Folded, white concrete  
shells are alternated with  
mirror-like window areas  
flush-fitted in the façade  
of the Vodafone Group  
headquarters in Portugal.  
This gives the building an  
acute plasticity that seems  
to be fully in motion.  
The Great  
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How Can the U.S. Catch Up to  
Europe’s Levels of Technology  
and Innovation?  
Race b y E l l e n R o g e r s  
or a country that has so much ancestry and heritage connected to Eu-  
rope, we certainly have a lot of differences. We talk differently and eat  
differently; we have different rules and regulations; our governments are  
different; and we’re one of just a handful of countries that don’t use the  
metric system. Is it really that big of a surprise that our architectural glazing  
industry, from design to fabrication to installation, is also different?  
Probably not.  
We’ve all heard it: Europe is far more advanced in terms of not only innova-  
tion and production,but also design and installation.But why? That’s a ques-  
tion that’s been asked countless times.And another question, not addressed  
as frequently, is just as important: what can we do to catch up?  
F
Here to There  
If it’s true that the European glazing industry is more advanced than the  
U.S., then it’s important to understand why. There are a number of reasons,  
according to several global experts.  
Attila Arian, president, Schuco USA LLP in Newington, Conn., says a big  
one driving innovation in Europe is the need and desire to export material  
and product. Germany, for example, represents less than 1 percent of the  
world’s population, but 20 percent of all the machinery in the entire world is  
made in Germany.  
“So there is a dependency … that forces them to stay on the cutting edge,  
or determine the cutting edge,” says Arian.“In the U.S., the mentality is, if it  
works, don’t fix it. They see no need to change it, while in Europe they may  
change the design frequently. Another thing is the U.S. economy as a whole  
is based on consumer spending and behavior. It doesn’t necessarily depend  
on selling technology to other countries, so cost is often more a focus than  
innovation.”  
Dirk Schulte, vice president, business development, sales and engineer-  
ing for APG International Inc. in Glassboro, N.J., agrees that the European  
mentality is focused on innovation. “From the fabricator point of view, we  
have seen that European fabricators are eager to try things out, to use their  
research and development capabilities and to always go the extra mile,” he  
says.“They don’t shy away from super-large glass or special low-E coatings so  
they can always achieve the best for their clients or turn a client inspiration  
into reality. The biggest difference with American fabricators and those in  
Europe is the latter will say,‘Okay, let’s try and find a way,’ and the American  
fabricator will say‘It’s not possible because we’re out of capacity and we don’t  
have time.’”  
Kai-Uwe Bergman is a New York-based partner with the Danish architec-  
tural firm BIG. He’s worked on projects around the globe and has also made  
presentations at a number of international and domestic glazing industry  
conferences. He says he’s always found the advances within the industry  
seem to happen first in Europe — on the university level and on the pro-  
duction side, as well as in application, architectural and even building codes.  
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August 2016 | USGlass, Metal & Glazing  
59  
TcohnteinuGedrefraomt R59ace  
“I find in the rarest of cases …  
maybe with a company like Apple that  
sees glass as a material to express sim-  
plicity … the advances [are] in Europe  
on the structural and manufacturing  
side. And even the consultants are the  
ones with experience in Europe who are  
bringing that back to America. It’s rare  
that you see things happen here first.”  
One of the main reasons, he says,  
is the low-risk mentality of the U.S.  
There’s a litigious culture in America  
that prevents you from taking higher  
risks. That nature of clients or finan-  
ciers would prevent you from testing  
and trying out something unless you  
Located in Padova, Italy, the TiFS ingegneria project  
features a number of unique elements, including a  
double wall façade on the south side.  
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have a client like Apple that’s willing to motes more security in the relationship has to do with the fact that the qualifi-  
test the boundaries.”  
between contractor and subcontractor. cation of the personnel in fabrication  
Boundaries are set by law and every- and installation is higher and you have  
body knows how far they can go and a lot more predictability when it comes  
Risky Business  
“It’s true that the construction com- are not afraid.”  
to work that you have not done before,  
munity is more risk-adverse, but that’s  
Arian adds, though, that being simply because you can rely more on  
not coming from the architectural risk-adverse isn’t a bad thing and is ac- your staff.When estimating and build-  
side,”says Arian.“The architects would tually good business practice. ing a job,it’s important to only take risk  
love more fun stuff. It comes more “Otherwise you go out of business. that you can put a number to. It’s ad-  
from the contracting side; they don’t In the contracting world there are two visable to walk away from risk that can  
like to do things they’re not familiar types of risks: risk that you can put a jeopardize your business.”  
with. Contractors are more cautious at number to and risk that you cannot  
Schulte points out there are several  
adopting new technologies. Also, the evaluate at all.In Europe when it comes reasons companies in the U.S. are more  
mentality of suing each other makes to innovative facades, there is a lot hesitant to take a risk. “European gla-  
people more careful and cautious. In more risk that you can put a number to ziers are more advanced as they have  
Europe, the legislative system pro- than in the U.S.,” Arian explains.“This more research and development per-  
sonnel and departments in house, and  
that’s different than the typical medi-  
um-size U.S. contract glazier. Here, if  
you’re applying curtainwall, for exam-  
ple, you’re pretty much tied into buying  
a complete system rather than doing  
your own.The same applies to the glass.  
You’re trying to put yourself into a safe  
position by buying a well-established  
product rather than trying something  
out. Trying something new opens up  
a line of risk in not knowing how long  
it will last, performance levels and  
whether there will be any issues in the  
warranty period—which otherwise is  
covered by the product supplier.”  
