• Is there anything more fun than a high school or college graduation? Fortunately, my wife and I were lucky to sit through what I hope will be the last two college graduations in our family for a while. The unbridled enthusiasm these kids show, and the shear relief that they don’t have to sit for another exam, pales in comparison to the relief dad feels being off the hook for tuition, for now at least.

    How can you sit through a graduation and not recall your own experience? Perhaps remembering a really good teacher you had. No one easily remembers the names of the mediocre teachers, but you remember the ones that pushed you, and who actually made learning fun. Thankfully for me, exceptional teachers like Mr. Speers and Mrs. Raymond were plentiful – and I still use some of what they taught me these many years later. It’s amazing.

    Getting an architecture degree was equally insightful. There wasn’t a lot of nuts and bolts taught, only general design.  We didn’t learn to size mechanical ductwork, only that a space obviously needed to be conditioned, and how many light fixtures could be wired off a single circuit. We certainly didn’t learn about mullion deflection, glass strength, or sealant movement capacity. One of the only things I learned in school, though, that can be applied directly to my current job was about structure, which comes in handy today for curtainwalls.

    My epiphany about what it takes to be a good architect (which was my intent when I started in college) came when I realized that design is an evolving process. Initially, I though what I first put down was supposed to be good enough to pass muster. It didn’t, and fortunately Kent Keegan (one of the good ones) showed me how to explore other possible solutions to the question at hand, and critique it for both the good and bad—then take what was good, and let it evolve further until reaching a point where the solution was the best one possible.

    Too late to change my major, I was in the middle of my senior year when I realized I didn’t have the design skills of some of my peers, so I changed to a construction emphasis, and then found myself in the  glass and glazing world strictly by chance. But random chances are what our lives are made from, right?

    What I didn’t realize then, but soon picked up from my first boss, was that it would take them five years to teach me what I needed to know about the curtainwall / window / glass business, and another five years to make sure I could correctly apply what I had learned.

    Over the years as I’ve watched my children grow into their own careers, and the same thing is probably true for a lot of professions. College teaches you to think like a _____________ (fill in your major).

    What you learn (and what they didn’t tell you in college) is that OJT (on the job training) completes your education, wherein you have to to take the theoretical taught in college and apply them to the practical, every-day situations you find yourself in.

    And that OJT takes time, and time is the one commodity none of us control. Experience applying past lessons comes simply, inevitably, only one day at a time. And experience is a cruel master: it arrives usually right after you needed it.

    Granted, some pick “it” up faster than others and learn to apply lessons sooner, but some are slower learners and might take the full 10 years to get to a point where they’re considered experts.

    So, what’s the lesson in all of this? When dealing with architects: cut them some slack. None of them learned the glazing biz while in school, at least not to the extent and level of detail you have, with so many years dealing with different window experiences. At least in this country, the architectural profession doesn’t allow them to specialize, not like a doctor or a tax accountant. So much of what we do in this profession is teaching architects what makes good curtainwall / window construction. Some of those folks are in their first five years.  Given the time for maturing in their profession, they’ll pick it up.

    PS:  On a personal note:  Happy birthday, Chelsea!

  • Coming off of a three-day weekend, I’d like to propose that in the future, we should change the third day off to Friday, instead of Monday. One, how much work do you really get done on the Friday before? Two, how much time do you spend on Tuesday (after being off), just trying to catch up with where you left off, only to realize there are fewer than 3.5 days to meet any deadlines, plus the open issues carried over from the prior week? In that scenario (this morning being no exception) Tuesdays after a Monday off are just plain vicious. Mind you, if I could talk the boss into four 10-hour days to have Fridays off, I think I could make that work. If you’re in, we can start a national petition drive on the White House website. What do you say?

    From the world of let’s find a better/cheaper/faster way of doing building layouts, here’s one that will have some serious consideration: getting a robot to do it straight from cad drawings. The video is pretty impressive.

    One question: who’s going to clean the floor before using this gizmo—the GC? Will they keep the floor clean around the perimeter for the glazier in order for the robot to do the layout? Or, does your crew clear out/clear off all the jobsite debris before turning this ‘bot loose?  And, how do you transfer the marks from the lower floors to the new floor to make sure you’re in the right place?  Right idea, and I think it has some potential, but I would like to see someone work the kinks out.

    An article on USGNN May 27 asked, “Could the Era of Glass Skyscrapers be Over?” Like Mark Twain said, I think the report of its demise might be greatly exaggerated. Yes, there might end up being a lower percentage of vision glass, but there are too many upsides to glass, and manufacturers are bringing more efficient products to market, which will make it difficult for people to let glass go away.

    Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson’s Wax office building in Racine Wisconsin, highlights how glass can contribute to buildings. On the original building, there were few, if any, windows. Given its site, there was little to see, as the building was located in a light commercial district, surrounded by some of Johnson Wax’s own manufacturing plants. Instead, Wright turned the roof of the open, two story workspace in the building center into one of the most iconic spaces of all time. There are stories about how the skylights leaked, how the columns got designed and tested, but space and time don’t permit the telling here—ask an architect sometime, it’s common knowledge in their circles. But, the light! It’s really a fantastic space.

    Speaking of light, have you seen pictures of the old Pennsylvania Station in NYC, before it was demo’d in the ’60s for Madison Square Garden? The sun streaming through the windows was stunning. Would the station have been better off without glass? The light gave character and definition to the space. The train station there now has all of the character of a dingy bus depot (not trying to be flattering). There’s no view to the exterior, no sunlight at all. Of course, the only way now to bring sunlight back in would be to put a glass roof on the Garden, and a glass floor for the basketball court and ice rink. Doubtful at best.

