John Wheaton's blog

With the end of the year approaching, my final blog of 2018 is a collection of random thoughts and experiences. Hopefully some will resonate with you.

Let’s discuss terms.

I love the technical terms we use in our industry. “Chicken head” may be the best. Most of us know that term to define the upturned stack-joint leg on an expansion horizontal mullion. In profile, it looks like a “chicken head” when some types of gaskets are applied over top. I first heard the term in 1989, and it has been used since. Can’t we find a better naming convention?

Yes, Mr. Owner, you are buying a high-performance curtain wall with a chicken-head in it. Don’t ask questions. Just smile and nod. “Single leg stack and double leg stack” refer to the type of stack joint typology. One or both can be “chicken heads.” Your stack joint will have one leg or two. Depends on which design-camp you’re in. Both options work just fine. Yes, Mr. Owner, you’re getting a single leg stack that looks like a chicken head. You’ll be okay.

There are many more interesting terms we use: jumbo glass, bellows gasket, bulb gasket; sponge gasket (I have a good story about that one I’ll share another time), V-groove, nub, hook anchor, condensation trough, weep tubes, baffles, peening and more. I’d love to hear your favorite terms in the comment section below.

Let’s move on to the building code.

“Yeah, John, but you guys are designing and engineering to CODE. You are being conservative.” Um, let’s remember that the building code is defined as the “Minimum Requirements” for buildings. Thankfully, we have standards, since most things are “sticky downward” if not defined and benchmarked prescriptively. Being “conservative” or perhaps “wise” in some instances would be designing and engineering to MORE than the codified standard, such as with Factory Mutual specifications.

I am not advocating for conservatism, I am just making the point not to misrepresent the standard. So many of us see the code as the maximum, but it is not. We can design for more egress, better redundancy, better light, ventilation, daylighting, air and water infiltration resistance, and other attributes if owners want a better building product. As design-professionals, we are working and starting with the standard and needing to meet certain requirements. How we interpret and apply our craft within those standards is where we provide value to clients. More on that in a future post.

Next up, U-values and thermal analysis.

We have gotten this comment recently on two different jobs, one from a general contractor and one from a curtain wall consultant (perish at the thought): “Don’t give me standard NFRC boundary conditions. We need the U-values to be calculated based on the local conditions, not the standard.” That’s not right. U-values are based on the standard NFRC boundary conditions. In this way, they are all comparable to the same standard. Dew points can be run for the specific local boundary conditions. This will give insight into condensation issues and whether or not moisture will form on various surfaces. 

Thanks for all that you, the readers, pour into this industry. Thanks to Glass Magazine for this platform and for your advocacy. Thanks to AAMA and NGA technical committee members for your efforts and investments. Thanks to all of you for working together to make the built-world a better place. I count it a privilege to be a part of this meaningful and purposeful work. Make it a wonderful holiday, and I look forward to future connectivity and collaboration.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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Engineering is a blend of math, science, physics, artistry, with applied creativity and some “magic”; a blend of the intuitive with quantitative analysis. It is a miraculous endeavor really, and of great worth when expressed properly. Because of properly expressed engineering, millions of square feet of glazed and paneled façade hang above our heads and safely house occupants throughout the world.

Modern tools make it more convenient than ever to “analyze” and obtain numbers, but that’s only part of the story. It’s the solutions, the collaboration, the alignment with project criteria, the efficiency of design and purpose that really matter. Assumptions matter. Boundary conditions matter. Field quality and improvement matter. Helping clients save time and money matters.

But what about the array of variables and questions we all face? Here’s a sample narrative in no particular order. Perhaps it will resonate with some.

