Complexity of Contemporary Buildings offers a course on achieving enduring value through better use of building science. From their announcement:

"Whether newly built or retrofitted, high-performance buildings begin with envelopes that involve increased thermal demands, greater assembly complexity, and wider material choices.
To meet these challenges, architects and builders must get the building enclosure details right the first time, starting with the earliest stages of schematic design and continuing during construction and during occupancy."

He has it almost correct. The folks that lived in the 100 year old house didn't expect to be able to walk around barefoot in the middle of winter, or to stay cool and refreshed in the summer's heat. 

Still, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information in the syllabus:


Unit 1: The Science of High-Performance Assemblies

Hygrothermal Performance: The Key Driver
How water moves through buildings
Continuous water barriers
Capillary breaks
Drained and rainscreen systems: Managing bulk water, capillary water, and drying
Continuous air barriers
How Blower-Door Tests Measure Airtightness
Continuous thermal barriers
Understanding thermal bridging
Reducing Heat Flow Through Windows
Vapor profiles vs vapor retarders
How "smart" vapor retarders work
Combining control layers
Using WUFI to prevent moisture problems
Vented and ventilated wall assemblies
"Vented" crawl space foundations
Vented and unvented attics and roofs

Unit 2: Getting Details Right

Residential and Commercial High Performance Assembly Examples
The Special Challenges of Curtainwall
"Perfect" Assemblies
Alternative Assemblies
Joints: Sealants, Tapes and Gaskets
Putties and caulks
Agreeing on terms, and applications
Avoiding failed seals with bond breaks
How to choose a sealant that works
"Hybrids"–MS Polymers
Making tapes stay put
Rubberized asphalt
Butyl rubber
Tape performance: Other considerations
Assessing service life
Compression and memory
Wet versus dry glazing
Service life of gaskets
Assessing product safety
Liquid Sealants and Chemical Safety
Flashing Tapes and Chemical Safety
Gaskets and Chemical Safety
Case Study: Cape Cod Passive House

Unit 3: High-Performance Design and Construction Process

How high performance Scopes Of Work differ from standard SOW
Verifying Performance with Building Envelope Commissioning
Cx vs. BECx
Pre-design phase
Design phase
Achieving continuity
Construction Phase
During construction
What gets tested
Occupancy and operations
Guidelines and standards
HOBO data loggers
Integrated High Performance HVAC
Case Study: Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Unit 4: High-Performance Retrofits

Getting to know the building
Case Study: Renovation of 46 Blackstone
Historic masonry in cold climates
Reduce airflow, encourage vapor flow
Ongoing monitoring
Case Study: Edminster-Bohner Home Retrofit
The damp crawl space
Ongoing monitoring
Design Review: Existing and Planned Elements
Design Review Drawings: Edminster-Bohner Home Retrofit
Comprehensive Home Assessment Checklist

Take This Tablet To Improve Business

Tablet computers are moving into the construction industry in a variety of ways.  A series of articles in the February, 2012 edition of California Builder & Engineer describes various uses of tablets for contractors, including on the construction site, both ruggedized tablets specifically designed for construction, and the un-ruggedized but incredibly sexy Apple iPad. 

Tablets have an equally attractive potential as a sales tool.  The iPad, for example, offers an engaging way to share visual information, and it has impressive functionality to implement that process.  Development of specialized software – apps – that can present your product or system in the ideal way is relatively inexpensive.  It can to provide your product and sales information with high visual engagement – think about a brochure with embedded videos, or an interactive design tool for placing your product into an environment -  as well as pull down information from the Web, and email any and all of it to the customer as you work. 

There’s still time to be near the beginning of this trend.  But probably not much time.

10 Trends to Watch - part 4 of 4

Concluding Our 4-part Series on Developing Systems and Methods That Are Shaping the Future of Construction.

 9. Dynamic Structural Performance Monitoring
The safety of a structure can be jeopardized by accidents, extreme loads, hidden construction flaws, wear and tear, and other vicissitudes. Until recently, the only way to tell how a structure was performing was to observe changes in the length or shape of individual structural components and calculate if they were within safe design assumptions. This could require instrumenting scores or even hundreds of locations on the structure, and a time consuming effort to collect and interpret data. Another drawback is that movement within a few components may not accurately reflect performance of the structure as a whole.

Dynamic structural performance monitoring is a fundamentally different approach. It uses precise accelerometers to measure building movement in three axes, and algorithms that tease out movement patterns, oscillations called standing waves. These oscillations are fundamental properties of the structure; wave frequencies that are determined by the size, mass, and flexural performance of the structure's elements. They can reveal weaknesses and behaviors that do not match the predicted behaviors of the design, and then are used to characterize and locate problems.

Instead of placing strain gauges or accelerometers at hundreds of monitoring points,  STRAAM reads structrual performance with this one instrument called a Strukturocardiograph(TM), placed at a handful of points in a building, on the deck of a bridge, or on top of a dam or other structure. 

