• Happy New Year, one and all!  Even though the Eagles lost, the year’s not a complete loss, yet!  And, 2014 seems to be looking especially busy for insurers and lawyers in the architecture industry. Here’s the latest on several high-profile projects they’re engaged in that will impact the glass biz.

    The Nasher Museum’s battle with sunlight reflecting off the nearby Museum Tower is still in the news.  The tower’s owner asked the Dallas City Council to broker an agreement for a fix, but there has been no apparent progress, according to ENR.

    As you’ll recall, there have been several other buildings with reflective “death rays “in the news: one reportedly melting cars in London and the Vdara in Las Vegas roasting sunbathers.  These cases bear watching as they could set legal precedent for designs that cause reflective “hardship” on neighboring properties.

    The Harmon demolition in Las Vegas was in the news again, recently. A judge pulled the demolition approval so the construction insurer can complete its in-house investigation.  The insurance policy is the owner’s, and could impact the pending lawsuits, as the investigation will “…impact the case by adding expert testimony,” ENR reports.   While not party to the lawsuits themselves, the insurer is obviously an interested party, so it remains to be seen if it can be objective.

    The construction contract required the owner, MGM, to pursue insurance relief before suing GC Tudor-Perini.  The insurance company thinks it has discovered “new issues” that haven’t been part of the lawsuits to this point, and that could impact the case or bring future action.  Again, this probably will take years to go through the courts, but the outcome is worth watching for the precedents it sets.

    Beyond the lawyers and insurers, tech continues to chug along and will affect the architecture biz in huge new ways. Notably, 3D printing is moving from prototype/part development to actually constructing buildings.  NASA is looking at it as a way of using materials on the moon to make a form of concrete, with which to 3D print buildings on site.

    A USC professor is already doing this with small-scale structures, and has offered it as a way of building economical low-income housing in developing countries.  One of the attractions is the reduced need for skilled trades to build the structure.

    Can you see the day when a curtainwall contractor further develops a BIM or other 3D model, wraps the actual jobsite in a hi-tech scaffold that has a continuous track running the full perimeter, and on that track, a 3D printer produces the building’s wall?  A few questions to ponder: Would anchors already be in place, or would they be printed separately, with a stronger material?  Would they be welded or fastened to the structure?  Would there be one printer for the framing system (with integral finish/color), including gaskets, and another for the infill, be it glass, metal panels, etc.?  Just think about all the technical issues we deal with every day, and how to automate all the various factors into a printed wall.

    And, who’s to say the building structure itself wouldn’t be built using a large 3D printer.  One question if using concrete:  if the concrete can be set WITHOUT formwork, wouldn’t that be enough of an attraction for a general contractor? I think the answer would be yes.

    Like the learning process most glazing contractors went through in the past, maybe the way to develop these systems is to start with simple storefront wall assemblies, and apply that knowledge to the next type of system, say stick curtainwall, then on to high-rise, high-performance curtainwall.

    As is always the case, experience of past events (Nasher, Harmon) teaches us how to move forward or to incorporate other criteria in design or development of new projects.  Somewhere there is someone who dreams, who takes new technologies and applies them to a new way of doing something that we take for granted can only be done the “old way.”  3D printing may be that, or it may lead to a new or different way that nobody’s thought of yet.  As smart as Leonardo De Vinci was, did he foresee that his self-propelled air screws would one day turn into helicopters?  I doubt the Wright Brothers could see, just 110 years ago, that 747s and Concordes would one day be possible.

    Someone’s going to push the building envelope “envelope” (curtainwall construction)?  Where do you see it going?

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  • Dear Santa,

    I think I forgot to write you last year. And, here it is the holidays again. Where did the year go, and why is it at my age a year seems to go by so much more quickly than it used to do? Seeing as I hit one of the big X-0s this year (X = absolute denial), I guess one year keeps getting to be a smaller and smaller percentage of the total.

    Generally, the industry is better, or should I say, there’s hope in the New Year? It’s been a tough five years. Someone at BEC 2009 said it would be 2014 before things returned to pre-2009 levels. That was scary when we heard that; maybe we were still in denial. In hindsight, the recovery HAS taken all of that and a little more. Send us more of the positive indicators please:  increased ABIs, lower construction unemployment, an uptick in non-residential construction, etc.

    We’ve suffered some setbacks. ASHRAE wants less glass in buildings. Please send them some love for the glass biz. While their arguments do carry some credibility, can you ask them to leave the justification for the use of glass to the glazing guys, please? The glass industry doesn’t tell them how to design their systems. Isn’t it enough to say we want better-performing windows? Has the glass industry not paid enough attention to their concerns, and their only reaction now is to limit the amount of windows in buildings? I guess we need help understanding where they’re coming from, too, maybe.

    For our part, we’d like to ask the architects to challenge this challenge to our livelihoods. There’s a way to balance good design with BOTH the need to use less energy, and the human comfort level factors of well-lit offices, schools, hospital rooms, etc. At least that’s what the efficiency experts tell us. Using sunlight to reduce electric lighting loads would help lessen air conditioning loads. ASHRAE has to like that too, right?

