Black History Month and Construction

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

"We wanted to demand that if they were going to build where we live, we should have the trade skills to build. If there were public contracts, we should have the right to have a part of those contracts.
"It’s not understood. The same people who call us lazy lock us out of trade unions. We’ve had to fight to get the right to skills to work. Many young men are hopeless and jobless — they don’t have the same trade skills their white counterparts had.
"In the fight to rebuild where we live, there are countless jobs. There are probably more jobs than people. People ask how can you police poverty. You can’t police poverty. But you can develop people where you live so there’s less need for police."

Rev. Jesse Jackson quoted in The New York Times

Photo by Gary Settle/The New York Times

Two ways to see a building

When you look at this  picture, do you see a building with wood-framed construction stucco, vinyl window frames, clay tile, and cheap, painted wood numerals? Of course. But many architects also see a building through the lens of architectural history.

When a friend moved into this building, I posted this lighthearted critique on Facebook.

This an under-appreciated architectural gem exemplifies the transfer of the finest Southern European traditions to Southern California.

Consider, by way of exposition on this theme, how the symmetrical, tripartite facade of the upper story projects beyond the lower representing the defenses typical of an Italianate tower, a theme further expressed by the use of terracotta tile on the pseudo-Mansardic attic story. Yet the tetrastyle engaged pilasters have the Mannered confidence of Michelangelo's Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

While realized at a somewhat smaller scale, the groomed arboreal forms in the landscape are based on the finest traditions of royal gardens. The sinuous line at the intersection of earth and structure is the mark of a master.

It is unfortunate that this edifice has been stripped of the ashlar marble cladding that undoubtedly defined its exterior. The mean rendering, however, discloses its pure lines and anticipates the austerity of the Villa Savoye.

We must not overlook the aesthetic tension introduced by the deliberate use of anachronistic serifs on the cartouche, leaving us to ponder why the builder chose to memorialize the defense of Constantinople during the indicated year.
The post  received "Likes" from many of my friends that are architects, suggesting that they recognized it as a sendup of architectural thinking. 

Bottom Line: When preparing marketing communications for a building product, it is useful to understand all the ways architects think.

Why manufacturers need guide specifications.

"The writing of architects' specifications is a task approached by many with trepidation, by some with the careless confidence of ignorance and by a few with studious determination to succeed."
This quote is from "Ready Written Specifications" a series of 1918 lectures presented by Holland and Parker, quoted in the opening paragraph of Goldwin Goldsmith, AIA's 1940 book "Architectural Specifications How to Write Them." (A tip of the hat to David Stutzman for bringing this to my attention.)

Nearly a century later, it is equally true.

By offering architects a carefully crafted guide specification (a "ready written" specification in the parlance of a past era), building product manufacturers:
  • Reduce the trepidation of the many,
  • Inform the ignorant,
  • Caution the careless, and
  • Become partners with the studious.
Call 818-774-0003 and ask how a SpecAudit™can assure that your guide specs accomplish these noble goals.

Recycling Bone as a Building Material

LEED and other recent environmental initiatives have increased the construction industry's awareness of recycled content in building materials. However, finding alternative uses for industrial "waste" is not a new concept. This is made clear by recent archeological excavations in London that reveal how the bone core of horns were used as masonry units.

After the Romans settled in today’s London, Aldgate surroundings (eastwards from the city wall) were turned into a cemetery. But in the Post-Medieval period, Prescot Street was transformed from an essentially rural situation on the fringe of the City, into a densely populated central district. Among the on-going archaeological excavations at this site, a horn core pit has been discovered, showing the intense industrial activity in the area.
The pit itself consists of a cylindrical void with a perimeter structure built with animal horns as a cheaper alternative to bricks. These kind of industrial memories are often found in areas known for small-scale industry, such as ivory-working, tanning, bell founding and glass making.[...] These pits are sometimes used as soak-aways.” (www.deconcrete.org/2010/10/30/horn-walls/)
Underlying the basement slabs were large deposits of Post-Medieval soils that had been truncated by two large soak-aways and one small, and a horn core pit constructed from the horn cores of long horn cattle. This is significant because ‘horning’ was once an important industry in the area... ‘Horners’ were skilled craftsmen who worked horn from cattle to create a range of artifacts from drinking vessels to buttons, and from panels in lanterns (when sliced very thinly) to tool handles.
The waste from this procedure, the horn core, was not discarded, and was frequently reused as a lining for round pits with vertical sides dug deep into the ground. The horn cores were inter-woven to offer a degree stability to the structure, and the pit was then used for the disposal of domestic waste. They essentially performed the same function as the soak-aways, with waste material being dumped into them so that the waste water would drain away into the natural gravels below, while the remaining solids were broken down over time by bacterial action. (www.lparchaeology.com/prescot/journal/field-officers-report-for-week-ending-28th-march-2008)
What would it take to get an ICC-ES Evaluation Report on such a construction material today?

