Building enclosures, or building “envelopes,” are the essence of why humans build structures — to provide shelter from the elements. From the foundation to the roof and façade, the building enclosure encompasses all conditions in which our inhabited spaces meet the exterior environment: earth, light, air and water. All materials and constructed assemblies, including window glazing, roofing materials, insulation materials and foundation sealers, play a key and — in the case of airports — potentially decadeslong role in the performance and resultant comfort that is sought out and expected when entering and traversing them during our travels.
Given the essential role of building enclosures in airport infrastructure, the performance and resiliency of such systems over time is critical. The failure of any component of an airport building’s enclosure can disrupt or even prevent an airport from properly supporting its air carriers’ operations or an airport authority’s ability to provide service to the public.
Further complicating this effort is that underperforming or failing building enclosure systems are usually not immediately detected. The utilization of building enclosure commissioning (BECx) procedures at the point of conception and design of an airport enclosure is the most timely and effective insurance for enduring performance. This way, the team can verify and document that an airport structure and its systems are comprehensively designed, engineered, coordinated, constructed and tested per the project requirements.
When thinking of airport commissioning (Cx), most people assume electrical, fire, life safety or HVAC systems are the only components involved. Building enclosures, whether defending against airflow infiltration carrying moisture or jet fuel fumes, are equally important to the Cx process. BECx utilizes design, engineering and construction teams with the end result in mind — how will and how can the building enclosure provide effective performance metrics and resilient protection over the anticipated life span?
While the wide variety of Cx services follow the same verification principles, methodologies and validation approaches, the specifics of what a BECx team might look for depend upon the building type, region, climate and regional construction practices. Here are three specific BECx considerations to keep in mind when envisioning, designing and contracting for construction of airport terminal building enclosures:
- Resiliency. Airport buildings and their systems are typically built in anticipation of decades of service ahead. Looking ahead, beyond mere sustainability, the resilience of airport building enclosures will be even more essential from both an environmental impact level — minimizing or eliminating the carbon footprint — and for the facilitation of comfort and safety of travelers over the life of the building in a changing climate. BECx participation from the inception of the design process helps architects and constructors alike consider and build upon the building enclosure concept, resulting in the façade systems performing at high levels over the anticipated life of the building.
- Fabrication. Any portion of an airport’s building enclosure that can be fabricated within shop conditions will almost always perform better than façade elements and systems fabricated or constructed at a construction site. From trade and manufacturer’s best practices being employed and monitored to being able to manufacture and finish components in a controlled environment (temperature, moisture, dust, etc.), the outcomes are far more likely to meet performance goals as designed and anticipated. With prefabricated, panelized, unitized and otherwise modularized components, the on-site assembly and installations can be executed more quickly and efficiently, reducing opportunities for errors in the erection of the building envelope. This helps minimize the impacts of poor weather conditions, unnecessary time and material for temporary encapsulation, and on-site personnel safety risks.
- Vision. Helping architects, engineers and constructors achieve an owner’s vision is another area where BECx services can be of great value to a project. Building enclosures are often an expression of an owner’s mission, vision and goals. Performance is important. Therefore, the look, feel and experience of an airport facility is hugely dependent upon the design and performance of the building enclosure. BECx team participation in the creation of these spaces and building envelopes, from glazing systems to mass timber roof structures, can inform and enhance both the component’s performance as well as the vision and experiential quality of the design.
While these and other considerations are essential to achieving a high-performing building enclosure, nothing is more important than bringing BECx perspective and experience into an airport project at the earliest stage possible — to inform, create and validate an approach and system at the onset of the project. It is never too early to implement BECx services to create more successful and resilient building enclosures.
As airports grow more complex, monitoring-based commissioning is becoming an indispensable part of the construction program.