Education, Training  
Another major difference in the U.S.  
compared to the European glazing in-  
dustry is the education and training of  
glass fabrication and shop employees.  
Arian explains that in Europe, these  
workers must undergo a three-year  
apprenticeship.  
They must undergo a training pro-  
gram before they are officially hired.  
This has a big effect on the quality of  
work,” he says. “The increased qualifi-  
cation gives the shop owner security  
to take on more complex architecture.  
That may be a concern here, to take on  
some of those projects because busi-  
ness owners aren’t sure if their workers  
in the shop and field can handle these  
types of jobs. The general contractors  
(
GC) are in a situation where they want  
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61  
TcohnteinuGedrefraomt R61ace  
to make sure they have a broad base of glazing systems from small to large, vance the U.S. market.  
bidders when the job goes out for bid. as well as getting their hands into  
“We’re seeing this in some states/  
They have to go by the mainstream high-performance glazing, which is regions where energy codes are pro-  
capabilities and what the majority of required more and more by building moting high-performance building en-  
velopes,” says Arian, pointing to areas  
subcontractors can do.”  
The relationship between the GC  
and the subcontractors is another tion codes are playing a bigger role in  
consideration.  
industry codes.  
“In Europe, the energy consump- in the Pacific Northwest,as an example.  
Schulte suggests investing in people  
selecting glazing systems, as well as could also drive the U.S. toward more  
codes and regulations that determine codes are becoming so strict that peo-  
In Europe, you have clear legislation, corresponding glass products. Energy innovation.  
“American companies are running  
the relationship between the GC and ple actually do not have a choice but to their operations lean as well as trying  
subcontractor. Here in the U.S., it is the take advantage of triple IGUs, which to eliminate risks where possible. If  
bilateral contract that regulates the re- creates an entirely new opportunity for you’re willing to invest in, for example,  
lationship, and then at end of day, the glass fabricators to step into this mar- an engineering department or R&D  
stronger wins,”says Arian.“Going out of ket. I think the U.S. is a little behind in department, it may help to develop  
your way [for a unique project] becomes terms of implementing those codes in products--custom products--being  
difficult. The work may not be 100-per- the building industry. We have LEED, implemented into projects with special  
cent covered. Companies shy away be- as well as further energy consumption custom requirements. And, if you’re  
cause they’re worried they may get sued, guidelines, but how to implement … willing to go that extra step of having  
and that stops the cycle of innovation.” glazing into the performance of the people on board in house,you’re in a dif-  
entire building is still something a lit- ferent position of thinking twice about  
Zeroing In  
tle bit lacking, getting that direct link taking risk because you’re more com-  
European countries are moving to- between the glass in the envelope and fortable compared to [some others].”  
ward increasingly high-performance the building performance system.”  
building, which is closely tied to legis-  
Early involvement on a project can  
also help. This, Schulte says, can save  
time so companies are able to develop,  
lation. Arian explains that much of the How Can We Change?  
innovation coming from Europe relates  
to building envelope performance.  
So what are some ways the U.S.could design and engineer a custom prod-  
advance? Arian says one idea that uct for a particular project. “And that  
Europe has had to deal with energy could drive more high-performance drives the ability to go the extra step  
conservation on a different level be- building is to re-consider the triple net and try things out. You need to have  
cause the cost of energy is much higher lease concept. the time to go through all the different  
compared to the U.S.,” he says. “The “Developers have little incentive schematic design concepts that need  
energy crisis in the 1970s had a major to create an energy-efficient build- to be properly engineered … to fine-  
impact on the European building indus- ing since the utility bill is paid by the tune and adjust to a stage that fulfills  
try.” According to Arian, little changed tenant, and the tenant has little influ- technical requirements as well as the  
in the U.S. once the crisis ended. “But ence over the actual bill, as the entire aesthetic requirements set by the client  
in Europe, long-term programs aimed bill is prorated based in square footage. and architect,” he says.  
at energy conservation were initiated So [an arrangement where] tenants  
Bergmann offers another perspec-  
along with corresponding regulation pay exactly what is used and not what tive to encourage the U.S. industry.“It’s  
and legislation that started putting is averaged out could be an incentive a challenge to American manufactur-  
pressure on developers and contractors for developers to look at more ener- ers and consultants to re-gain their in-  
to promote energy-efficient construc- gy-efficient systems.”  
novative footing, which they’ve always  
tion,” he says.“Now we have a law that Arian also sees opportunity in work- possessed. Take the decision [out from  
by 2020 all new construction will have force education.His company,for exam- the] realm of lawyers and lawsuits and  
to meet net zero passive house stan- ple, has started a certification program still have a culture of risk-taking and  
dards.You can’t escape that.”  
through which installers come to their sometimes failing, because that’s the  
Schulte also sees codes playing a facility and learn how systems work only way to progress and innovate.” n  
role in determining what type of glass together. “We feel this is a way to  
is being fabricated.“Historically, Euro- create a solid basis of glazing con-  
pean fabricators were and are keener to tractors who feel comfortable with  
E l l e n R o g e r s is the  
editor of USGlass magazine.  
Follow her on Twitter @  
USGlass and like USGlass on  
Facebook to receive updates.  
establish and develop specialized glass high-performance systems and  
fabrication skills to adapt themselves don’t perceive them as risky when  
to the requirements and requests from bidding those jobs.”  
the architectural glazing industry. It  
Stricter energy codes and their  
starts from creating different kinds of enforcement might also help ad-  
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