• Field Notes 01.05.2014 2 Comments

    Every couple of years I attend an industry conference that looks to be professionally interesting. Such was the case with the Facades+ Conference held last week in NYC. I was blown away by the architects and technical presentations, and what’s quickly coming down the pike. Many of the projects are being or have been built, so there’s a sense of reality, as opposed to some of the projects from my last blog.

    First, how about some wood-framed buildings to attach curtain walls and windows to? Granted, most of us are familiar with wood framed homes, but not so for high-rise construction. The article points to a 40-story frame designed by Fazlur Kahn in 1965 – he’s one of the engineering wizards of SOM / Sears Tower fame. Apparently, an upside to using wood is it has lower carbon emissions to make it than do steel or concrete.

    Second, ETFE panels. If you don’t already know the initials (I didn’t), you soon will. Think of the blue swimming cube at the Beijing Olympics: those blue bubble panels are ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene). The material can be extruded, injection molded, or made into long sheets, then formed into complex or simple 3D shapes very economically.  In the example shown at the conference, the steel required to support the roof of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, incorporating clear ETFE panels, could be 30 percent lighter. It has none of the crazing or deterioration associated with acrylic panels, and can be clear or translucent (white or pigmented).  It looks to be the new material for a lot of stadiums and other large panel facades for a few years. Stay tuned, we may be asked to glaze this into curtainwalls or skylights in the not too distant future.

    Third, get ready for warped glass. No, not multifaceted designs – those are easy. A lot of architectural firms are researching this, and talking to a lot of the glass manufacturers about cold forming and pre-warping the glass in the fabrication of IGUs or laminated products.  Frank Gehry started this with a building in Lower Manhattan (written about in a previous blog), and more architects are wanting to see if the initial limitations can be overcome on large scale projects.

    Fourth, molded glass. No, this isn’t the decorative stuff.  The architect, in order to cut down on the amount of framing required, heated large glass lites and basically slumped them into a mold that had an “X” shape in it. The depth of the slump didn’t appear to be much more than 2 to 3 inches, but it resulted in a larger lite with a built-in stiffener.  Yes, the optical clarity of the glass was sacrificed at the “X,” but the rest of the glass remained clear. Visually, you first think there’s some type of structure integral to the glass, but when you realize it’s just glass, it’s quite remarkable. You’ll have to page through the photos on the architect’s page, but it’s worth it.

    Fifth, the guys who did the NY Tickets Stairs and Apple Stores are working to get more uses for the large lites that we’re seeing coming on the market.  Remember the 10- x 45-foot two lites of ½-inch laminated lite shown last year at AIA? They’re exploring the use of glass as a structural element carried to an exponential – it’s beyond me to describe.  But, when you can design a glass stair and take a photo of the entire office staff on the finished installation, that’s got to be a great confidence builder.  O’Callaghan admitted he wanted to write something to the owners about “don’t do that again,” but didn’t.

    Lastly, it’s always interesting to see how you can get caught up in the latest craze.  And when I did, by signing on to the “Google can’t trademark the word ‘glass’” thing, even going so far as posting the petition on my personal Facebook page, the error of my ways was pointed out from a most unlikely source.  Remember all those times you talk about your kids around the cooler at work?  It was one of those kids, who is the daughter of a former co-worker, when her mom and dad both sent her my Facebook posting.

    She’s now the age of my older kids (funny how that works), and turned intellectual property attorney.  She pointed out that the concern about Google trademarking “glass” is unfounded.  Basically, something that generic can’t be trademarked.  And the classic example is the same folks bringing us these large glass retail installations: Apple. The fact that Apple has trademarked their name doesn’t mean the local grocery store can’t advertise they still sell apples, let alone that they may even sell McIntosh apples, and there’s not a thing Apple, Inc., can do about it.  Thank you, Ms. Anne Turner, for pointing this out to me.

    Anyone needing a good intellectual property attorney, I have the contact info for a really good one in Dallas.  Some of this glass and detailing design, certainly looks like they are candidates for patents.  Who knows what’s coming next. You ready?

  • Flying back from Dallas last week, it was fun seeing the green of spring in the landscape slowly creeping north. Over the weekend here in K.C., it was in the 80s. The trees are budding and leafing, a lot of the flowering trees are in full bloom, and the daffodils are in full flower. Then, this morning, it’s snowing. Go figure!

    I always love to see what might be coming down the pike in architecture, to see what’s about to cross over into the “can it really be constructed?” world. Along those lines, here are some technically challenging curtainwall projects for your consideration.

    Evolvo Magazine 2014 Skyscraper Competition winners. Those might be a little pie in the sky, but that’s never stopped an architect from trying, right?

    There’s a project in Vienna that looks more complicated than it probably is, but the variety certainly livened things up in the detailing and fabrication.

    And, there’s a residential tower going up in NYC that seems incredibly thin: 84 stories tall, not very wide. The main structure is concrete, so the floor plates and columns have to be incredibly thick to resist the sway and twist that comes from so narrow a structure. The top floor condo goes for a cool $79,500,000 (zeroes shown for effect).