  • “Is that fixed or pinned, wind load or dead load, expansion or fixed pocket, twin span or single, composite or additive, hard stacked or not, shear splice or moment splice? How can we optimize; reinforce or kick; what’s the in-plane deflection; can you explain 'delta fallout'? Is that thermal break 'partial-composite' really 85 percent of full value; where’s that test data? Don’t forget to use effective Ry to increase allowable stress so we don’t penalize the client. How can we shave metal off that flange; does case 15 or case 11 control on that one, (please excuse the old code reference); what’s the max stock length that extruder can push; is the alloy T6 or T5; can they really bunk that; how will this fit on a truck? Pony tube or corner anchors; can you run me an FEA on that? How much diaphragm action versus frame action around that corner; chevron plates in the corner for moment continuity, you say? Can we do three-sided support on that glass? How about we do a 'fly-by' and cantilever the frame outside of the building structure?”
  • “Sure, we can perforate that fin; attach those 3-foot deep sunshades to the front of the mullion? Hmmm, let me check. Glass fins? Oh, we love glass fins. No problem." 
  • “The unit picking mechanism, you say? Sure, we can handle that as well.”
  • “Wait, now you’re telling me there’s a signage system? Why did they wait this long? Hold that fab while we check the attachments and re-check the framing members.”
  • “Field fixes? No problem. We’ve got that. What do you mean you’ve got glaziers standing around in the field? Ok, we will get to it right now. Nope, no problem; we weren’t working to any other deadlines, you’re good. Didn’t someone realize it’s a post-tension slab while they forgot to place the embeds correctly? What do you mean the concrete isn’t the same strength as designed? The slab elevation is off 2 inches? What, there are voids around that anchor?” 
  • “Yes, we can handle the deferred submittal. Sure, I can review the consultant’s comments, too. Have they ever actually engineered a curtain wall (sorry, I couldn’t resist)? They want it when? How about with a cherry on top?”
  • “No, if I only sign the cover sheet of the calculations it won’t cost any more or less. That’s right; it’s going to take some time to review 400 pages of shop drawings.”

There’s never a dull moment, not since the day I started. The work is fascinating; the effort is worthy. There’s value to be provided and passed on to the client, the owner, the occupants and the onlookers. And in the end, our primary obligation as professional engineers and designers is to protect health and public welfare; all while being paid by the client, held to competitive fee and scope, providing value in the process, and while working to a higher calling for the benefit of the human race. It’s a constant balance.

It’s good to remind ourselves of this at times. It’s good to remember that we aren’t just “doing calculations.” We are working together. We are collaborating. We are creating something of value. At least that’s the goal.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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It was the jeans that triggered it.

You see, they were the exact same jeans that I had on as I walked into the store. The same jeans I bought there six months ago. And I love these jeans.

But, the pair I grabbed off the shelf (the exact same color, size, make, model), when I pulled them on, they didn't fit over my thighs in the dressing room. What? I double checked the size and shape. No difference.

"Perhaps they aren't marked correctly,” I said to myself.

I asked the sales attendant if he can help. “Have I made a mistake?”

"Nope,” he says. “This happens all the time. You see, we recommend you grab three or four pairs at a time when you're trying them on. They're made in like, 50 or 60 different countries so you never know what you are going to get."

Great response. Glad you don't sell for me, I thought.

He's not meeting my needs or selling well. Plus, the brand isn’t making jeans with consistent size patterns based on the country where they are assembled. Either way, both the salesperson and the manufacturer are doing a terrible job of designing experience. No, thank you. I don't expect to have to grab three or four pairs of jeans to see if one or more of them, the exact same size, actually fit. I don't care what country they are made in or what their supply chain logistics look like. Once I find a pair of jeans that works, I expect they will all be close to the same size EVERY TIME.

This company is providing a negative and inconsistent experience when it comes to sales and product quality control. I quickly placed the jeans back on the shelf and slipped quietly out of the store. I wasn't in the mood to manage my shopping experience through trial and error.

What about your company? What about my company? I know different clients can have different experiences even though they all are "shopping" at our place, in different offices, and different ends of the building. How consistent of an experience am I creating? How am I making it easy on the client? How are my colleagues and people representing our services to buyers, prospective clients and observers? Do our people know what to say and how to say it? Have they been trained in the "why” of our business? Is our product the same EVERY SINGLE TIME?