Photos from www.lparchaeology.com/prescot/galleries/photo-diary-for-25th-march-2008/set/72157604245105892.

Triangle Fire Legacy

March 25, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City that killed 146 workers. This tragic event focused attention on fire safety in construction, and accelerated the acceptance of tighter building codes and life-safety regulations.

The Fire illustrates how disasters are frequently the progenitor of new construction technologies. Reforms sparked by the incident led to mandatory usage of many building products we now take for granted, including:
  • Panic bars on exit doors.
  • Automatic fire sprinklers.
  • Fire alarm systems.
  • Fire-resistant glass at egress paths.
This cause and effect relationship continues: Environmental disasters spawn sustainable construction. Hurricanes bring demands for airborne missile testing of wall systems. And floods inundate us with innovation.

The only way to redeem a tragedy is to learn from it.

A Look Back for the New Year

I wrote the following Q+A column in 1992. A lot has changed in the intervening years. 

For example, Sweet's catalog files no longer exist, although the brand name lingers on in cyberspace. Now, it's hard to imagine a marketing campaign that doesn't include electronic media.

Other things, however, are timeless. Switching from selling contractors to working with design professionals is still a challenge. And for many building product sales reps, the Construction Specifications Institute can still open doors for you.  

As 2010 year draws to an end, perhaps this piece of nostalgia will help you reflect on the ongoing changes in our industry, and those things with timeless value.  

Happy New Year. MC 

Is Sweet’s Catalog File still a valid medium for distributing building product information? What is the best way to use it?— H.K., marketing manager

This column has spoken frequently about the potential of electronic media for distributing building product information, but design and construction still take place primarily in a “hard copy” environment. And though several new directory and catalog services are challenging McGraw-Hill Inc., its Sweet’s Catalog File is still a vital marketing channel for many products.

That point was driven home recently when I visited the offices of a major Chicago-based architect. The firm’s library of manufacturer catalogs was on another floor in the wing farthest from the production areas, and some of the binders had not been updated in 10 years. A current set of Sweet’s catalogs, however, was readily accessible in each design studio.

As an encyclopedic directory, Sweet’s is an essential reference for designers and builders. While advertising in Sweet’s does not guarantee product acceptance, staying out could make a specifier wary that a brand is not a serious player in the construction industry.

There are as many philosophies about advertising in Sweet’s as there are advertisers. Since it is usually on hand when product selections are made, some advertisers use Sweet’s like a “point of purchase” display. They insert their entire catalog so information is available immediately for detailing or specifying.

Others see Sweet’s as a tool to create awareness and to generate inquiries. That strategy may be appropriate for firms with limited advertising budgets and for firms that want their sales reps involved in making the sale.

Some designers browse through Sweet’s for ideas or inspiration. Your catalog must be well-organized and designed to be noticed above the competition.

Specifiers often use Sweet’s to look up products and brands they already know, but sometimes they use the index to find suppliers of the products they need. Many manufacturers, however, do not take full advantage of the index of product types. For example, a manufacturer that furnishes doors and frames as part of its prefabricated walls is indexed under wall systems but not under entrances. A little creative indexing can increase your citations and build traffic through your catalog.

My company has asked me to become its architectural sales rep. Until now I sold mostly to contractors and dealers and avoided calling on specifiers. What’s the best way for me to learn my new territory?—B.D., district manager

Calling on architectural offices can be a tough adjustment for sales reps used to the plan room or jobsite. Contractors want to know what the price is and when they can get it, but specifiers ask a bewildering range of questions. A call on a contractor can produce an order, but even the best call on a designer may not yield any tangible evidence of success.

At first it may seem that architects speak a foreign language and are aloof or even hostile to your advances. But persevere and you may find architectural sales to be a fulfilling career.

