Career Spotlight

Nathan Taylor – Building Envelope Consultant

Photo credit: Nathan Taylor

Buildings are typically designed and constructed for certain groups of people and communities. A building’s exterior should relate to its surroundings and ideally allow for future mutual use and interaction with the community. A building’s interior should relate to its users needs and operations. As the building performs for the people, they in turn, must execute maintenance and care to ensure the building can continue to perform. When a building can no longer function as intended, specialists are engaged to figure out the “what, why, and how.” Nathan Taylor is one of these specialists, working as a Building Envelope consultant. “A Building Envelope consultant is basically a doctor for a building, ensuring the building is able to perform the way it is supposed to. Some of that work is in the design phase, like preventative medicine. Some of it is remedial design, similar to corrective surgery.”

Building Envelope consultants work with building owners, owner representatives, architects, and contractors. The client will depend on the project, but include government entities, private owners, directors of facilities, contractors, and architects.  Nathan further specializes in construction contract administration and investigative assessments. His investigations will also differ, depending on the project, and what was installed in the building. In general, a Building Envelope consultant will “focus on the building science side of things. How a building will perform, what type of water and vapor barriers will best fit the geographical location of the project, how to mitigate thermal bridging and stop water from entering the building.” 

To this end, clients will hire a Building Envelope consultant under two typical situations: the beginning of the project or when something has gone wrong on an existing building. In the first scenario, the consultant is usually part of the design team, and their role is to ensure the building’s performance. In the second scenario, the consultant will act as a forensic architect, and their role will focus on investigations and remedial design.

“The more that you know about the built environment and how projects are actually built, the easier it is for you to jump into a position like this.”

– Nathan Taylor

Most Building Envelope consultants have an educational background in architecture, engineering, or construction management. Nathan recommends experience in construction administration for anyone who has not spent much of their time on a construction site. This recommendation is for everyone, regardless of their years in the AECO industry. The importance of being on site is immense and all its benefits would be covered in a separate exhibition. Nathan’s own experience as a Quality Control Representative in the waterproofing manufacturing process has also helped him in his career as a Building Envelope consultant.

About Nathan

In some ways, Nathan has always been a specialist, though not specifically in the AECO industry. He hadn’t known there was a career as a Building Envelope consultant, “it was a trial by fire,” but he hasn’t looked back after diving in. The work is interesting as there are no two projects that are the same. Similar products and systems may be specified, and similar failures may occur that require similar corrections, but each project is unique. To that end, Nathan has the opportunity to learn new things daily.

Nathan had attended Radford University for his undergraduate, some miles down from where he had grown up in Southwest Virginia. This was actually not his first choice. His dream school, where he was accepted via early-decision, was the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s Interior Design program. Nathan had visited the department there and loved everything about it, but the cost of that education was not possible at the time. The end choice was of convenience, but he “found lots of opportunities there.” 

In his time at Radford, Nathan was involved in various organizations and roles. He was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma, a Resident Assistant, Rugby player, Ultimate Frisbee player, and University Bookstore employee. Nathan was also a recipient of a Chinese scholarship program that then led to other opportunities after his graduation.

“I was surprised when the Chinese Government set up a full scholarship for foreign Master program students and I was lucky enough to be accepted!”

– Nathan Taylor

Nathan had been living in China for eight years when he was accepted into the graduate program of Architecture and Urban Planning at Nanjing University. He was offered a full scholarship and thought there was no way to pass it up. By then, he was already doing design work as well. “Grad school was almost ten years after undergrad. I was married and my son had just been born. Being busy was out of necessity, not out of choice. If it was not for the support of my wife, I would never have made it.” Upon his graduation, Nathan had worked with an urban planning office, a landscape design firm, and a company that focused on conceptual project design. Nathan’s transitions during this period of time consisted of struggles and successes. Being a father of a newborn just before starting a graduate program was an especially interesting dynamic.

“There was a lot of finding ‘middle ground’ with the hopes of being able to balance everything.”

– Nathan Taylor

Nathan also led a conceptual design team, submitting several designs to the Asian Youth Games Committee. One of those designs was a bench that got fabricated and installed in the Asian Youth Games Park.

Photo credit: Nathan Taylor

The landscaping design firm focused on large urban parks and residential neighborhoods and had taken on interns from Europe. The firm provided internships to Norwegian students participating in a summer study abroad at a local university. By that time, Nathan was fluent in Chinese, and his bilingual ability allowed for him to work with them on a lot of the designs submitted and developed by the design team. His role was to manage the interns, their projects, and report to the main office. He also had the opportunity to present some of those designs to the government.

Another opportunity Nathan had was to design a shipping container house. The house was built and became a part of his graduate thesis.

Photo credit: Nathan Taylor
Photo credit: Nathan Taylor

Engagement

Outside of his immediate job as a Building Envelope consultant, Nathan works to further his career by being involved with his local Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Sacramento chapter as a board member. He is also studying for his architectural licensing exams, attending the Young Architect conferences, and engaging with their community on Facebook. His five-year plan is to pass all registration exams, including the California Supplemental Exam. He wants to continue to grow as an architect and “licensure us a big part of that.” Upon obtaining that goal, he may think of other certifications. Nathan also has a longer-term plan to obtain a management position, to be a company owner or partner. All the while, there’s the goal to spend time with his wife and kids as well.

“It’s always tough to balance work and life.”

