Downspout at Pierrefonds, France. The castle was destroyed under Cardinal Richelieu and restored by architect Viollet-le-Duc beginning in 1857. Photo by the author.

Building science is the application of science to buildings, that’s all it is. It applies physics, chemistry, botany, and the methods and culture of science to buildings. Building science often deals with fluids—heat (a fluid for Carnot), air, precipitation and moisture.

I usually trace building science to the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, who reacted with contempt to the Fine Arts Academy of his day. They belittled him by assigning to his movement the name “rationalism”. As buildings advanced beyond artful edifices on solid structure, and incorporated new materials, heating devices, draughtproofing, thermal insulation, and healthfulness for public spaces, building science broadened. 

Many in the building world use building science. Architecture education claims to have—and is required to have—teaching and learning in building science. I was most fortunate to have been taught Environmental Control Systems by Michael Kim; all the other students seemed to resent what he had to teach, but I loved it. Builders are expected to build in a way that works—and thinking scientifically helps ensure the working of things. We have building codes; unfortunately, the input from profiteers in the industry helps ensure that improvements in the code come with great difficulty. Owners and managers of building expect things to work, and may have a science bent that they bring to their own troubleshooting. Everyone involved in building likes to think that their approach is the best. Despite strong countercurrents, science remains the gold standard for understanding what’s happening in and around buildings.

Most people want to know how-to. How to: build, repair, diagnose, troubleshoot, optimize, shop, litigate, complain, and ultimately live and work in this second (or third, or fourth) skin, which is our building. There are excellent sources for how-to information on the web. My four favorites are,,, and This is not a how-to blog. It is a how-come blog. If you learn how to build, repair, diagnose, etc. after reading posts and comments in this blog, well, that’s fine, a collateral benefit. The main point of this blog is, as it says, recreation. Having fun with our understanding of buildings. The scope is likely to go far afield from buildings, by the way.

Martin Gardner authored the last few pages of each issue of Scientific American during my growing years. They were titled recreational mathematics. There were games and puzzles and tricks, always with a mental challenge that went beyond the content of my high school curriculum. Thanks to him, and them, I always liked math. Gardner was a crusader who fought viciously for science against pseudo-science. If I have a template for “recreational building science” it’s the one Gardner made for me when I was young. Martin Gardner had a serious side—he defended science in a world that resisted it. This blog has a serious side as well. How do we put a name on this serious side? Climate change, global warming, maybe, but those descriptions easily skirt the guts of the problem. Ecocide as we burn the last available hydrocarbons.

About me

The prominent parts of my growing years were a liberal arts education, antiwar activism, and the building trades. At age 34 I graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Design, practiced architecture a bit, then in 1984 took a position at the University of Illinois Building Research Council. I’m married with two daughters and four grandchildren.

My research area is energy, air and water in buildings. In 2005, I wrote Water in Buildings. You may purchase it from the publisher here.

I used to consult on building problems. My current consulting is limited to historic public buildings. 

I wish to acknowledge and thank the citizens of the great State of Illinois, for having employed me for 30 years. 

Follow this blog

To follow this blog, click the small Watersmiths at the footer of the page. A Follow button will appear and you may enter your email address.

Blog at