Science + Engineering Interview

RDH Building Science Lab in Waterloo, Ontario

Title: “Building Enclosure Coatings and Industry Trends”

Client: Durability + Design Magazine

Purpose + Audience

Durability + Design Magazine is a print quarterly trade publication, distributed at conferences and trade shows and mailed to a targeted audience of architects and building materials specifiers. To reach this audience, the magazine must offer technical expertise and aesthetic appeal. The Winter 2017 issue consisted of seven interviews with experts on trends in building science and the architectural coatings industry.

The subject of this article is John Straube, Ph.D., P.Eng., a senior building science specialist working in RDH’s Toronto and Waterloo offices, and a full-time professor in the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He conducts forensic investigations, assists in the design of new high-performance buildings and leads research projects in low-energy building design, building enclosure performance, hygro-thermal analysis and field performance monitoring.


This project tested my ability to recruit and interview an expert in the highly technical fields of building science and engineering. From there, I had to create a reader-friendly structure that would work well both online and in print. The solution I developed has three parts: An biography of the subject, John Straube, a carefully organized framework of interview questions and images that bring his work and expertise to life.


This article required my skills as a journalist and technical editor — from identifying sources and interviewing to organizing information and editing highly technical content — as well as my ability to rapidly familiarize myself with new subject matter.


“Since there isn’t a widely held understanding of the properties demanded of various coatings and products used in the building enclosure, there’s vast confusion. I’m using words that are very simple and very widely used in the industry: ‘water,’ ‘air,’ ‘vapor.’ And even those three words cause no end of confusion when combined with ‘barrier,’ ‘retarder’ or ‘resistor.’ (…)

“As we go to what I would call a more professional, technical level, we start talking about ASTM standards and UL ratings and so on, it doesn’t get a lot better. There’s actually no accepted definition of the difference between ‘waterproof’ and ‘water-resistant.’ And yet, those products are produced and those terms are used in memos, in drawings and in specifications all the time. You don’t need to be a scientist to see these problems.”

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