There’s a Kind of Hush

This headline makes no sense, of that I am aware, but in a few minutes it will. It’s here because this blog is about two different topics that deserve some coverage. By the time I finished writing it, a connection between the two even revealed itself.

First the Hush People

There was some sad news this past week that Moe Peterson, who spent much of his career as PPG’s director of technical services, passed away mid-February. Most people in the industry today, (save those who work at Vitro—then PPG—and still see his name on countless documents) would not have known Moe. He retired as director of technical services and product development there nearly 30 years ago. Prior to that retirement, he had a long career with the company. I got to work with him very early in my career when he wrote some articles and was kind enough to answer a lot of questions for a new assistant editor who knew nothing about glass except that you could see through it. He was incredibly helpful, though you could tell pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to suffer fools that wasted his time. I had to work to not be that fool.

Many of the technical services the primary manufacturers provide today were pioneered by Moe. In those days, there weren’t always systematized ways to find out why glass failed or why there were problems on a job. Technical information was considered way more proprietary than it is today and it wasn’t organized, catalogued and indexed as it now. Moe’s work changed all that. He was one of the first to talk about what could go wrong and show examples when it did. He knew that knowledge was power and he worked to make sure every worthy fabricator and contract glazier has that knowledge. He was an incredible source of technical information.

He was what I call a “hush person.” A “hush person” is one whose reputation precedes them into the room. It gets a bit quieter, more serious, when they enter; everyone immediately realizes they will learn something if they just listen because a powerful source of knowledge has just entered the room. And when a hush person speaks, everyone just shuts up because they want to hear every single word. When Moe spoke, all sound in the room disappeared.

Our industry has had lots of hush people out there—people like Bob Brown, Chris Barry and the late Norm Nitschke, (who passed away last month as well—more on Norm in the future.) They all command unflinching respect as they have taken industry education and made it their legacy. We owe Moe, and the others like him, a big, loud, thunderous “thank you.”

The Teflon People

You know and have Teflon people in your life—perhaps personally and definitely professionally. These are people who create or enlarge problems, yet somehow they never bear the responsibility for the consequences of doing so. Nothing, so to speak, sticks to them. They are a marvel in their own way and often an exasperation to those around them.

Years ago, before I understood all the nuances involved, I wrote an article about how architects could be considered a “Teflon profession” because contractors and subs must build to their specifications and requirements, yet these contractors and subs are often on the line legally for the same. Master contracts between architects and generals often moved most, if not all, the liability to the general contractor. These generals, in turn, attempted to move most, if not all of that liability, to the subs. You will have to tell me if it is that much different today.

The big problem is that no one knows concrete like the foundation sub and no one knows glass like the glazing contractor. Architects often rely on the trades to protect themselves from themselves.

Yes, this is a simplistic view of a complex issue and one few architects would hold. Besides, the Teflon coating has begun to wear over the years. As the construction process moves from traditional, to design-build to design-assist, the balance of liability is shifting as well.

A lawsuit that was filed in late January in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida may prove interesting. It was filed against the architect/engineering firm by the ownership group of a student apartment complex in Gainesville. It alleges that the architect failed to hold up its end of a contract for architectural and engineering services for the project resulting in an additional $2 million in costs to complete the building. Among the items it alleges is that the engineering and design firm did not meet current building codes. Though glazing is not one of the trades cited in the documents I have seen, it will be interesting to see how much of the liability “sticks” to which parties.

Hush people and Teflon people might very well be opposites of each other. We are lucky to be in an industry that has more of the first than the second.