• Reading the editorial at the back of the June 7, 2010, ENR about the lessons being learned in the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico reminded me that we’ve been pretty fortunate as a whole in the curtain wall and window world.

    Decisions made due to financial and schedule pressures are all too real in this business as they are in any other. While such factors are probably huge in scale in other industries, in the curtain wall or glazing industries they haven’t led to the type of disasters where public safety or well-being have been jeopardized. And may God grant us the blessing they never will.

    A quote from the editorial brought home to me the curtain wall tie-in: “The U.S. hasn’t reconciled the idea that engineers can render miracles – cloud-piercing towers, low-cost instantaneous digital communications, deep-sea drilling – with the idea that each fresh miracle hurls us into unfamiliar territory.” “…the Gulf of Mexico … will be remembered as the place where engineering prestige dipped to a new low in an age known for disasters as much as for progress.”

    We’re a little bit lucky in this business. When involved with a professional engineer, it’s usually on the structural side of the business, and a lot of peace of mind can follow. Shop drawing preparation ought to be done hand in hand with a structural engineer as every bit the player as the fab and field people. Calculations verifying the size of the frame members, the suitability of the anchor design, and the overall adequacy of the construction are all critical. It’s a pretty safe bet that the wall when installed that way will stay on the building and perform as intended, at least from a structural standpoint.

    Fortunately, building codes, project specifications, and more importantly, industry standards, make sure that compliant walls can eliminate most of the bad things from ever happening. New technologies keep appearing, too. Warm-edge spacers, blast- and hurricane-resistant walls, cable walls, glass mullions, etc., all require some degree of engineering to assure they work as intended. One of the fun things about going to the testing laboratories is to see the inventiveness of other systems, especially some of the anchor configurations that are developed, not to mention the wall systems themselves.

    As static as the wall may appear, there are still a lot of dynamic forces in play:

    • Wind loads are always with us, sometimes just a slight breeze, but at other times in the form of tornadoes, straight-line wind bursts or hurricanes.
    • Thermal loading also causes framing to expand and contract over seasonal or daily temperature swings.
    • Building frame movement, either from the wind loads the curtain wall passes into the frame or from seismic activity, or from frame shrinkage or occupant loads deflecting a slab edge beam.

    All of these things have to be accounted for in frame-member-to-frame-member connections, as well as creating expansion and fixed anchoring conditions tying the wall back to the building.

    While most companies have “engineering” departments, often these are not fully staffed with licensed engineers. That’s not a deficiency, because more often than not, the systems designed and drawn by these staffs are reviewed and checked by a licensed P.E., thus the “life and safety of the general public” is addressed. And thankfully, in more times than not, that system, including the “checks and balances” of submitting calculations for review by the project engineer, hasn’t failed us.

    One of the backstops to assure “the system” works before it ever gets put up on a building is testing, be it manufacturer or independent third-party testing. Mockup testing is an awfully expensive proposition, but it’s always been my belief that no one has yet built a mockup where nothing was learned. Yes, there may have been mockups or tests that passed the first time through. In those instances, the lesson learned was, “We did it right.”

    Please don’t be the one to suggest a mockup or testing shouldn’t be done. One of the lessons learned is that sometimes it’s not done right, requiring revisions to materials or assembly methodologies. At times, the field will get an idea of things they can do to maximize their efficiency, which can lead to lower field installation costs. For owners and architects, once the wall passes the testing, they learn their wall contractor knows how to put up and install the wall, and they’ll get what they paid for.

    It’s a costly proposition, and usually jumps out to an owner looking to cut costs, but it is a way of assuring everyone involved that it can be done correctly. And in the end, it can save the cost of a mockup if/when a flaw is found.

    The single biggest factor in making sure all this works: the people that make up this industry want to get it right. All of us look to cut costs, improve efficiencies, and find better, cheaper and faster ways of doing things. But I have yet to hear any stories or witness first-hand someone talking about a decision dealing with structural integrity that would cut that corner to save even a single dollar. If they exist, I hope they’re tarred and feathered on their way out of Dodge.

    But for the “getting it right” part: may God grant that blessing will always be a part of this business, too.

  • A couple of topics caught my attention this week, so forgive me for a little wandering away from the curtain wall biz for a moment …

    Saw this link on the Dan Patrick Show, about a former NBA official caught betting on games. This one hit a little too close to home.  As a high school basketball official many years ago, it’s one thing to blow a call – and that happens – but to do so on purpose?  To win a bet?  When asked why people officiate any sport, it’s a way of staying involved in the game, a way to give back.  In a way, you do it for the kids who play the game.  Even it up, make a game of it, all of the other clichés …  But to throw a game as a ref? 

    I watched Pete Rose as a player, and he shouldn’t be put in the Hall. You can’t ruin the credibility of the game that gave you your fame, and expect its most hallowed halls to honor you. 

    A former boss of mine, when asked by a GC he hadn’t dealt with (and didn’t have a long-term relationship with yet) about how honest he was with how change orders were priced, responded: “I’m reasonably honest, but no more so than you are.”  What a great answer!  We are, after all, just humans. Hopefully, “Honesty is the Best Policy” hasn’t really died.  

    School graduation season will be here shortly. This one has special meaning to us: our youngest graduates high school. All eight (yes, eight, and it was enough, too) of them have received public school educations. That will be her mother and I singing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at graduation. So far, there are five college degrees, two in the process of getting theirs, two graduate degrees being worked on and this last one better get one, too. The degrees come due to their hard work, and their teachers got them started on this road. Their parents may have helped, granted, but it was not accomplished alone.  Not by a long shot.  

    My hat’s off to the teachers who did the most work. Why is it you can remember who your really good and bad teachers were, but the middle-of-the-roaders just fade from memory? Thank a teacher today, ask them to keep at it and make their students work! Someone has to earn my Social Security check money in years now too soon in coming. (My fallback if SS goes down is to move in with the kiddos.) 

    I, for one, will GLADLY pay my school property taxes from here on out. We may be done with public education in our family, but will keep paying our school taxes as payback for the one-heck-of-a-deal we got at our house on educating my kids. 

    I know I got more than the 3 R’s in school. When we start cutting the debate teams, the bands, choirs and arts, that’s when we’ll know the apocalypse is near. Heaven only knows we’re NOT going to cut sports, which is ok, as long as we keep all the other extra-curricular programs, too.  Bottom line:  fight for the school budgets to keep all the programs. It’ll help us produce a better next generation. We owe it to them, and to the past generations that did it for us. 

    Go Flyers!  I won a bet last week with a co-worker:  I had the Flyers, he had Boston. Poor Boston:  down 3-0 to the Yanks in ’04, they win the World Series. There’s talk already of the BoSox folding up this year, the AL East being too strong. The Bruins, up 3-0 on the Flyers, and then 10 minutes into Game 7, on their home ice, up 3-0, they let the Flyers score 4 straight. The Flyers haven’t been scored on since being down 3-0 to the Bruins. Sorry Les Canadiens:  it ain’t your year (After I’d written this, the Flyers just lost game 3.  Here’s hoping it’s not 2-2 or worse by the time you read this). Maybe the Celtics, up 2-0 to the Magic, will finish Orlando off. And the Phillies are in 1st Place. The Eagles traded Donovan – to DC of all places. Thank goodness it wasn’t to Dallas. But Washington? All’s not right, but I can’t remember being a Philly fan and having it so good.

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