Friday, February 1, 2013

Design Duds: High Waters

(Photo from
The fellow above looks pretty silly, doesn't he? Well, this doesn't look any better on buildings than it does on people.

Sometimes, builders do not take the cladding material all the way down to the ground. Instead, they terminate it a couple of inches early, creating a gap. I hereby dub this condition high waters.

This is a common practice these days, and it is really unfortunate. It can make an otherwise elegant building look crude. It is true that materials like stucco and wood shouldn't make contact with soil, but in an urban environment with concrete sidewalks and no setbacks, there is no justification for this. This is especially true when you consider that the ground floor of most downtown-style buildings are clad in brick, stone, precast panels, or ceramic tiles, which are all very tough materials.

Pilaster A
Pilaster B

The two photos above are from the same building. Pilaster A is done the proper way, with the cladding running all the way to the ground. Pilaster B has high waters. Oddly enough, both are from the same facade, and are about 25 feet apart. If it can be done properly in location A, it should be done properly in location B, too. This is a good building by a good developer, but high waters keep the building from looking complete.

Why is this done? I'm sure there are a variety of reasons. Perhaps there was a slight slope to the site, they they didn't want to cut the panels at an angle to accommodate the grade. In other cases, perhaps they started tiling at the top, and when they got to the bottom the gap was less than the width one full tile, so they decided to leave it. Whatever the reason for this practice, it should be strongly discouraged.

I understand that this sounds like a trivial thing to focus on, but the devil is in the details, especially in parts of the building that pedestrians come into close contact with. It gives a cheap, flimsy look to the building. It looks as if the builder didn't care enough to finish the job. It makes the whole facade look like a phony appliqué. I recommend never doing it anyplace where the base of the building will be visible, especially in a downtown. Run the cladding material all the way down, and if you can't for some reason, at least backfill the gap with concrete. Don't give your building high waters.

High Waters

No High Waters here!


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