The best advice I can offer to get you started is to join the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). CSI can open doors for you at architectural offices and help you earn your stripes as an architectural sales professional.

Not all CSI members are spec writers, but they all share an interest in how building products function. That makes CSI a fertile ground for communication between design professionals and building product sales reps.

Being a CSI member is like belonging to the same club as your customers. Repeated contacts with architects at CSI meetings can help you cultivate useful relationships. Some reps even coordinate their travel with CSI meetings in various towns. That way they can make contact with 10 or 20 key specifiers during a single lunch or dinner and learn about current projects.

Your job may also require you to become an associate member of American Institute of Architects, Associated General Contractors, or another industry organization. In CSI, however, sales reps are full and equal members. That helps many reps feel more comfortable selling to architects because they learn to see themselves as members of the design team and not just as peddlers.

CSI educational programs will explain construction contracts, specifications and technology, and will put you in touch with a network of building industry experts. As you gain confidence, CSI’s Construction Document Technologist exam will enable you to demonstrate your understanding of the CSI format for organizing construction documents and product information. The advanced Certified Construction Product Representative program, to be introduced in 1993, will attest to your ability to advise designers in preparing construction documents.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1992

Tessellations - An Important Architectural Trend

When the history of 21st Century architecture is written, the first decade of the century will be remembered as the era of blob-like, curvy architecture as exemplified in the work of Frank Gehry:
This decade is shaping up to be the era of the tessellated surface. Tessellating a surface, in a simplified definition, means to cover it in polygonal patterns. An article I wrote on this topic has recently appeared in Construction Specifier. May 2010, page 84.

Chief among the driving forces that make complex tessellations practical are BIM-driven CNC-controlled fabrication systems that make it possible to mass-customize components. As the article states, "The machines don't care what shapes they make."

Here is a recent example of a tessellated facade:
Manufacturers of curtainwalls, interior finishes, ceiling systems, and other products are rushing to capitalize on the interest. Ad agencies are incorporating tessellations into graphic designs.

Be wary, however: Architectural fashions lose favor as quickly as they rise.

Photo Credits:
Experience Music Project building, designed by Frank Gehry.
Photo by Rebecca Kennison under Creative Commons.

Iluma, designed by WOHA
Photo © Patrick Bingham-Hall

‘Connected’: Social Networks, Connection, and Contagion

Interested in a deeper understanding of social networks? Social networks are not just the online kind, but have been driving human behavior since well before those great patrons of architecture, the Medici family, ruled Florence. In today's Boston Globe, Michael Fitzgerald reviews Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. Fitzgerald writes:

The book centers on two concepts: connection and contagion. Connections bring us together in myriad dynamic, constantly changing networks of people. Contagion happens when things - germs, of course, but also ideas or money - flow across our connections. They look at how our extended networks and our interactions with other networks influence our decisions, our health, our careers, our politics, and most other facets of life.

At Chusid Associates, we often talk about using social networking (the online kind) to augment and expand your human network. This book may help you think about that human network in new ways and understand how closely we are all Connected.

Connected offers a new way of thinking about social networks and the world - The Boston Globe

How to Build a Business: Lessons from Architectural History

As an architect consulting to building product manufacturers, I often draw upon the rich legacy of architectural history for inspiration.

For example, when faced with a large, complex, and daunting project, such as launching a new building product, I remember Daniel Burnham (b. 1846 – d. 1912), an architect responsible for some of the first skyscrapers, major projects like the World's Columbian Exposition, and the planning document that played a major role in shaping Chicago.

Befitting his large and ambitious projects, he is remembered for his exhortation:

"Make no little plans.
They have no magic to stir men's blood
and probably will not themselves
be realized."

An earlier exponent of this philosophy was Abbot Suger, who initiated the 12th Century rebuilding of the great Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, in France, one of the first great Gothic buildings. He dared dream on a scale beyond his means to realize.
After the west facade and narthex was constructed, he skipped the nave that runs most of the length of the building, and moved on to the construction of the chancel at the eastern end of the projected building.

There was a considerable distance between the two ends, and the infill construction was not completed for another hundred years. Yet he had the vision that inspired the project, and has continued to inspire worshipers for over eight hundred years.

While building a business requires attention to a myriad of small details, it is the big audacious goal is also essential to the success of an enterprise.