Volume 36, Issue 4, April 2001

Breaking Down Walls

Contract Glaziers and Architects: Building a Non-Adversarial Relationship
by Steve Green

WALLS Historically, an ambiguous relationship has existed between architects and glazing contractors. In fact, it has been said that the mistrust between the two groups is as old as the professionals themselves. Obviously, an adversarial relationship hampers the completion of any project—especially one as extensive as the creation of a large building.
In an effort to facilitate the building of both structures and relationships, a team approach is becoming the norm in today’s construction world. The contract glazier is an important member of the building team, and the relationship the glazier develops with the project architect is of crucial importance to the success of any undertaking. Simply put, effective project team membership for those in the glass industry consists of three main elements: reputation, education and communication.

Dedicated to Quality
First, the glass industry must be dedicated to quality, and must have a reputation for acting upon that dedication. This may require initiating contact with architects through involvement with professional organizations and societies. Not only will professional organization membership lend credibility to those in the glass industry, but it will also serve a more tangible purpose: it will get your name recognized. Architects will become familiar with the names of people and firms involved in specification development, quality control, training and safety initiatives and community programs—and those will be the names remembered when project development time comes around. The credibility earned through a dedication to professionalism will also result in increased trust by architects. When suggestions for product choice are offered, it is inevitable that an architect will more highly respect the input of a glazier with a reputation for professionalism.

The glass industry must also dedicate itself to qualifications-based selection (QBS) as a means of reinforcing a positive reputation. QBS is a widely-endorsed method for selecting a design professional, and is of great influence in the field of architecture. The QBS process makes quality the primary consideration in design. Architects and engineers are chosen based upon their qualifications in relation to the scope of a project. This influences the entire bidding process, as a low bid may not necessarily be the
chosen bid. Expertise, experience, available resources and innovation—value-based criteria—are of prime importance in the selection process. QBS is a driving force in the world of architecture, and this force will be felt in the architect’s dealings with contractors in the glass industry. Glass and glazing professionals would be well-advised to dedicate themselves to a QBS approach as a means of presenting their qualifications and expertise to architects.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is an important part of any profession. It is of prime importance that the glass industry educates itself about the specification process architects use if it is to successfully work with this audience. Typically, architects review their general fenestration decisions in order to guide future and current glazing selections. They decide the range of desirable visible transmittances, and determine insulating glazing options. Color, reflectance, ultraviolet transmittance and sound influences on glazing selection are evaluated. Building code requirements and engineering mandates are considered—especially in regard to solar heat gain coefficient. The possibility of glare is determined and product literature is reviewed. Finally, samples, further information, support options and pricing are researched. This is the specification process. Know it, and know when and how you can involve yourself in this process.

It is a given that glaziers need to be well-informed regarding the tools of the trade. Not only must those in the glass industry update themselves regarding new trends, products and technologies continually, but they must also educate architects regarding the same. Education becomes especially crucial in the bidding process. The more knowledgeable the architect, the easier it is for him to recognize a correct and responsible bid.

Most importantly, architects need to be educated regarding the products, procedures and technologies of the glass industry in order to assure consistent quality. We are the experts regarding storefronts, entrances, curtainwall and other glass products. We possess the knowledge about the proper use and installation of these products. Architects need input from glaziers.

The thrust toward education has led some glass associations in Canada to sign agreements providing for uniform standards and practices. Specifications resulting from these agreements serve as a reference to architectural aluminum and glass products and technology, building code requirements and design and performance issues. Architects and specifiers can use this comprehensive reference to understand the kinds of products supplied and installed by glazing contractors. Architects have found that choosing appropriate products is simplified, and that quality is assured through use of the standards. Moreover, the use of clear specifications serves the long-term interests of the glazing industry through creating consistency with regard to specifications for projects and for good ethical business practices.

Open Communication
Glaziers need to commit, not only to the general education of architects, but also to open communication with them. This is especially necessary when product choice is being made. Architects may be unaware of the glass choices available and of the performance characteristics of those choices. It is the responsibility of the glass industry professional to communicate this information to architects. Spec manuals can play a role in this communication, and the glazier must be willing to be proactive in working with architects. If an incorrect glazing choice is made, the glazier must offer his expertise and knowledge to rectify that choice. Both quality and ethics demand this.

Ride the Internet Wave
Overall general project communication must also be a priority of those in the glass industry. Internet-based project collaboration has recently become an effective means of communication between members of a design/build team. The web can offer interchangeable file formats, is economically feasible and boasts constant availability. According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), about 20 percent of the largest U.S. architectural firms use project-specific websites, and about a third are using Intranets. This means of communication is replacing paper- and phone-based methods of connecting construction team members.

According to the AIA, miscommunication in a one-year project can cost as much as $50,000. The possibility of this kind of loss will pressure contractors into embracing web-based communication with architects. Moreover, the web can offer the glazier an effective means of communicating his specific products, qualities and benefits to architects seeking glass industry experts. E-commerce, e-business—whatever it is termed—is the wave of the future. The glass industry better grab a surfboard and ride it to success!

Putting all the Elements to Work
Reputation and education will form the basis for communication. These are the key elements in successfully working with architects. They are closely tied—one depends upon the other. Without reputation, there will be no chance for communication. Without education, there can be no reputation, nor will there be anything to communicate. The glass industry requires skilled tradesmen, but also something more. A professional approach to the trade will ensure positive interaction with the architects upon which our industry depends.

Steve Green is director of sales and marketing for Tubelite Inc. in Reed City, Mich.