Even in professional services, it's not uncommon for clients who've had a negative experience to quietly slip away, to place the jeans on the shelf and never return. Do everything possible to prevent this from happening.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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It’s positive, upbeat and increasingly collaborative.

It’s apparent at events like Façades+, Façade Tectonics, the NGA BEC conference, the Mid-Atlantic Glass Expo, and other glass and metal symposiums.

It’s talkative, networked and invitational, being reshaped and refined through collaboration, communication, industry groups, peer networks, research and evaluation.

It’s a supportive set of people, groups and companies working together to shape the built world.

It’s innovative, smart and providing value and solutions to buildings that house occupants for many years.

It’s improving its supply chain, manufacturing capabilities and quality.

It’s surrounding billions—no trillions—of dollars in employee, information and equipment assets.

It encloses and protects the likes of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and other tech giants lauded as being in the forefront of the changing world.

It brings architects’ visions to life with tangible solutions to sometimes complicated geometries and designs. It gives a building its form and recognition.

It’s made up of an increasing number of types, textures, surfaces, sizes, colors, patterns, attachments and integrations, all engineered to maintain the exterior of the building for a generation or more.

It’s improving in performance and the ability to withstand increasingly robust designs and requirements.

It protects people below and within and provides aesthetic beauty to urban landscapes.

It’s manifested in industry group mergers.

Can you feel it? Feel the positive vibe, the energy? Are you part of it? Can you feel the energy amongst industry peers? Do you see the conversations in social media, in the hallways, in the educational venues, publications, project meetings, design review sessions, and conferences? What is it?

It’s the continued shaping, reshaping, formation, alignment, collaboration and connection of the glass, glazing and façade industry. It’s a spectacular group of smart, caring people and companies, bringing the passion and the intellectual capital every day to create value.

It “feels” really good, and it’s great to be a part of.

After all these years, there are still no two buildings alike; no two projects the same. There’s some new application or wrinkle on every job. And it’s interesting. It’s creative. It’s meaningful work.

Keep connecting, keep shaping and keep bringing value to the table. The best is yet to come.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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The building industry is shifting in its demands for thermal performance and thermal analysis on wall systems. More projects require thermal analysis, factors such as dew point and edge-of-glass U-values have become more important, and collaboration across the project team is on the rise.

In this blog, I’m addressing thermal analysis, energy efficiency and the warming of glazed curtain wall systems. My context is purely from a high level, and from my and our team’s overall experiences on projects from the pre-sale and pre-construction stage, through final performance evaluation and final installation. Here are some of those experiences, observations, stories and opinions on the issue of thermal performance and related topics.

1. Demand for thermal analysis.

Thermal performance related to U-values of wall systems has been in specifications for a long time, but for years was less-frequently substantiated in many areas of the country (yes, even cold areas). This is no longer the case. We have seen that most projects, particularly custom curtain wall projects, are requiring thermal analysis, and validation of U-values.

2. Inclusion of dew points.

Although it’s not always specified, thermal analysis should include dew point temperatures to inform design, and to mitigate, eliminate or better manage condensation. Don’t miss the importance of this. Specifications that request U-values per NFRC100 may not address the need to calculate and verify that surface temperatures on interior surfaces or surfaces behind the seal line are to be above the dew point temperature (unless there’s a way to manage condensation in non-visible areas.) This is important for the main body of the system, and very important for non-typical frames, perimeter conditions and transitions within or between systems. Much moisture can accumulate because of dew point issues, and this can be destructive to systems and interior environments.

3. Connected design.

Specifications are more clearly defined and tied into the mechanical engineer’s analysis and requirements for total building envelope performance. This has a lot to do with commissioning of buildings and actually validating all the values for the exterior enclosure. It’s good to see more “connected design” and less “throw it over the wall” compartmentalization.

