The Outer Shell Guide to Exterior Building Materials

The old expression says, ‘put your best face forward,’ and the same goes for co-op and condo buildings. But a building façade is more than just the face it shows to the street—it’s a protective barrier against the elements and an integral part of the building’s structure.

Face/Off

In New York City, building facades are often made of a different material (often brick or limestone) than the rest of the building. Tough as these materials are, they're not impervious to potential problems down the road. Over time, brick and other facades can still deteriorate, so they need upkeep.

“The most common types of facades are load-bearing, cavity-wall and curtain wall facades,” explains Joakim Aspegren, AIA, of Architecture Restoration Conservation, PC in New York City. “Load-bearing walls are typically found in prewar buildings, while cavity-wall facades emerged in the late 1950s; curtain wall facades in residential buildings are a more recent phenomenon, although some examples started to appear in residential construction in the late 1970s and mid-1980s.”

“Facade materials can also depend on building height,” says Russ Fernandes, principal/senior vice president of Becht Engineering BT, Inc., which has offices in New York, New Jersey, and nationwide. “Probably the most common façade type for new construction in New York City is brick veneer. Such buildings have a brick exterior 'skin' with an air space or cavity and a backing wall of either masonry (concrete) block or on a gypsum board type sheathing on steel studs.”

“A cavity wall construction consists of three layers,” explains Mena Barsoum, a project manager with Kipcon, a national engineering and consulting firm with offices in New York and New Jersey. “Beginning with the outermost layer of a building, the first layer is the exterior wall.”

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