Meet Karine | The Architect turned Facade Engineer with a flair for all things Mechanical and Structural

2nd June 2020


Meet Karine Charlebois, an expert facade engineer in our New York office with an intriguing, wide and varied background which has given her the perfect blend of skills to meet the needs for our more specialised work.

You’ve got an unusual / interesting background, tell us more….

I didn’t start out as most facade engineers might, as I originally started out doing a mechanical engineering technology course where I learned welding, conventional and CNC milling and turning, technical drawing as well as the design of various mechanical systems. A mechanical engineering degree with research into composite materials followed.

This led to a fascination with Architecture, so I moved to London to study it. From there I worked in an architectural design firm on hotels and interior design and then in another firm where I worked with both architects and engineers designing footbridges. I hadn’t considered structural engineering before, but this piqued my interest.

I wanted to become a registered architect, but I had also had my eyes opened to structural engineering. This was when I moved to Delft in The Netherlands to do a master’s degree where the architecture course has a strong technical focus.

Why facade consulting?

I left Delft in the middle of the economic crisis which meant jobs were thin on the ground so I had to do some thinking.

After some research, I realized that facade consulting is the perfect mix of a number of engineering and architectural disciplines.

Having an architecture background greatly helps understanding the design intent, communicating with the architects as the design develops and being able to produce an aesthetically pleasing end product. While mechanical engineering and structural engineering come in as you have to understand the behaviour of the materials, how to support it, its thermal performance and the system of components can be fabricated and connected together.

The research you’ve done, how has that informed how your work?

Doing research develops a rigour in approaching a problem. You learn how important it is to first clearly define your problem and what you want to achieve before jumping into trying to find a solution.

It allows you to look critically at what you have done and be able to communicate your ideas, so it is clear to others.

After having lived and worked in different countries, what’s so special about the NY market?

I love that there is a large pool of clients here for whom good design is important and have a desire to be innovative. They bring us challenging projects and make our job so interesting.

What interesting facade work are you currently involved with?

It is quite varied. For three years I’ve been working with a contractor in California on various high-end residential projects taking off-the-shelf systems and adapting them for use in seismic zones in a cost-effective way.

There is also a project to design large cold bent, “extra” fully tempered glass panels which have never been used before. Another really interesting one is a project where the client would like to cover the walls, floor and ceiling of a large room with silvered mirror glass. This has raised lots of issues including slip resistance vs appearance for the floors as well as how to detail the cladding systems to meet code requirements considering the adhesion issues of silvered mirrors.