4. Collaboration challenges.

As a result of all this, I still see levels of disconnectedness, differences of opinion, questionable application of standards, and a bit of “disruption.” I see this particularly between some on the A/E side of the project team versus those in the industry side working as delegated designers. The mixing of provisions from ASHRAE and THERM is one of the problems we’ve encountered, as have been issues regarding opaque areas at stone or panel spandrels, and the correct way to assess or analyze these.

5.  Use of edge values. 

Frame edge and glass edge have a big impact on reduction of U-value, and it is not uncommon for us to hear, “That can’t be right. The center of glass U-value is so much lower; how can the total U-value be so much higher?” Aluminum mullions and aluminum spacers in glass units are conductive. They have a higher U-value than the center of glass. Consequently, thermal improvements such as thermal separation and warm edge spacers have a significant impact in reducing total glazed wall U-value.

6. Non-conductive or less-conductive attachments.

FRP, polyamide, co-extrusions, and other non-conductive or less conductive attachment devices continue to grow in popularity and for use on rain screen panel, stone, UHPC, and other opaque cladding systems. There is a reduction in thermal performance when metal girts or components penetrate insulation seams and are screwed to the substrate behind. Do not forget to account for these penetrations through insulation areas in rain screen cladding if they are being utilized.

That is my story for now, for today. What is most exciting about blogging is creating conversation, trying to communicate experiences, to generate conversation and to somehow be of service to our industry. Please communicate back to me and let’s advance our work in glass and glazing.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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Design-assist procurement is the best possible approach to developing and completing design, engineering and construction of custom curtain wall and cladding projects. All curtain wall projects should be executed with some form of design-assist or design-engineering. Design-assist, or DA, is a collaborative process with a defined schedule and set of deliverables, whereby the architect, contractor, curtain wall consultant, owner (as applicable), exterior wall subcontractor, and their design and engineering agent, participate in a collaborative, iterative, real-time exercise to define, design, collaborate, review and deliver a coordinated curtain wall system that meets the project performance specification and aesthetic goals.

There are different forms this process can take, but I believe it is best expressed when the contractual procurement method includes the DA process first, with a guaranteed max pricing around a specific scope or design context.

Here are a few benefits of this method:

  1. Facilitates early collaboration of the major stakeholders. This creates more alignment and typically improves the delegated design and review process. Collaboration creates a better working product, reduces risk and builds good will amongst the project team.

  2. Allows for a more fully informed approval process and systematic review of the system design, proposal drawings, profile drawings (dies and details), and engineering calculations on how closely the building aesthetic and performance can be matched by the system.

  3. Transparently vets system performance, incorporating review of sightlines, transitions between systems, engineering, thermal analysis, adjacencies, STC, and other coordinated issues visibly and directly.  

  4. Assesses and assimilates architecture, construction, fabrication, procurement, logistics, installation, and other holistic project needs and concerns as part of the design process and boundary conditions, enabling better downstream project management.

  5. Allows concurrent pricing exercises by the exterior wall subcontractor, which can inform the owner, GC, suppliers, consultant and other stakeholders. This allows the entire team to work in an informed manner with clearer cause-and-effect understanding.

  6. Brings a “shared reality” to the process and project. A shared reality brings everyone into the “same boat,” typically reduces project risk, and breaks down barriers of communication. This can aid in a positive experience, and a better work product.

  7. Facilitates a quicker turnaround of shop drawing and engineering submittals, since everyone knows what to expect in the context of the system design.

Words of caution:

  1. DA is NOT an open-ended design process where the shop drawing reviews are used throughout the project as a means for the architect to figure out what they really want on their building. If this is the project procurement method and definition of design-assist, then the exterior wall subcontractor will have to draw some boundary lines and provide pricing and scope to match.

  2. DA is NOT a “value-engineering” process to look at any form of a cladding type or aesthetic. It’s only a value-engineering process within the context of finding cost savings for the specified system design and orientation. Any new permutations or design changes should be defined as a change order. Base design alternatives are bid alternates and should take place outside the DA process.

