Successful architectural detailing requires attention to many factors. As with most aspects of building, it is often necessary to think laterally to achieve results that are both poetic and satisfy pragmatic goals.
All successful design and detailing efforts will consider these factors. The designer may make value judgments through the process, placing the importance of one aspect above another. The critical thing is to be aware of these considerations and to understand the consequences of favouring any one over the other.
First off, it is important to be able to clearly identify the detailing objectives. These may come under headings such as:
- Appearance and aesthetics
- Materials usage
- Routine maintenance
It is also important to consider the specific environment that the details are to exist in. It is critical to acknowledge and design for:
- Prevailing winds and wind patterns created by the landscape or other buildings
- Rain and other weather that can be expected
- UV exposure
- Dust and pollutants that may be in the air and settle on the building
- Corrosive elements in the air such as salt spray
- Moisture, either rising from the ground, or as general humidity
Specific environments can vary from site to site and even on different faces of the same building. While exposed concrete masonry may be appropriate on the sunny north face of a house, its use on the south side of a damp site could quickly see mould and other organic growth develop, even with regular cleaning. If inappropriate materials are used or poor detailing choices are made, the building appearance can deteriorate quickly.
Concrete has a number of special and unique qualities that make it an ideal construction medium, particularly in domestic applications. These include:
- High durability
- Thermal mass benefits when used appropriately
- Ability to form and shape
- Enclosure of space and structure in one material
- Ability to form integral surface finishes and colour
- Relatively inert and compatible with most other buildings materials
- Excellent acoustic and fire resistant properties
Along with these qualities are some inherent limitations that the designer should bear in mind:
- Once cast it is difficult to change
- Not sufficiently waterproof on its own
- Sharp corners or edges can be vulnerable to mechanical damage
Once the decision to use a concrete structure in a residential project is made, the designer and the builder must find ways of optimising the positive attributes while minimising the negative aspects of concrete. The best way of ensuring this is through adequate and considered planning.
Planning for routine maintenance of the building, and in particular of the details, must be borne in mind. All materials and details perform better when they are maintained. Such maintenance may include washing, replacement of seals and sealants and re-application of waterproofing coatings. Decisions made by the builder or designer may place high demands on the homeowner to maintain certain details. Often the homeowner is not consulted or considered at the time, a point that is particularly true of homes built speculatively. Homeowners, where appropriate, should be consulted with over maintenance issues. In all cases, they should be made aware of routine maintenance requirements.