Volume 47, Issue 5 - May 2012

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Next Generation
Working with Today’s Gen-Y Architects
by Megan Headley

Architects graduating today have plenty on their minds, not the least of which is the difficulty in finding work in an environment where design queries remain occasional at best. Glazing professionals may soon find on their mind the differences in communicating with today’s young architects versus more seasoned design pros.

Generational experts insist there are distinct differences in work ethic and expectations between today’s “Millennial” generation and the Boomers who employ them, and understanding these differences can smooth a relationship already prone to bumps, such as the one between architects and glazing contractors. Aaron McDaniel, the author of the Young Professional’s Edge blog, advises Boomers and Generation Xers to “appreciate and channel a Millennial’s energy, focus their creativity and use their desire to gain experience to reach your goals.”

“I think in working with [young architects], and trying to show them a little bit of knowledge of how things can be done, they tend to want to listen. I’ve had very good responses from the architects I work with,” says Craig Carson, vice president of A1 Glass Inc. in Englewood, Colo.

Carson knows a thing or two about this area, as A1 recently hired a young architect to serve as a project manager. His son also is a fresh graduate from an architecture program as well. If he had to point to a chief difference between the fresh versus the experienced architect, it’s the inevitable point: technology.

In a recent post on the blog Tim’s Strategy, McDaniel pointed out, “Millennials are accustomed to communicating through multiple mediums … Millennials are digital natives (as MIT’s, Mark Prensky puts it), growing up in a world of the Internet and mobile phones. For those who are more digital immigrants, it is important to communicate in the way that Millennials do. Even in a professional environment a text message or an email may be just as effective as an in-person conversation for a millennial (plus you will have a record of what exactly was said).”

In architecture, that technological ease becomes even more evident when it comes to design drawings.

“They draw everything in 3-D,” Carson marvels. “To them it’s just easier. That’s their world now. They’ll draw everything in 3D and bring it back if you need an elevation or a floor plan. It’s really so much quicker for them to do that than to try to draw a floor plan and then an elevation and make sure they marry these; they just go that way because they’re comfortable with it,” he says.

(Too) Tech Savvy
Paul Becks, executive vice president of National Enclosure Co. in Pontiac, Mich., would agree. “Newly graduated architects have a very good grasp of 3D technology and are generally more apt to integrate virtual imaging into the decision-making process, versus actual model building and hands-on samples. There is generally a higher level of comfort put into making decisions based on virtual imaging,” he says. He notes that as his company delves into the benefits of new building information modeling (BIM) software in the façade development process, these young professionals are helping lead the way to “the Paul Becks, executive vice president of National Enclosure Co. in Pontiac, Mich., would agree. “Newly graduated architects have a very good grasp of 3D technology and are generally more apt to integrate virtual imaging into the decision-making process, versus actual model building and hands-on samples. There is generally a higher level of comfort put into making decisions based on virtual imaging,” he says. He notes that as his company delves into the benefits of new building information modeling (BIM) software in the façade development process, these young professionals are helping lead the way to “the eventual goal of utilizing a common shared building model.” Becks adds, “A collaborative process should be promoted by these young leaders.”

While the adeptness at utilizing in vogue technology certainly can be a benefit, it also can prove challenging for the Boomers and Gen Xers looking to keep up with one more trend. Of greater concern, as Jayne Veile, vice president of project management for Hilboldt Curtainwall in St. Louis, points out, is that this familiarity with technology has the possibility of becoming a crutch to these alumni.

“[Young architects] have an enormous amount of trust in today’s technology, more so than the ‘seasoned’ architect,” she says. “Today’s software developers design their products to have all the answers. The challenge is when you encounter a creative architect who comes up with new questions.”

Veile adds that the reliance on modeling software poses its own challenges.

“We are finding more projects being designed with the new modeling software, and yet the more sophisticated the software the less information is on the actual drawings. To clarify the contract documents, numerous RFIs are generated,” she explains.

The thought has crossed Carson’s mind as well.

