J. David Chapman

I love old buildings. I love the history of the buildings. I love the facades, awnings, rooflines and story of businesses and families who made their living supporting their neighbors and community with products and services. We did terrible things to many of these buildings in the late 1960s and 1970s. We demolished some and covered the aging facades of others with metal and wood.

The good news is that many of these old buildings now have new owners who understand the significance of these buildings and immediately removed the wood and metal cladding to uncover the original facade. It takes courage – you never know what you’ll find behind the coating. In many cases, the cladding was intended to modernize the exterior of these buildings, but in others it was intended to cover irreparable facades. I love watching a building owner’s face find out why his facade has been covered as he removes the covering.

There is more to a facade than meets the eye. It is part of what is called the building envelope. It defines the unique architectural aesthetic of the building; however, there is more to consider. Architects should develop unique design features on the facade geared towards improving the performance of the building envelope. Two key functions are a weather barrier against environmental factors for air/water infiltration and light transmission to the interior space. The front facade of the building is an important focal point not only for curb appeal, but for the entire community. The rhythm of the whole streetscape is defined by the façade facing the street. A well-preserved facade helps maintain the historic fabric and cultural landscape of the building and the area around it, contributing to the identity of its environment and community.

Quirky, period-appropriate facades are more than decorative and can provide visual clues to a building’s period, allowing us to visually ‘read’ certain aspects of a building’s history. These facades can also include functional aspects. Form and function often go hand in hand to define the charm that people associate with these buildings that today’s modern buildings lack. The next time you visit a historic city center, please pay special attention to the contribution of the unique facades of the original buildings.

J. David Chapman is a professor of finance and real estate at the University of Central Oklahoma ([email protected])

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