years into professional practice as a building scientist, I noticed that my classmates from architecture school — talented men and women whom I knew to be intelligent, creative, and attentive — lacked confidence on the job site. The same often was true when discussing risk and performance with their colleagues. Even when they knew the right approach, they had trouble articulating it, especially when met with opposition from contractors or clients.

With all the demands of professional practice, it can be difficult for architects and architects-in-training to acquire a technical foundation in building science. That is what these classes are about. Imagine discussing how a detail or an assembly works and being able to do it with that open-minded confidence that only comes from real understanding — whether you’re at the drafting table with your colleagues, in a conference room with your clients, or on the job site with your contractor.

It would be my great pleasure to help you to be able to do exactly that.
Design Smarter
Understand the risk and performance characteristics of your building’s enclosure systems (walls, roofs, foundations, and glazing) and the specific changes you might consider that could incrementally increase (or decrease) performance and durability.
Be a Great Partner to Your Contractor
Gain a better understanding of typical construction sequencing and the division of labor among the trades to draw details that facilitate bidding, simplify shop drawing review, and minimize change orders.
Make Better Use of Limited Resources
Learn to prioritize among competing design goals to make the kind of low-cost and no-cost design enhancements that are most likely to maximize performance and improve durability.
Avoid Common Design Failures
Identify common design decisions that disproportionately increase the risk of failure (such as leaks, rot, corrosion, mold, and odors) and learn the most cost-effective ways of avoiding them.

Here’s how Building Science for Architects is organized:

This course is divided into five on-demand video sessions: 1. Fundamentals; 2. Walls; 3. Roofs; 4. Foundations; 5. Windows and Doors. A course packet for each video contains a written summary of the technical material covered and includes all the marked-up details, illustrations, and photos presented in the videos.
SESSION 1 (1LU|HSW)

Introduction and Fundamentals

The basic physics (and I promise, it really is basic) to help you understand the rest of the course. Don’t skip this!

We will cover:
Phases of water
Transport mechanisms of water, air, and heat
Condensation
The “perfect” wall, slab, and roof, why the concept works, and how it is useful as a design tool
SESSION 2 (4LU|HSW)

Walls

An overview of the materials we use to separate the inside from the outside and how they ought to be arranged with respect to each other to maximize performance and minimize risk.

This session is divided into five parts:
Part A: Water control
Part B: Air control
Part C: Thermal control
Part D: Condensation control
Part E: Practical considerations, particularly material selection
SESSION 3 (2.5 LU|HSW)

Roofs and Parapets

The water-management, air-control, thermal-control, and condensation-control considerations that can be applied to the design of both residential and commercial roof systems.

We will cover:
Residential vented and unvented roof design
Controlling condensation
Avoiding ice damming
Low-slope roof design
Water and air control for parapets
Inverted roofs and amenity decks
SESSION 4 (2.25 LU|HSW)

Foundation Systems, Basements, and Below-Grade Waterproofing

There is perhaps nothing more literally foundational than the way in which a building touches the ground — structurally supporting a building while also managing ground water, minimizing heat loss, controlling pests, and protecting interior finishes is no small task.

We will cover:
Simple turned down slabs
Foundation walls
Crawl spaces (vented and unvented)
Elevated foundations
Basements
Approaches to insulating below grade
Below-grade waterproofing in high and low risk settings
SESSION 5 (2.5 LU|HSW)

Windows and Doors

The principles of design that will help you detail almost any window and door. This section is heavily illustrated with marked-up photos and architectural drawings.

We will cover:
The general approach to detailing glazing systems
The importance of two-stage seals
Typical configurations and why they work, including: flanged windows, unflanged windows, storefront, curtain wall, window wall, and sliding doors, each with various WRBs
Frequently asked questions about (and common objections to) typical configurations
Meet Your Instructor

Christine Williamson

Christine Williamson’s professional experience includes building-science consulting for the restoration of Belvedere Castle in New York City’s Central Park, forensic investigations of building failures at the air-traffic control tower of LAX, and the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, among other projects. She offers new-construction risk-mitigation consulting for residential towers, mid-rise mixed-use buildings, and production homes, as well as some of the most extraordinary private residences in the world. She has worked across North America from the Canadian Arctic to the Caribbean.

In existing buildings, she investigates failures related to enclosure design and mechanical systems as well as material and installation defects. Failures include leaks, corrosion, rot, mold, odors, poor indoor air quality, and discomfort due to poor temperature or humidity control. Her experience in new construction and her understanding of the division of labor among the trades, sequencing, and construction practices informs not only her analysis in forensic cases but also her repair and retrofit recommendations, which are designed to minimize disruption in occupied buildings.

Christine Williamson is a member and former chair of ASHRAE Technical Committee 1.12, Moisture Management in Buildings. She is an associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and a member of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). She is the founder of @buildingsciencefightclub (BSFC), an Instagram community dedicated to teaching building science and construction to architects and other building professionals.