“I was talking at the Building Envelope Contractors meeting (see April 2012 USGlass, page 36) to an architect who works for a general contractor about some of the guys they’re hiring. They’re doing a lot of 3D modeling and BIM and so forth in order to try to make it more efficient to build. And you know, a lot of these architects now come from the school of ‘cut and paste’ instead of trying to think about how something goes together. In the old days, before they would put anything down on paper they would have to think about it because they couldn’t erase a lot of things. And I think that actually makes them think through the process a little better,” Carson says.

Complex Detailing
For all the differences in communication between generations, there is the more basic difficulty in communication between architects and glazing contractors to deal with as well. Frustrating as it may be that all architects don’t come straight out of school knowing where to use a storefront or a curtainwall, they do graduate with a basic knowledge of a multitude of trades, from glazing to electrical to HVAC. Glazing contractors have the opportunity to become a powerful resource in further educating these young professionals anxious for experience.

“They come out basically with a ‘book education’ and they need some real-world experience,” Carson says. In particular, he points out, “I think one of the biggest concerns I have is that architecture students tend to have more art and less engineering, and so their expectations of what can actually be built are somewhat askew. For example, thinking they can use storefront where curtainwall goes. That’s an educational process that maybe we as an industry could do more in trying to insert ourselves into the schools and offering our skills while they’re in college.”

McDaniel points out in his blog post that it helps Millennials to know why things work, not simply that they do. “The whole ‘because I said so’ argument does not sit well with Millennials,” he writes. “They need to understand why they are being asked to do a certain task or why a goal was set the way it was. Moreover, explaining how they will benefit and gain experience from fulfilling a certain task will allow you to connect better with a Millennial and foster better results from him or her.”

In other words, helping to educate these young architects can reap long-term benefits down the road. And one of the biggest areas in which these glazing contractors see education lacking is when it comes to understanding the intersections of systems.

For example, as Veile says, architects need to understand “how the installation of the glass needs to be coordinated with the curtainwall system to meet air and water infiltration requirements, along with other performance requirements.” She adds, “Since a large portion of our work is custom curtainwall, there seems to be a teaching experience not only for the architect, but building owners and construction managers.”

Carson agrees. “The people who evaluate the thermal efficiency of the building are looking at a wall elevation and they’re looking at it in 2D—the wall has this value, the wall system has this value, and so forth—but they never look at the intersections. There’s a huge amount of energy that can be saved or lost due to that detail,” he says. “We’ve seen too many areas where the thermal efficiency design of the wall doesn’t match up to where the window wall is and you get a cold spot in there. What you have to do is show the architect, through thermal modeling, how efficient that wall is or isn’t depending on where you place and marry the line of the thermal pockets between the wall and the glazing systems.”

Becks believes that the most helpful approach is to have these young architects come out of school knowing they need to incorporate subcontractors as resources to fill in their knowledge gaps.

“It would be helpful if graduating architects had a better understanding of the complexities of modern facades and the need to embrace processes such as design-assist as a tool to allow the development and integration of “It would be helpful if graduating architects had a better understanding of the complexities of modern facades and the need to embrace processes such as design-assist as a tool to allow the development and integration of more efficient and well thought-out façade solutions,” he says.

The Process and Product
When it comes specifically to glass, the product is changing rapidly, making education more important, but also more difficult.

“Right now the energy codes and standards are really affecting the types of glass we use,” Carson points out. “We’re seeing different glass types now that even two, three years ago we didn’t see.”

Becks finds that a glass education often revolves around the manufacturing process and the limitations that may be imposed by the process. For example, “the fact that any heat processed glass will have compromised visual clarity. Additionally, there is sometimes an unusually high standard of expectations for glass edge fabrication standards, in particular for laminated glass,” he says. “There are certain limitations due to machinery and product that will not allow the standards to be met. If these young designers have a better handle on the manufacturing process, they will be better suited to design within the limitation parameters, and have less need to revise designs to adjust to these limitations.”

Veile suggests that knowing what resources are available can be the biggest benefit to these still-learning architects. “[They should] educate themselves on the Glass Association of North America’s and glass manufacturers’ recommendations. I would also stress to them to talk to a curtainwall/glazing contractor during design,” she says.

Providing resources for these learning professionals now can later lead to a powerful resource for glazing contractors.

Megan Headley is the special projects editor for USGlass Magazine. She can be reached at specialprojects@glass.com.


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