 I’ve been involved personally and as a corporation in so many successful design-assist projects, that I’d love for all projects to be done in this form. There have been a few failed experiences along the way, but far less than other traditionally executed projects where everyone works in silos and uses email as a primary collaboration tool (it’s not a collaboration tool.)

I’d like to suggest that those of us who make our living doing this meaningful work make design-assist procurement a rally cry for improving the process and experience we all share on our typically complex and critical path driven projects. I believe we can create better experiences for ourselves and our clients, and make the world a better place.

I’d like to hear more from the readers. Please comment and let’s keep the conversation going.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

Here’s my narrative approach to the slow transformation and integration of BIM software and tools:

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and never needed BIM to visualize exterior cladding transitions or conflicts.”

“I’m not sure why they want a BIM model. You can quote it, but I think it is going away.”

“They want a REVIT model for record, but it can be done after the shop drawings. Do the shops in AutoCAD first.”

“This REVIT and BIM thing is getting some traction, so we are going to have to release you on the BIM work, but it seems like a waste of the owner’s money.”

“Hey, the architect and GC want a coordinated model to provide to the owner, so I need you guys to provide a BIM model, and weekly or bi-weekly BIM coordination meetings.”

“This project is actually being executed in REVIT and all of the subs are required to use REVIT for their elevations, plans and sections. Make sure you’ve designed a deliverable that incorporates this, and review the architect’s expected LOD and qualify anything you think is not necessary.”

“I think we are going to have to use REVIT and RHINO at the same time on this project to model the crazy geometry. Make sure to coordinate teams and integrate both in developing your details.”

I may be one of the “old guys,” having started in 1984 when drafting boards were still in use, but I also happen to keep innovation in plain sight, and support implementation of new technologies. It’s a “must-do” in my position. In fact, isn’t innovation the foundation to a sustainable company (“innovate or die”)?

I saw BIM coming quite a few years ago and informed those at my organization that we needed to make the investment in a BIM person and the technology. It took time, but we did it. We needed a person that understood the technology first, and could learn what they needed to know about cladding systems.

We had no idea what we were doing, but we hired a committed and talented BIM specialist that really understood the “gear” and cared about the work. We quoted, scoped, developed, finally defining a delivery method and cost paradigm that got traction. There were gaps, big and small, between projects, but gradually, the gaps decreased. More and more architects, GCs and related firms started using REVIT and other tools to collaborate on projects, making the switch to BIM software.

Today, we have specialists in AutoCAD with curtain wall experience, young and old, we have RHINO specialists, REVIT Specialists, along with others that know Inventor and related tools. Project work involves integrating these specialists and knowledge workers on various projects, depending on the scope of work. There is no longer one delivery method. Multiple methods are required depending on the project, architect, client, location, size, scale and geometry.

The change is still taking place; it’s still emerging. I believe we’ve barely begun to tap the technology and really define its best use. Too often we take “old thinking” and try to apply it to new ways, new means and new methods. BIM is a way of thinking, not just a “drawing program.” It has embedded information; intelligence built into the model. Information and details are extracted from it, not drawn into it. This intelligence should be leveraged more and more as hardware and software continue to advance.

And I’m confident that while we are all working in the current software platforms, some developer is creating the next generation of BIM software for building design and construction. The only thing we can be sure of is change. And if we don’t change, someday we’ll look up, wonder how the new technology took root, and it’ll be too late to “flip the switch.”

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

“Don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them.”

 —Jackson Brown, ‘These Days’

Failure. The word evokes a response, doesn’t it? It’s a word we don’t like and a reality we typically prefer not to discuss. We prefer to not fail, and most of us prefer to not be vulnerable enough to talk about our failures, individually or as an organization.