She received her bachelor of arts from Princeton University and her master of architecture from New School of Architecture + Design.

That's the official biography. Here’s the unofficial one...
We all learn this stuff (architecture, building science, and construction) through apprenticeship. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have practiced with the very best of our industry. This has been by accident of birth, pure chance, and a few very good decisions. I made it through architecture school by the skin of my teeth, and with the help of many classmates and one particularly excellent teacher. My master’s thesis adviser graduated from the GSD and spent the next ten years working for Turner Construction. She was smart and tough, and she loved construction. My thesis studio was the only class she ever taught. My first real job in architecture was working for the great Chris Benedict in New York City. She is one badass architect in one terrific city. Chris gave me my first hard hat, and it was working for her that I really fell in love with construction. I got that job by approaching her after a presentation she gave on energy-efficient design at a conference in Boston. (NESEA—it’s a good conference. Go!) I was still a student and had no portfolio and no experience, but she hired me on the spot. (“I trust my instincts,” she later told me.) It was the best job I’ve ever had. A couple years later, I moved over to the consulting side of the business, taking a job at WJE in Dallas, where I worked under the direction of Fiona Aldous, an excellent teacher and building scientist. Throughout all of this I had the ultimate privilege of being mentored by the father of building science in the United States, who also happens to be my own father, Joseph Lstiburek. A few years later when I joined his firm, Building Science Corporation, I got to work alongside two of the country’s foremost experts in building science, Kohta Ueno and Peter Baker. So, while everything I listed in my formal biography is technically accurate, that story is, like a lot of things in life, not the whole story. Apprenticeship is the heart of our profession and mine continues to be a joy.

Why I am telling you all this? Because architects are supposed to be tastemakers; they’re supposed to be effortlessly cool, with clean, white desks, and MacBooks, and cashmere turtlenecks, and pocket sketchbooks filled with hand-drawn renderings of all the beautiful old buildings they saw on their last trip to Paris. Our profession cultivates an air of mystery and exclusivity.

And that’s probably pretty good for business.But it’s terrible for learning, and it’s terrible for teaching.

In teaching, my goal is not to intimidate but to demystify and to explain, and I don’t mind starting with my own résumé. I learned exactly the way everyone else does: one thing at a time.

People just like you helped me get through studio. Let me help you with this one little part of professional practice that you weren’t taught in school and can’t reasonably expect to learn on the job. Building science is hard, yes, but it’s not impossible, and you don’t have to be awesome at it—you just have to get the basics and to know when to ask for help.

You’ve got this.

M. Arch., Assoc. AIA

You can take the fundamentals plus one other class, or you can take the whole course.

$250 each

Fundamentals +1

Begin with the first session on fundamentals and pair it with the topical session that interests you most.

$250 Fundamentals + Walls
(5 LU|HSW)
$250 Fundamentals + Roofs and Parapets
(3.5 LU|HSW)
$250 Fundamentals + Foundation Systems
(3.25 LU|HSW)
$250 Fundamentals + Windows and Doors
(3.5 LU|HSW)

If you purchased all of these sessions individually, they would cost $1,000. You can save $250 when you purchase the entire course together.

$750

The Complete Course

Each session reinforces and augments the material presented in the other sessions. For deeper and more comprehensive learning, I highly recommend taking them all in sequence.

This program is registered with the AIA/CES for continuing professional education through October 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions

How hard is Building Science for Architects, and are there any prerequisites?
The subject matter itself is challenging and certainly requires an engaged mind! But the only prerequisites are a general familiarity with the way architectural firms are organized and an understanding of standard architectural conventions of representation: how to make sense of plans, sections, and elevations.
How do I get AIA credit for the classes?
Your information will be submitted to the AIA after you complete a short series of multiple choice “summative assessment questions” after each session. You must answer 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass. (But don’t stress about this: The classes and the handouts prepare you very well for the quizzes, and there’s no limit on taking or retaking them).
Are these classes appropriate for architects practicing outside of North America?
Physics is the same everywhere, but building practices are not. These classes are tailored for a North American audience.
Is there a time limit to taking the classes?
The videos are on-demand, so you can take them on your own schedule, and you may take them as many times as you want. They are approved for AIA continuing education credit through October 2023.
What if I’m not an architect or architect-in-training?
You are of course very welcome to take the classes anyway and will certainly benefit from it! That said, this class really is designed for practicing architects and architects-in-training. It presumes that participants have a basic understanding of how architectural firms are organized and that they are able to read architectural drawings.
Is Building Science for Architects suitable for both residential and commercial designers?
Yes, the principles of building science apply equally to residential and commercial architecture, and the examples and details presented draw from both.

Building Science for Architects

I would be delighted if you’d join me!