– Nathan Taylor

In the six years since Nathan has been a Building Envelope consultant, he has consistently run into the same firms and people. There are overlaps when bidding for projects, but competition has remained leveled. Most of those design professionals that have gone into building envelope work enjoy it and stay with that side of design work. A lot of those consultants are also involved with industry organizations like CSI and International Institute for Building Enclosure Consultants (IIBEC).

“It’s a small world and you end up meeting up with the same people a lot.”

– Nathan Taylor

Nathan would like for the more traditional architect firm models to consider the benefits of having a Building Envelope consultant engaged early on in a project or having an in-house employee to directly address any project. Though Building Envelope consultants will work in conjunction with engineers, they are also typically consultants on the projects. Improved communication is something everyone in the industry should strive for in every project. It is the responsibility of all project team members, but an architect is the entity that usually leads the design process and should be the one directly responsible for consolidating and implementing the information. Greater communication will allow for the team to overcome issues that will inevitably appear, much easier and more efficiently. There’s much everyone can learn from each other.

Growth

Each firm and Building Envelope consultant are different. If one is willing to work hard for their own professional development, and to learn from those who’ve gone before them, opportunities will be available. Growth is up to the individual. “People can make the most out of any experience they have, and that the ability to take and experience and use it for personal/professional growth is something everyone should strive for.” Continuing education is available for those looking for it. Presentations led by manufacturers to learn how their products are installed, are highly recommended. “It really helps understanding how something is applied in the field, and helps you rethink how to draw a detail when you know what the installer will be doing on site.”

“I think that I have continued to learn a lot each day.”

-Nathan Taylor

Nathan likes to think that “hard work and determination provides opportunities to take on more responsibilities . . . but sometimes it just means more work to do.” As growth is left to the individual, they too are responsible for analyzing their own situation. They can choose to take on what work they can, how to make it work for them, and ultimately when they feel it’s time to try something different. In his first “architecture” job, Nathan chose to leave for another opportunity. The job itself was great, allowed for him to learn a lot, but ultimately didn’t offer ways to grow within the company. His current form is very supportive of learning and offers incentives for attending conferences and other opportunities.

“There hasn’t been any huge surprises, just a growing understanding of the complexity of the work we do.”

– Nathan Taylor

Building Science has grown in recent years, being more referenced in new codes and standards. Projects are increasing in complexity and will continue to do so. To meet the increasing demand, the need for specialized design work will be greater. The more detailed and complicated projects become, the more consultants “need to be on board to provide insight into the deeper recesses of their specialty.” Many of the projects Nathan is involved with, are pursuing industry accreditations (LEED). These projects are able to have low energy impacts and contain healthy materials that are environmentally friendly.

“I think that these are good trends that will continue in the coming years as we are more and more protective of the resources we have left.”

– Nathan Taylor

Industry codes are more often than not reviewed and revised every ten years. Those revisions take time to initiate change, adoption, and implementation. “Even then, they are only a bare minimum.” Professionals need to take their own initiatives to design and construct better buildings that will do more than meet the essential code requirements. The AECO industry is constantly changing and improving. Professionals, owners, and users are looking to have buildings that will perform better. That is a strength to be proud of and enjoy being a part of.

Another practice strength Nathan is proud of is the ability to communicate through drawing. It is a skill that many can learn and understand across the AECO industry. Whether the work is digital or done by hand, Nathan is an advocate for all types of drawing. The skill pays dividends and should be preserved.

“3D models are amazing, and I even incorporated Virtual Reality into my thesis research, but nothing is better than HAND DRAWING.”

– Nathan Taylor

Diligence

There are a lot that those in the AECO industry can do to practice career engagement and growth. It starts with being diligent in your pursuits. Networking is important as it will allow for sharing resources and information. Nathan recommends the Building Science Fight Club on Instagram, the book Buildings Don’t Lie by Henry Gifford, and of course the Buildingscape podcast and Instagram page. Professionals can also pursue the following industry certifications from CSI and IIBEC: 

Construction Documents Technologist (CDT)

Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA)

Certified Construction Product Representative (CCPR )

Certified Construction Specifier (CCS)

Registered Roof Consultant (RRC)

Registered Roof Observer (RRO)

Registered Waterproofing Consultant (RWC)

Registered Exterior Wall Consultant (REWC)

Registered Exterior Wall Observer (REWO)

Registered Building Enclosure Consultant (RBEC)

Certified Building Enclosure Commissioning Provider (CBECxP).

Nathan has these words of advice to share with those new to the industry: “The A&E industry is much broader than you might think. There are endless niche micro-industries that you could get involved in . . . look for opportunities to do things that interest you within the broader design field.” Nathan has grown his network by attending conferences and participating in study groups. He also works to stay in touch with the people he meets. Through his efforts, he had the recent opportunity to co-present at a conference. 

“Latch on to ALL the opportunities you have. There are endless possibilities, and one small opportunity could help you realize a much larger goal. Don’t be afraid to go for it!”

– Nathan Taylor

The AECO industry can only benefit from supporting the professionals within it. To emerging professionals, Nathan believes in having “open discussions about real world situations, what to be aware of, and what you as a young professional need to learn to do; A good honest sit down to discuss what the firm needs from a new hire and how to work together to build a better company from the day they start.” 

Connect with Nathan over email and via the following platforms:

Email: nathanottotaylor@gmail.com

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