But failure—not winning, not meeting a client’s expectation, failing to meet a deadline, not measuring up, failing to win a project award, not handling a situation correctly, losing key people, hiring the wrong ones, or making a poor choice related to daily priorities—is something all of us experience at one time or another. In fact, the ability to respond properly to failure, and to learn, grow and move forward has much to do with defining who we are as a person or a business. It’s not a place to remain within, but it is important to know how to learn from our failures.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned over the years about how to respond, react, and deal with failure and struggle of various types:

  • Do not hide or disappear. Lean into it; be honest about it; own it. Good leadership leans into the failure, the lack of performance, the issues. It does not hide. It takes a proactive position. It may not be clear how to deal with it at first, but it must be brought into the open. Everyone knows it and sees it anyway, so just be real.
  • Leaning into failure and being responsive shows strength. It also is a relief to colleagues, a client or project team. “Good, we don’t have to hide the elephant in the room.” Be communicative. Don’t leave people wondering.
  • Be direct with your team and direct with your client. Assure them that you'll do everything in your power to deal with it, act appropriately, and bring the project or issues back into compliance with expectations and needs. Everyone makes mistakes, but good people and organizations correct them and make things right.
  • Remain collaborative as solutions develop and until the issues are reconciled. Collaborating says that we believe collectively we have more knowledge and wisdom than any one person. Collaboration should take place within an organization, and also externally with clients. It may be “our problem,” but a solution developed in isolation may be one of the reasons there’s trouble in the first place. Inform, communicate and listen.
  • Develop a written plan of attack. Outline it, note the action steps, develop it as a team, and share it.
  • Set up benchmarks to monitor the progress. Measure it against whatever standard, monitor, client satisfaction scale or applicable metric is appropriate.
  • Engage with and ask the opinion of colleagues, peers from non-competing businesses, board members, or others that are not involved or invested in the work, to provide a different perspective. They can be more objective. They can notice blind spots that a team may not see. They can approach it without being emotional.
  • Be visible. Be engaged. Be present.

There's a lot more to be said, but for now we'll leave it here:

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

—Dr. Brené Brown

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

It was 1984. I was working for an environmental engineering firm, but I had studied as a civil engineer to work in structural engineering. That’s all I wanted to do; to work in building design. I checked the newspapers weekly for jobs, for a year. Then it happened. I answered a three-line want-ad in the Akron Beacon Journal for Structural Engineers. It was through a job-shop; a place called “CAMS.” I had no idea what they did, but I got an interview.

The interviewer greeted me and escorted me back to the office and shop. He pulled the cardboard off of the end of a bundle of aluminum and said, “These are mullions. They are made from aluminum; custom alloys and shapes; they hold the glass on the building. This is what we fabricate and what you’ll engineer.” “Ah, how interesting," I said. (I was clueless.)

The day I started, Steve Evans, then a PPG project manager, gave me my first problem to solve. I had no idea what to do. I got input from new colleagues in the structural engineering bullpen. Somehow I got him an answer. I met my future business partner, Richard Sprague, there, along with many other folks. There were many “newbies” to the industry—most of us in our 20s and early 30s—plus seasoned veterans, decision makers in PPG field offices, others that became future managers, fabricators, system designers, industry leaders, GANA committee members, glazing company owners, and the list goes on.

We were learning and growing with the emerging field of “curtain wall.” It was an amazing education. There was very little precedent. Calculations were done by hand at first. Drafting tables had parallel bars; we used blueprints; section properties were calculated by hand. And then the PC quickly came along. There was no “cloud,” no AutoCAD, FEA programs, BIM, Rhino, Mathcad; heck, we didn’t even have Excel or Word in 1984. I used a phone modem to calculate glass fin depths for PPG’s Total Vision System all-glass wall. But we got it done. We stumbled, we tested, we fixed. We made it work.

The seasoned folks that had migrated from PITTCO storefront and stick curtain wall systems to the increasing use of taller, broader, higher performing curtain walls, taught us entry level folks what they could. I got most of my education from field superintendents, branch managers and shop foremen.

Unit walls did not exist. The expansion horizontal was an idea. No one had yet heard of a “chicken head” at a “stack joint.”

Fast forward to 2016. Our field has expanded. Tools have gotten more numerous, more complicated.

