Volume 23, Issue 3- May/June 2009

Glass and Architects Converge

A Review of the AIA Convention in San Francisco
by Ellen Rogers and Megan Headley

Reaction to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Annual Convention in San Francisco was mixed. Initially many glass-related exhibitors expressed doubt that the aisles would ever fill, as attendees trickled into the Moscone Center on April 30. There were definite hot spots on the trade show floor throughout the three-day event, and many of those companies that had seen limited traffic were pleased with the focused attention they received from the attending architects by the time the show closed on May 2.

There certainly was plenty of glass to see from the more than 60 glass-related exhibitors. Among those products that were new to the show floor were such trendy offerings as decorative and solar glass. However, many of the products on display had been introduced at previous conventions, and several exhibitors confessed to showcasing “the same old thing.” Those “same old” offerings may have been a result of strategies for waiting out the construction downturn, but yet another surprise on the show floor was the number of businesses sharing news about growth and recent expansions amidst this troubled economy.

Business as Usual
While there was some question as to how the economy would impact the show’s attendance, a number of exhibitors said that they’ve remained not only unscathed but strong throughout the construction downturn.

According to Douglas Mahler, business development manager for Sheffield Plastics Inc., “The stimulus dollars are coming through now,” a fact that is leading to more government-type projects that would require use of protective products such as the company’s high-impact polycarbonate sheet products.

“This is a great show for us,” Mahler added. “Probably everyone that has come by has a need where we can help them.”

Dave Hewitt, director of marketing for EFCO Corp., noted that the Monett, Mo.-based company is looking to hire a number of people as blast and government projects carry the manufacturer through the construction downturn. “Schools have been our bellwether,” Hewitt said.

Others also were excited to talk about how they’ve been able to grow their businesses through new locations and expansions. Ross Deeter, regional manager for Novum Structures, said the company has grown domestically and internationally.

“We’re taking the economic slowdown in stride, but we’re still moving forward because we know the market will pick back up,” Deeter said. The company recently opened new offices in Dallas, San Francisco, Florida, Germany, England, France, Turkey and India.

The company has been busy lately with a variety of projects and Deeter said that exhibiting helps them reach out to the architectural community to provide assistance, regardless of the budget.

“We’re here to support the architects with whatever type of architectural projects they may have, from the small canopy to a large wall,” he added.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials has been much in the news in recent months following several acquisitions, and its representatives showed at the convention that they’re far from done making a splash. Over the next six months the company is aiming to increase production of commercial glass and window products until that segment makes up approximately 70 percent of its business. Its recently acquired facilities from the former Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago and Kensington Windows in Vandergrift, Pa., both will be dedicated to producing the company’s energy-efficient windows.

Energy Exhibits and Education
As has been the trend in recent years, architects came to the convention looking for information about energy-efficient products.

“Because of sustainability in buildings we’ve been looking at low-E glasses really carefully,” said Glenn Rescalvo with Handel Architects LLP in San Francisco. “We’re looking at the coatings that are applied to them and how we can use them to reduce heat gain and mechanical loads in the buildings. Fritted glass also works great; we can use it to the maximum 70 to 80 percent frit and still get visibility while also reducing our heat loads.”

Ben Tranel, an architect with Gensler, also in San Francisco, was interested in sustainability and energy performance. He was especially interested in glass with a frit on the exterior surface.

“Up until now we’ve always used frit on the [inside surface] and on a lot of our projects we’re looking for ways to put it on the exterior to create a real contrast on the exterior reflectivity,” Tranel said. He also was searching for sustainability in the way of triple-glazed insulating glass units and argon-filled glass, as well as the “next generation” of high performance low-E coatings.

However, among the most energy-efficient products at the show were those actually generating energy.

“It also seems like everyone has building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels displayed in their booths. It’s something we have not really used yet, but it’s something everybody seems to be offering,” Tranel observed.

Guardian Industries was one such company spotlighting BIPV. The company utilizes thin film technology, based on copper-indium-sulfide (CIS) technology, in its modules as the company says this technology has greater absorption properties than others and provides thin, efficient modules with an attractive neutral gray/black appearance.

Although the big model in the booth was two modules laminated together, Chris Dolan, director, commercial glass program, noted, “We can make these in larger sizes from two, three, four modules laminated together.” The standard size module from the company measures 26 by 50 inches. Guardian’s display, which was fabricated in cooperation with JE Berkowitz LP and Eureka Metal & Glass Services, simulated the energy produced through BIPV in a laminated and insulating glass unit.

