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INTERVIEW: Building Science Pioneer Dr. Joe Lstiburek on the Good, Bad and Ugly Side of Buildings
The term ‘building science’ is used quite often now in sustainable building circles, but much of what we understand of it can be traced back to the work of Dr. Joe Lstiburek, founder of Building Science Corporation. He is anything but your typical engineer or scientist who spends time crunching numbers or hiding away in a lab. Lstiburek has spent most of his career out in the field, testing and examining what works and what doesn’t. Many of the building standards today — from building codes to ASHRE to testing methodology — have his finger prints all over them, and his tough love criticism of building design is undercut with his wry humor and, of course, an encyclopedic knowledge of building construction. Read on to learn where buildings go wrong and what we can do about it.
Inhabitat: What does building science really mean? Did it not exist 50 years ago?
Joe Lstiburek: Well, it always existed. It’s really the technical side of architecture that architects gave up. If architects did their job there wouldn’t be any need for building science. You know, I’m flabbergasted by the architectural profession giving up control of such a profitable part of the industry, which is the interaction of the building enclosure with the climate and the people and the mechanical system.
You know, this occurred because of the change in the focus on the education of the architects, the school. They’re focused – they’re trained in art. They’re not trained in physics and material science to actually execute their designs.
Back in the day, 100 years ago, or maybe 50 years ago in Europe, architects were trained like master builders. They understood structure. They understood mechanical. They understood physics. They understood material science. They understood how everything worked together. The focus now on the architectural education is all art and what’s missing are all of those other pieces — one of those missing pieces is building science or building physics.
Inhabitat: Do they feel like it’s not their problem? Such as how a building envelope will necessarily function in the real world — that if it’s down on paper and it’s been done before, then that’s okay?
Joe Lstiburek: I can’t speak for the architectural community, although I often try to – that is I think the arrogance of the profession drives me crazy. I think they feel it’s beneath their dignity to worry about these little, minor problems, like how to keep the rain out of the building, how to keep the air in and the air out. Let somebody else worry about that. I’m here to make an uplifting building to society to basically send a message about how this building is going to make this place a better place to live, and the people that live and work in it are better people. That’s what my mission is. This other stuff somebody else will worry about.
Inhabitat: So how do you get them excited about building science again?
Joe Lstiburek: Well, I don’t. What happens is the legal profession does that for us. The most effective technology transfer in the world is a lawsuit. They never call us when things are going well. They call us, “Oh, my God! We’re getting our ass sued because this problem occurred.”
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