What’s Old Should Be New Again: Design Considerations to Remember

By Craig Carson

As architecture evolves, new styles and products become incorporated into the design process. Many of these truly are breakthroughs. I can think of products like structural silicone caulk that has allowed the development of structural all-glass, two-sided and four-sided silicone glazing designs for aluminum curtainwall systems. We’ve seen developments in energy-efficient glazing that incorporates warm-edge technology, coatings, gas-filled air spaces and dynamic glass, both passive and electronically
switchable. Other new design trends also provide dramatic, looks from exterior walls being sloped or faceted, to even compounded curves. However, there are still some old design principles that should be reviewed and reused when appropriate.

Door Installations

One of these is the importance of protecting entrance doors from the weather. I’ve seen a trend where architects have doors flush with the exterior of the perimeter of the outside wall. This is especially true in drier areas. Some of the comments I’ve received include:

“We want a monolithic look to have the plane of the door flush with the exterior envelope.”

“The owner wants as much floor space in the retail area as possible. Recessing the door takes away from billable square footage.”

“The occupancy of the space allows me to use an inswing door.”

“I am behind the property line far enough that the swing of the door does not violate the set back of the door to sweep the sidewalk.”

“We live in a semi-arid area.”

Weather Concerns

The result of these is that when weather happens in the form of rain or snow there is nothing to protect the door openings from the direct hit of the storm. Good design is good design no matter where you live, and architects need to be reminded that doors should be set back off of the plane of the exterior envelope. If you look at the designs of some of the older parts of certain cities, you’ll see that the architects did set entrance doors back from the plane of the exterior wall. This was to provide the doors with weather protection as well as keeping the door back off of the sidewalk to prevent interference with passersby.

Recently, I’ve seen some entrances where the need to provide a recess was overlooked and under a wind-driven rain storm, water was pushed past the top of the threshold under the door rail and onto the interior of the building. A door sweep had been installed, but the rain, water shed and wind were too much for it to withstand.

In another instance, a commercial building had balconies that required inswing doors per life safety requirements, as well as a low profile ADA threshold. The balconies have a raised pedestal deck above a water tight roof that is flush with the interior floor. In this case, water blows in and flows onto the interior floor. Having a receptor or trough to collect the water and then drain onto the roof under the pedestals would have helped.

Building owners don’t always understand that doors are not water tight and become frustrated when water enters the building in this manner. Good design is the way to prevent this. Once again the devil is in the details.

Craig Carson is the director of preconstruction for Alliance Glazing Technologies Inc. in Littleton, Colo.

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