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How to Design Durable Buildings in 3 Steps

rendering of a rental building with two towers, one white clad and one red brick, with inset balconies
  • Blog
Andrew Geldard and Karl Van Es
  • Architecture
  • Sustainable Design

How do you design a building that is economical to maintain and service? This question is critical in the rental market when repairs, maintenance, and tenant displacement can add significant costs to the ongoing ownership of a building. By their very nature, buildings are highly susceptible to damage and deterioration over time brought on by inclement weather, sustained tenant use, and fundamental failures in the building’s design. Knowing what causes these issues and reducing the risks associated with them will ultimately protect these valuable assets and provide more financial savings to their owners over the lifetime of the building.

It’s why Quadrangle is a strong advocate for designing durable buildings. Our vision is to design longer-lasting buildings that reduce these costs while extending the rental periods and life expectancy of the building. Through repeated experience and practice, we’ve learned that to design and build a durable rental building the following three steps should be followed:

1. Put the Insulation on the Exterior for a Durable Envelope

rendering of CG Tower's exterior amenity beside two coloured details showing a standard assembly with insulation between studs and the better alternative with all insulation on the exterior

Moving all of the insulation to the exterior of the building will create an air-tight envelope. This means that the interior walls and structure will be kept dry and the air-vapour barrier will be less prone to puncturing, minimizing the likelihood of mould and damage to the exterior wall. In addition to this, it allows for all maintenance to be done from outside which means no disruption to the tenant and no interruption of rent and the costs that come with it.

2. Use More Walls and Fewer Window Walls

rendering of 900 St Clair beside a diagram of a window wall system with an X beside it and a diagram of a punched window wall system with a checkmark beside it

With current economies of construction, building with window wall can be a necessity and we understand that. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be a combination of walls and window walls. Real wall systems that are properly insulated tend to have a higher thermal performance which keeps tenants more comfortable inside. If they are more comfortable in the space they live in, they are more likely to stay longer. Lower turn-over rates mean less time and effort will be required to find tenants. Higher thermal performance means that the inside temperature can be maintained even in the event of a power outage (which is of especial benefit to those with accessibility needs).

3. Use Balconies to Naturally Heat and Cool Interior Spaces

rendering of a midrise condo with a white base and darker brick top half with inset balconies, beside a diagram of wraparound balconies with an X beside it and inset balconies with a checkmark beside it

Wrap-around balconies are extremely expensive to maintain and offer no long-term benefits to the long-term maintenance of the building. Reducing their sizes and strategically locating them to account for the sun’s movements means that the building’s internal temperatures can be more naturally regulated. With fewer balconies, less maintenance of the windows is needed as balconies (breaks in the window wall assembly) are the largest cause of damage to the window system. To that end, inset balconies are easier to maintain in general because they are better protected from the environment on three sides.


Written by Andrew Geldard and Karl Van Es

photo of Andrew photo of Karl