For some solar exhibitors, visibility was key.

Arch Aluminum and Glass in Tamarac, Fla., and Konarka Technologies Inc., a solar plastic film producer based in New Bedford, Mass., used the show as an opportunity to announce a joint development agreement. Under the agreement, the companies will develop a line of semi-transparent, glass BIPV products called Active Solar Glass® (Turn to page 21 to read more about ASG).

According to Max Perilstein, Arch’s vice president of marketing, the product “will change the world of BIPV. The key is that you will be able to see through our BIPV.”

Perilstein said the product “will give the designer amazing flexibility—color flexibility, energy flexibility, you name it.”

PPG Industries showcased its Solarphire AR (anti-reflective) glass, which is engineered to maximize solar energy transmission to solar-collecting PV cells. Many architects stopped by the booth interested in the product, said James Bogdan, manager of green building initiatives for PPG.

He also noted that the company is working to elevate interest in the LEED program, adding, “But not everyone is on board completely just yet.”

Talking with Architects
Despite the fact that show traffic may have seemed slower compared to years past, several industry companies said the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Annual Convention was still a strong event. In fact, Laura Shamblin, marketing coordinator for Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, said her company more than doubled their leads compared to last year’s show. Vetrotech exhibited with a new booth design, which Shamblin said helped contribute to the interest due to the open layout and interactive glass display.  

“Many architects were interested in the 90-minute glass floor display presented by Greenlite Glass Systems Inc. (a Vetrotech distributor),” Shamblin said, noting the display of a variety of additional fire-rated products. “Having life-size pieces of our fire-rated glass allowed the architects to get an up-close view of how our glass looks when installed and to see the actual thickness of each piece. We had many questions about code issues and design possibilities with all of our wall systems, as well.”  

The presentation of several AIA-registered expo education programs led many to Kawneer Co. Inc.’s booth. The 15-minute expo education program conducted within the exhibit’s dedicated learning center qualified as credit toward AIA learning units.

“This gives them the opportunity to come learn something and gain the continuing education points that they need—and gives us an opportunity to have a reason to have them come in, look around, see everything we’ve got and spend some time talking with us,” commented Henry Taylor, manager of architectural services for Kawneer.
Garrett Henson, director of sales for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., found the show to be a good opportunity to touch base with customers. Henson said he heard a lot of interest in interiors or specialty-type glass. Among other products, Viracon’s booth was offering information on the new blue-gray VUE-50 insulating glass.

Decorative Highlights
While performance, in the way of green and sustainability, were high priorities for attendees, so, too, was appearance. From color, to patterns, textures and even a combination of all three, attendees found plenty of new decorative glass products.

General Glass International promoted its new direct-to-glass digitally printing capabilities. Richard Balik, vice president of sales, said there was much interest in the product, brand-named Alice.

“Architects are excited about all of the applications in which this can be used,” he said. “The process involves ink-jet printing a permanent ceramic frit image onto glass, which will not fade. It’s also possible to print large formats onto glass.”

Oldcastle Glass® introduced its digital printed glass, i-Glass™. The process also involves printing the images directly onto glass. The company says it can even replicate the look of wood or marble.

Acid-etched products also were well represented. For Walker Glass its patterned acid-etched glass and mirrors were a key focus.

“By etching mirror we can turn a traditionally functional product into a decorative, visual product,” said Marc Deschamps, business development manager. His company often get questions about how acid-etched products can be used and applications for which it is appropriate. “We are trying to educate the architects and the design community on the products and ways that they can be used, both interior and exterior.”

Likewise, Guardian Industries introduced SunGuard SatinDeco glass, which combines the energy-saving properties of SunGuard architectural glass with the acid-etched quality and aesthetics of SatinDeco.

“Architects and designers have been interested in SatinDeco because it does not diminish the light transmitted but rather diffuses or softens it,” said Dolan. “This allows higher light transmission without glare in interior space.”

Likewise, Goldray displayed an array of decorative options, from printed glass for walls and partitions; products for floors and stairs; and even its new marker boards, which Cathie Saroka, marketing director, said got tremendous feedback from attendees. AG

Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass and Metal and Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass magazine.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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