    As the economy comes back, we’re seeing more of these pushing-the-envelope-type curtainwalls. Recently, we completed a budget estimate for a curtainwall that was laid out in a segmented plan, with the verticals segmented, as well. It’s sort of a barrel skylight, flattened out somewhat, but then turned vertically on the outside of the building. The bow in the vertical section over a 47’-0” height was about 36 inches. All the glass is flat, there were no curved framing or glazing infills. So that brought it back down to Earth a bit. It’s dramatic, and there are a lot of challenges and opportunities in executing that wall.

    Can it be done? Yes. Technically, it’s not that far out of the box. How about cost? The question, as always, comes down to whether or not the owner wants to pay for it. We’ll soon find out.

    No problems, just challenges and opportunities. Most days, that’s what makes the world go ‘round, isn’t it?


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  • Field Notes 20.03.2014 3 Comments

    Some of what makes the BEC conference worthwhile is the different perspective you get by attending.  It’s always been intriguing to see how others perceive our industry.  From school protection using glass to BIM, here’s a recap of some of what I got out of the Sunday and Monday sessions.

    Julie Schimmelpenningh’s presentation about how to make schools harder to get into with a lower-cost alternative glass to bullet-resistant glass was worth its weight in gold.  She noted that while laminated glass won’t stop bullets, it stays in the opening and prevents a shooter from gaining access into the building by shooting out door glass and reaching through to open the door.  Since these events can end within minutes of starting, anything that can slow a shooter down gains precious seconds for first responders to get to the school.  This is something to talk about with the local school district, especially in balancing staff training and building hardening in light of budget constraints.

    Jon McFarland’s BIM presentation confirmed some of what I already knew about BIM, but it was great to see that validation by someone who’s using it every day.  It’s still tough to see how the smaller glazing outfits can incorporate BIM on a regular basis, in that a current project might require BIM, but who knows about the next project?  And, many small shops don’t use it enough to see a day-to-day benefit.  BIM has to be incorporated into the everyday operation to have an impact on a company’s operation. For now, that has generally limited its use to the larger glaziers.  BIM has a huge, upfront implementation cost, much like computer aided drafting did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  The glaziers who are using BIM are seeing the benefits of more accurate estimating, paperless transfer of data for fabrication of parts, and adding their ability to plan jobsite execution of the project.

    Courtney Little’s self-described junior high school lesson in democracy pointed out legislative, executive and judicial decisions coming down the pike.  For example, OSHA is about to issue work rules covering silica dust protection that will drastically impact work crews’ efficiency.  After an earlier presentation about productivity, I think this hit home for a lot of us.  Glass fabricators might have to change how they protect their crews on the production floor.  But, that’s nothing compared to what the field crews might have to deal with.   Can you see an installation crew wearing haz-mat suits with respirators, along with fall protection, while handling a triple-glazed field-set IGU?  Not a pretty picture.  And, the cost to the industry, estimated to be close to $560 million – who will pay for that, or how much less work will there be to absorb that cost?

    State governments are also scrutinizing contract clauses that establish legal forums.  Some legislatures are banning such clauses, attempting to keep legal disputes for a project within the jurisdiction in which the project is located. This is as opposed to litigating disputes in an out-of-state court in cases where the general contractor’s headquarters are in that other state.  As you can well imagine, most subcontractors are located near a job site.  Since most contracts are based on the law of the jurisdiction where the project occurs, to move any legal action to a court in another state could preclude companies from seeking relief due to the extra cost incurred with having to fight in a court inconvenient to the plaintiff.  If it costs an extra $25,000 to go after $50,000 you might have coming, is that worth the cost?  So be aware of what your state legislature is doing.

    If you’re not in contact with legislators, maybe now’s the time to re-think that, as voting by itself is not generally enough.

    Gregg Shoppman’s presentation about how to maximize profit provided one of those “duh” moments when you say, “I knew that, but why didn’t I know that?”  To increase volume and expect higher profits isn’t a given.  Decreasing overhead, if it causes more work for the field crews, is counterproductive.  Bottom line:  making the field crews more productive, even by minutes a day, has the best chance of increasing profitability. Gregg outlined some good ideas to accomplish that.

    Jim Benney’s presentation about NFRC certification remains, at least for me, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  NFRC keeps preaching that the certification is a given, but it’s not.  And, what NFRC fails to address is the cost to the manufacturers to put their products into the NFRC databases so that architects and glaziers can get certification.  So, it remains the job of those manufacturers to pass that message on to their customers, potentially along with the HUGE costs and schedule impacts to them.  By NFRC’s own admission, the percentage of manufacturers willing to participate, even now that their certification program is more than four years old, makes certification of a lot of systems impossible.  How that will change, if at all, remains to be seen.

    Finally, a personal note after being taken by surprise, humbled and honored on Monday with a GANA award.  I have stood on the shoulders of a lot of mentors (or “daddies” as Don Earnheart likes to call them) over the years. Contributing to BEC is how I’ve chosen to pay that forward.  A special thanks to Bill Swango, Charles Morgan, Steve Gernes, Kevin Robbins, Keith Lindberg, Charles Clift, Don, and Kirk Osgood, Robert Zahner, Jerry and Jeff Razwick, Devin Bowman, the current staff at TGP, Sara Neiswanger and Urmilla Sowell, and all the people I’ve worked with through all the GANA committees.

    I have only one regret:  I wish Greg Carney could have seen this.


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