And those of us who started in 1984 have become those older folks: the decision makers, buyers, leaders, committee members, policy makers and trainers. Those who must delegate, train, teach, mentor, listen, allow lessons to be learned, expose Millennials to clients, and to their emerging workforce. The curtain wall and enclosure industry will continue to change rapidly over the next five to ten years. Old guard will be replaced with new guard, by choice or by necessity. Time will march on, and work will be completed, miraculously, by those “kids.” The same kids like we were, only with more tools, more technology, on more complicated facades.

How about we take the best of the old and combine it with the best of the new? How about we listen to each other, listen to the field and the fabricators, understand each other’s needs and the key drivers in the decision-making processes? Can we can take the best proven practices of “we’ve always done it this way before” with the newness of “why can’t we try it like this” and move forward? Baby Boomer collaborating with Millennial. It’s going to happen. The shift is happening right now. How do you want it to go down?

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

Every year, hundreds of projects come across my desk and into our firm. We win some and we lose some, but we get to at least assess or review all of them. As I wrap up the year with this blog, here are the trends I am seeing, based on the projects we are working on.

 

1. More Glass

  • Custom unitized projects with an emphasis on glass, daylighting, views, visibility and connection to the outdoors.
  • Lites from 75 to 120 square feet in size in unit walls; often floor-to-ceiling (almost) with very small, heavily insulated spandrel areas.
  • More robust glass that’s insulated and thicker to meet structural and flatness requirements for large sizes, different spacer options, coatings, laminates, patterns.
  • Structural glass walls with and without vertical glass fins.
  • Custom shaped glass such as folded, bent, leaning, not square or rectangular.
  • Structural Silicone Glazed– two and four sided.

2. Stack (expansion) Joints at or directly above the floor line

  • Stack joints aligned with the floor or within 6 inches from top of floor to top of horizontal.
  • “Drop Down” anchors with recessed inserts.

3. Panels, panels, panels

  • Many architects and designers seem to love panels; plate, sheet, ACM, corrugated, perforated, ACM and solid aluminum. Framed, hook and pin, face screwed, glazed and more.
  • Formed, profile-cut fins arranged in undulating patterns to form a more complicated looking geometry.

4. Stone, again?

  • I'm starting to see dimensional stone again in small doses, applied either on a rain screen or in a unit wall. 
  • Dimensional stone is lovely, and provides a great look combined with glass and metal.

5. “Fly-Bys”

  • Cantilevered elements with glass and aluminum framing that protrude outside the weather line anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet; sometimes self-supportive and sometimes supported back to a clad structure that also protrudes from the building. These aren’t original architecturally. I see them on job after job.
  • There are many design issues to work through with these features. Watch out for the soffit and parapet conditions. They are “hanging out” vertically and horizontally and have to be stabilized in both directions.

6. Design- Assist

Most custom, unitized and even some stick curtain wall systems on highly visible 
facilities or projects of note with unique facades have some form or design-assist or design-
participation. This is GOOD for the industry as it integrates the design professional with the 
glazing subcontractor client and the AEC team. Integration and collaboration create 
understanding, shorten the design time cycle, and get everyone sharing each other’s reality. 
It’s the only way to go.

7. Modeling

The use of 3-D AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino and Inventor is becoming more commonplace. Some of the more complex geometries are most easily solved in a 3-D platform and then rationalized to make it “build-able.”

8. Revit Coordination

The use of Revit in curtain wall and clash detection has increased again. Some owners are requiring jobs to be modeled, plus requiring production drawings to be developed from 
models. Regular BIM coordination meetings are held to coordinate between multiple trades.

9. Façade/Enclosure/Curtain Wall Consultants

Some good, some not so good, but more of them (us). 

The exterior wall defines the look of the building. It’s often complex. It’s dynamic. It protects occupants from the outside environment. I find it a privilege to work in this field and it’s as fresh and interesting now as it was when I started over 30 years ago. As I say to many colleagues, “Thanks for your partnership in the work. Let’s build some great stuff together.”

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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