Architects Guide to Glass, USGlass

Scary Trends

Jim Smith of Laser Imaging & Design with some illustrious company–though sadly, created in granite.

I loved, loved, loved being at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Show in Chicago last week. While our editors have been hard at work the past few days telling you all about the glass and glazing products and projects they saw, I saw another trend. A different trend. In fact, it’s a very disturbing, scary trend.

The AIA Show is always a good walk, as we say. Not only can you see what’s new in glass, but you get to see the new and innovative in a whole bunch of other industries, as well. Who knew you could create customized water fountains for the backyard? By the end of the show, I had almost convinced myself I needed one, affording it, well that’s another story.

This metal "cloud wall" was marketed as a design solution with a lot of "wow" factor.
This metal “cloud wall” was marketed as a design solution with a lot of “wow” factor.

And there indeed was another story to this show, because amid all the lighting, plumbing, paving and other building materials services and vendors was one very disconcerting trend. Let me explain.

Up until this show, I was pretty convinced that the “battle for the wall” our industry is fighting had its basis in performance–energy performance, to be specific. Though misguided, that battle is understandable.

But walking the multiple halls of this show led me to conclude that our industry is going to be fighting on two other levels, as well. Not only will we be fighting to show acceptable–and even optimal–energy performance, but we must now fight alternative “façade solution providers” and aesthetic value propositions.

What amazed me this year was how many different companies in industries way beyond glass are now marketing themselves as providing materials for the full façade. These “one-stop suppliers” include metal companies, cement companies and spandrel companies. Heck, there was even a wood company showing a full façade front five stories high with wood and greenery. Each of these providers talked about how they could be a full solution provider. Interesting, huh? Because I can’t even count how many glass and glazing providers market themselves as such.

As you know, being a full façade solution provider has its advantages. You can see this from the number of glass fabricators and contract glaziers that have embraced providing concrete, metal panels and other building materials. Doing so enables them to access a bigger portion of the façade pie, and it also provides a solution of simplicity and singularity to the customer—two characteristics that customer desperately seeks.

And the aesthetic argument was on display, as well. The subtle message that “wow” goes way beyond glass was present. Take a look at this wall at right and the Apple store to which it belongs. Which material brings the stronger “wow” factor—the glass or the metal? You see my point.

Now, those in the know will argue that glass just can’t do some of the things that metals or even higher grade ceramics can, but that’s where research comes in. There’s a full battle going on for the façade of buildings, and it’s not just being fought in the theater of energy performance. We are fighting at least a three-front war, and the enemy is just getting started.

You have to admit that the metal overpowers the glass in "wow" factor in this Apple store.
You have to admit that the metal overpowers the glass in “wow” factor in this Apple store.

We, as an industry, need to build it so they will come, and we need a unified, systematized effort to do so.

And, we need more companies like Laser Imaging & Design of Lebanon, Ohio above. “We have been doing great things in granite for years,” said owner Jim Smith, as he displayed an amazing panorama of founding fathers in granite wall, “and we are just getting into glass. We see a great future in it.”

Now that’s a trend I’m not scared of. Go Jim!


P.S: If you want to see more of what the AIA Show was like this year, please check out our video newscasts from the show.