• Field Notes 31.07.2013

    “Dad, go back to curtainwall, it’s much easier than stud walls.”

    This from my 25-year-old son while planning a basement finish-out at his sister’s house.  And, from someone I thought (hoped?) knew the irony in what he was saying after working part time for a couple of years at a former employer, helping the IT guys upgrade computers and asking questions on numerous rides home about the technicalities of curtainwall he had overheard at work.

    He certainly doesn’t know how simple stud walls are compared to the many facets of curtainwall and window glazing design, fabrication and erection.  Nor of the many intricacies of any one element of glass and glazing, aluminum extrusion, die design, gasketing, sealants, fasteners, etc., that go into good wall design and execution.  As we were only in the planning phase of the basement addition, I guess I’ll have to show him how easy some 16d nails and a good framing hammer really is in studwork.

    Speaking of curtainwall expertise, I’ve come across a book a good friend who wrote about the design and execution of good curtainwalls.  Keith Boswell has spoken at the BEC conferences a couple of times, and has now put his vast knowledge down on the written page.  I don’t think I’ve met many architects on par with Keith’s experience and his willingness to get into the guts of a system.  Not many architects care or even know how these systems work.  Keith does.

    The book, “Exterior Building Enclosures:  Design Process and Composition for Innovative Facades,” is written from an obvious architectural perspective, but it’s a comprehensive review of the process leading up to the point where the glazing trade becomes involved in the work. One thing that makes it particularly effective is Keith’s highlighting of the execution of several projects.  Having worked on a couple of the projects cited in the book, I found it insightful.  I certainly had no idea how much work can and should go into the design process prior to when the drawings first come across our desks. And, when that work doesn’t happen, it’s painfully obvious.

    Equally as important was his coverage of the technical side. His thorough explanation of how a wall resists air and water penetration, how the exterior skin, regardless of the material, must respond to thermal changes, building movement, seismic or other forces and how anchorage impacts other parts of the building besides structural — all of which must also meet the aesthetic demands of a design –  makes the book a great primer for those new to the industry.   So, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for your staff or your architect friends, start there.  You and they will be better for it, you’ll have a reference point to send them to when issues come up and you’ll get a better appreciation for where they’re coming from.   If nothing else, it’s a resource that can be cited to show how an issue can be resolved, rather than just relying on “gut feel” or “experience.”  Having an external reference can only help, right?

    I had an experience this past week that made this especially relevant:  a mock-up install currently going on with testing next week for a variation of a standard / customized curtain wall.  I’ve said it in the past, I’ll say it again:  Mock-ups are expensive and they’re tough to justify within the overall cost of a building, but there’s always something learned.  Mock-ups provide crucial knowledge about what can be changed in the fabrication of material and how the install can be made easier and demonstrate how the wall will perform before the job starts.

    By the time you read this, wish us luck.  We’ll be starting the testing tomorrow.  Anyone who’s ever lived through the rigors of a mock-up knows the longest 15 minutes of your life is inside a chamber at a test lab during a water test.  My wife’s labor with our first-born was close to 40 hours.  Those 15 minutes seem infinitely longer.  (Please don’t tell her I said that.)

    Posted by Blogger @ 9:49 am

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