    God bless the glass suppliers for taking the front-line position on this for the rest of the industry. It’s hard for the glazing subs to get up for this battle, as they have so little ammo, they’re just small potatoes compared to the behemoths such as ASHRAE, AIA and other interested parties. Thankfully, the glass manufacturing guys can and are standing toe-to-toe in this fight. They have a much broader perspective than the much smaller glass houses and glazing contractors. Next time we see our glass suppliers, we’ll be sure to thank them for their efforts on our behalf, and take them to lunch once in a while, too.

    On a similar track, was there any (a little?) irony last week reading NFRC’s reaction to not enough CMA certifications taking place? It’s been at least three years since they rolled out their final version, and I guess there hasn’t been a lot of buy-in yet. According to their reckoning, only 270/50,000 potential glazing systems have been certified. The quote I found classic: “More and more manufacturers have to participate. ” Mr. NFRC, what you’re finding is that as of today, the manufacturers don’t have to. There hasn’t been enough of a demand in the marketplace. Despite the legitimate attempt to codify this requirement, it hasn’t taken off as originally envisioned. Not yet, anyway.

    If we can prove the windows have the thermal performance we say they do, why do we need a third-party system to validate that? The architect can specify the thermal performance required. And, here’s the big IF:  IF the owners are willing to pay for it, the frame and glass guys can team their products together, do the thermal calculations to validate the expected thermal performance, the labs can report thermal testing has substantiated the calculations. We haven’t seen the owners willing to pay the upfront costs for doing this. AND, even more importantly, Mr. NFRC, all of that can be done outside the NFRC CMA process, both modeling and testing.

    Where does that leave the CMA process? We don’t know, and apparently, the NFRC doesn’t have much better insight, either, except to complain when people don’t want to pay the fees or get bogged down in a three- to four-month certification process, which isn’t figured into many glazing contractors’ schedules. The glazing subs won’t ever get the opportunity to add it to their schedules.

    Another setback this year: Losing Greg Carney is like losing your best friend. It may take an army to replace him – can you spare us that many people? That’s one setback the industry’s going to need some time to recover, let alone get over (if we can). In Greg’s memory, there are a lot of folks committed to trying to fill his shoes.

    In most other aspects, we’re certainly poised for the upturn. Some big boys have fallen out. Some little outfits won’t be back. But, like in times past, will there be bidders out there putting out unreasonable numbers, not based on reality, just trying to get ANY job to stay open and or what they think is their definition of “afloat,” while the good guys, the ones who bid it right, have to fight tooth and nail to hang on? Hopefully not. We don’t often ask for you to take things from us, but can you take out the type of outfits that low-balls their estimates, please, Santa?

    We are so grateful for all we have. Let us be mindful of how much work there is in earning our keep “by the sweat of our brows,” and may we be blessed to remember why we do this. You and God both know it’s not for fame and glory.

    Santa, let us enjoy our families this holiday (and all year round for that matter). And, to remember those less fortunate, to remember “there but for the Grace of God, go I. ”  Help us to do good things always, be honest with ourselves and each other. I for one, couldn’t ask for much more.

    Wishing you and yours the peace and hope of the season and the New Year!  And, that we’ll always remember the reason for the season!


    Chuck Knickerbocker

    P.S.  See you after the New Year comes in!

    P.P.S.  Santa, I promise to write at least once a year. Or can I just send you the link to the blog?

    P.P.P.S.  I was a good boy this year, too. If you don’t believe me, Vicki can (I hope) vouch for me! If I was, is it too much to ask: please let the Eagles win on December 29?

  • As the LEED green building rating system grows in popularity, so, too, do the number of challenges to it. Just this week USGNN.com™ ran a story about a proposed ban on LEED in Ohio, and ENR reported that plastics manufacturers are pushing back on LEED legally.  They oppose that LEED has established a “new credit that discourages the use of some products USGBC deems harmful to the environment.”

    Since Ohio has a large chemical and plastics industry, they’re lobbying for an open discussion about how their products are considered under LEED.  They’re claiming USGBC “closed them out of truly open consensus process in the new LEED’s development.”

    That sounds familiar; some of the same arguments were made regarding NFRC’s CMA process.  Now, someone with a lot bigger stick is jumping in to see if they can out-distance the impact of LEED.  That’s one way of going about it, obviously.

    While getting USGBC to open up the process, wouldn’t it also behoove the chemical and plastics industry to spend just as much effort to make their products more recyclable?  Granted, there’s hardly anything you can buy that’s made of plastic that doesn’t have the recycle triangle on it.  And, there are a lot of products that claim to be made from recycled plastics.

    But, can the recycled plastics be recycled themselves?  It’s my understanding that plastics are not easily recycled into their previous form, but instead the recycled plastic is downgraded to lesser forms, use, or performance.  This is as opposed to glass, aluminum, and steel, which can be recycled and re-used in their original form any number of times with little or no degradation of performance, strength, etc.  Now there’d be a technology (plastics recycling) I can point my grand-kids to if they’re interested in breaking into something new.  Or would it?  Anybody remember the one-word advice Dustin Hoffman’s character got upon graduation from college in “The Graduate?”

    A quote from John F. Kennedy about nuclear weapons reduction can be applied to the environmental issues in front of us:  “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.  We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.

    A longer perspective on all of our parts can only help reach meaningful, manageable solutions.  Open LEED up to all the players, guys.  It’ll pay off in the end for us all.  A lot of work to do in the meantime, no doubt.


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