Implementing a successful water management strategy for building envelopes may not be the most exciting part of architectural design, yet it may be among the most important. The understanding of this part of building design factors immensely in structural resilience, longevity, comfort, and operational performance. Balancing budget, aesthetics, suppliers, timetables, materials, and owner requirements to achieve successful water management often challenges the profession’s best.

Imagine, then, the daunting task that first- or second-year architecture students face in mastering the same disciplines. Joe Fong, AIA, understands that fact as few do.

Fong, senior architect and building envelope specialist at building products manufacturer Tamlyn, also serves as an adjunct professor at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston, where he puts his 20-plus year career in service to prospective architects. “I talk to them about building airflow issues in the context of environmental impact, materials, and other aspects of correct design and construction,” he says. Here are five lessons that the building envelope expert shares with his students:

  1. Envelopes Stress. “We stand outside a building talking,” Fong says. “After a few minutes, they may feel hot, sweaty, uncomfortable. I ask them to touch the building, which is hot. I ask, ‘How are you going to keep this building comfortable and dry in these conditions?’ ”
  2. Cladding Fails. Brick, stucco, fiber cement, metal panels, you name it, “water will always find a way to get behind the cladding,” Fong says. “That’s why I emphasize secondary defenses to students. Whatever they do design, water management is the foundation they must build on.”
  3. Details Matter. Handling transitions, such as window breaks and wall-roof breaks is another point of caution and emphasis for his students. How is the flashing handled? What about the weather-resistive barrier or the water-resistive barrier? How is continuous insulation handled? “How do we sew it all together? The transitions and details are critical,” Fong says.
  4. Exams Reveal. How should students demonstrate their water management understanding? Fong views it as a three-step process, starting with research. “I ask them to examine how an architect handled the envelope on a popular building. We want them to pay attention to how the architect designed for air, water, thermal behavior,” he explains. Other test elements include a wall section cutout and, at midterm or final, a multiple-choice test.
  5. Software Simulates. Fong’s students visualize envelope behavior through computer simulations, a way to leapfrog the hard-won wisdom a practicing architect gains only through years of experience. “We’ll look at condensation issues, thermal breaching, and energy analysis through simulations,” he says.

Field trips are also an excellent way to illustrate moisture management challenges and solutions. A recent highlight was a field trip Fong arranged to the Tamlyn manufacturing plant in Stafford, Texas. The student response was gratifying: About 100 undergrad students toured the facility and the company’s research and development area, including a test house laboratory. The insider’s view revealed how the latest building science informs moisture management products like high-performance building wrap.

The takeaway for Fong? “One day they’ll be able to make buildings more functional, last longer, and perform better,” he says. For more information on preparing the architectural generation of tomorrow, visit