    No glass in buildings? I think not. The above examples, and many others, in which architects who work with, not against natural light, to create human, habitable spaces, show that as long as the sun shines, there’ll be glass in buildings. Even homes built underground, or into the side of a hill, have windows and skylights and wouldn’t be occupy-able spaces without them, unless you’re into bunkers.

    Spaces like Wright’s, and others where architects strive to come up with inventive ways to use natural light, make many of us want to come into work on any day, regardless of how many days off we’ve had over the weekend.

  • Is anyone else tired of having to upgrade software?  Getting used to the Windows ribbons was a bit of a stretch when Office 2010 came out. For AutoCAD, the first thing I do for any upgrade is go to the “classic” toolbars, since I can’t find half the ribbon buttons I need. This problem was brought to the fore when my family’s personal finance software (which we’ve had since 1986, using version 1.1, I think) stopped letting me download bank transactions. And so, kicking and screaming, I’m having to go to the latest version even though the “old” version came out only three years ago.

    Is that the classic definition of planned obsolescence, or what? When I mentioned this in passing to a friend, he said I need to upgrade my brick cell phone, too. That’s not the problem, since I never had a brick. Getting the pull out antenna replaced on my flip-phone, now THAT’s a problem.

    My grandmother used a ringer washer long after electric washers with spin cycles (and dryers) became common. She didn’t give it up until my grandfather refused to repair the old ringer washer any longer, and he bought a new washer and dryer. If she could have found her old washboard, she probably would have never used the new-fangled machines.

    Before you think I’ve completely lost it, these lessons were apparent in a couple of other takeaways from the Facades+ conference I attended in NYC a couple of weeks ago.  Links to some of the presentations I mentioned in my last blog post are on this website: http://facadesplus.com/2014-2/

    I referenced Joshua Prince-Ramus / REX’s presentation in the last blog about slumped glass. And, when I went to review it, noticed he ran out of time and didn’t get to the last part of the presentation, which was a shading sculpture for the Nasher Museum in Dallas. It’s about 50-60 feet tall and meant to block the reflected light off the nearby tower, thereby returning Renzo Piano’s directional, coffered ceiling filigree to its original functionality. I don’t know if anyone will buy into it, or who will pay for it. It doesn’t make any changes to the tower, which is what the museum originally wanted, nor does it require changes to the museum, which the tower owners offered to help pay for, but which the museum was not willing to accept. Nor, does this sculpture protect or shade the museum’s sculpture garden which was having problems with the reflected light killing the landscaping. Interesting concept, stay tuned.

    Another presentation was called “Architecture Unplugged,” by Doris Sung, in which she started by pointing out that indigenous architecture is completely independent of any power requirements. Think of an igloo or a teepee. No HVAC, no electrical outlets every eight feet around the walls. What happens when “modern” residential condominium owner can’t get up and down from their unit if there’s no power to run the elevators? You think a third-story walkup is bad? What about a unit on the 10th floor? Or higher?

    This architect started looking at biology (her undergrad major before getting a degree in architecture) and made some observations about the body’s skin:  how when we’re working or exercising, the pores open up, and help cool us. And then taking those types of lessons and applying them to a facade, allowing a self-controlled ventilating and shading device based on its reaction to available sunlight.  Her presentation then showed what they were able to do with a material they discovered that changes shape in the presence of heat. Great out-of-the-box thinking, with absolutely no human-supplied power required to operate it—it’s a dynamic, complex facade made simple.

    Lastly, attending a software class, I walked out wishing I was 40 years younger and was just coming into learning about these programs.  As revolutionary as moving from the drawing board to computer was for drafting, I’ve said before moving from computer drafting to 3D electronic models for buildings would be just as dynamic a change. That pales in comparison to what the software developers are now doing.

    By taking a section of a complex façade design in the schematic design phase and applying some complex, but simple to write logic diagrams, the software analyzed the wall based on those arguments, then reconfigured the wall accordingly.

    For example, if a complex shingle-like metal skin has to be made up of a maximum raw sheet size of say 48-by-96 inches, or for return legs on the finished panel reduced the “finished” size of the completed panel, or there was a pattern embossed in the panel that needed to be oriented in a specific direction,  or all of the above, the logic program would then modify the wall design to these constraints, and through multiple variations, show where those constrains could or could not be met.  And, if they couldn’t be met, then maybe the design has to be changed or tightened. The “acceptable” solution, one found to be the closest to the architect’s intent, then could be applied to the whole wall.

    But, these variations could be simply executed and modeled in real time, and wouldn’t require sitting there and waiting even a minute for the software to compute all possible solutions. A far cry from old-time programing, writing Fortran programs, keypunching the cards, running the program and waiting a day or two for the results, with only a limited number of variations.

    For flat walls, you might not need this kind of problem solving tool. But, can you imagine how it would simplify a complex, curved, spherical, or other 3D skin? The software is applicable to framing, not just glass or infill panels. Heaven help us deal with these projects as they come through the pipe. When you see one of these models come across as part of the construction documents, take an afternoon off and pay a visit to the architect’s office, if they’re local to your business, and ask for a walk-thru on how they got the skin the way it is.  If nothing else, it’ll knock your socks off to see what they’re doing with the available software.  Heck, by the time this blog is posted, the software probably has to be upgraded….

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