After 30 years of research, dynamic performance monitoring is being commercialized by STRAAM LLC. Once STRAAM has recorded a baseline dynamic signature of a building's movement, the STRAAM system can provide nearly instantaneous alarms if the structure's dynamic signature changes. It can be used to assess existing structures, for periodic or event-driven (blast, accident, natural disaster) check-ups, or to continuously monitor critical structures. It is being used in buildings, bridges and other structures around the world.

Recommendation:  Who else knows how to do the same thing you do, better than you do it now, and how did they get there?

10. Light in a Bottle

While our ten-best list is full of high-tech wonders, there are many places where shelter concerns are far more basic. For millions of people, the best new building product in the world might be a used 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle.

Light transmitted by a 1-liter plastic water bottle inerted through the roof

With little or no access to electricity, they live in dark housing. A hole in the roof admits only a concentrated shaft that spreads little usable illumination throughout the interior. However, a water-filled plastic bottle inserted through the roof gathers sunlight and diffuses throughout the interior below. Alfredo Moser from Brazil is credited with pioneering plastic bottle skylights, and non-government organizations like A Liter of Light are spreading the light.

Recommendation: When we think about progress, it is important to consider not only the leading edge, but also the trailing edge.

10 Trends to Watch - part 3 of 4

Continuing Our 4-part Series on Developing Systems and Methods That Are Shaping the Future of Construction.
(see Part 1 3/20/12 and Part 2 3/22/12)

6. Advanced Fiber Reinforced Polymer CompositesThe new generation of fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites has been incubated by aerospace use -- composite materials account for 50% of the primary structure of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner jets, including the fuselage and wing. As production capacity soars, prices will come down-to-earth, making architectural applications feasible.

In addition to advances in carbon, aramid, and other high strength fibers, new resins and finish coatings have been developed. For example, CCP Composites offers resins that can be used for fire-resistance rated walls; their impressive strength-to-weight makes this useful in high performance environments. 

FRP composites also create new opportunities in form-making and new construction methods.  One impressive example is the "bridge-in-a-backpack." It consists of arched FRP tubes that are made rigid by high-pressure inflation. They can easily be transported in a compact, deflated form, deployed quickly, and used as both formwork and reinforcement for cast-in-place concrete. This idea, invented at the University of Maine, is being used on a number of short and medium span bridges. 

Recommendation: Adaptation of materials developed in other industries can bring new solutions, but it usually requires outside the box thinking, too.

7. APP + BIM + CNC = WOW
The construction industry is challenged to find a way to integrate all our powerful digital tools into a cohesive process. Seeyond may be showing us the way with a clever system for tessellated partitions, ceilings, and other surfaces. What qualifies it for this list is not the product, but the process by which they connect the designer's vision with the company's digital fabrication process.

Using the company's "proprietary parametric design tool," in the company's words, "the user selects the feature type, then modifies its size, form and tessellation, and finally, chooses any relief or visual effects." The tool provides feedback on material, hardware, and manufacturing requirements. It further provides preliminary structural analysis so that designers can make informed decisions earlier in their project. And since it is parametric, each change in a variable automatically modifies the relationships among other variables within the design. Seeyond then uses data from the user's design to drive the manufacturing process, creating a unique specialty feature." 

Conventional practices require an architect to go through at least five steps to use a custom manufactured product. Each of these steps takes time and creates opportunities for error. The steps are:

1) Find info in catalog or by calling a sales rep. 
2) Interpret info and incorporate into a design.
3) Prepare bid and contract documents.
4) Answer questions about bid and contract documents.
5) Interpret shop drawings to make sure they meet design intent.

With Seeyond, the designer may be able, at least in theory, to do his or her work in just two steps: 

1) Use the interactive design tool.  
2) Press "play".  

That says, "Wow," to us.

Recommendation: The digital workflow is on the rise, and it will not-so-gradually become the norm.  It is time to make your products and services compatible with it, and take advantage of it. 

8. Solar Paint
Quantum dots work in two directions: running power through them generates illumination, as described above, and shining light on them generates power. A research team at University of Notre Dame is developing "solar paint" that uses quantum dots to produce energy. Their goal is to create an affordable coating that can be applied to conductive surfaces without special equipment.

"The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we've reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells," explains one of the scientists. "But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future." They call the technology, "Sun-Believable."
Two types of solar paint, coated onto optically
transparent electrodes.

Their work uses nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. Nano titanium dioxide is already used in "self-cleaning" concrete, where it acts as a semi-conductor to convert sunlight into electrical charges that convert pollutants into relatively benign compounds.

Development of solar paint may cross-fertilize with other innovations. For example, WE Energies has developed electrically-conductive concrete that, when used with the new paint, could conceivably form an electrical generating and storage system that is built into the very structure of a building.

We should proceed with caution, as potential risks of nanoparticles are still being assessed. For example, the nanoparticles in self-cleaning concrete accelerate deterioration of concrete, and may be detrimental to fragile ecosystems if released into the environment through erosion or improper disposal.

Recommendation: Both of the materials mentioned here are products that multi-task.  It's a property often associated with the move towards greater sustainability.  It's worth asking yourself if the things you make could do more than they do now.

10 Trends To Watch - part 2 of 4

Continuing Our 4-part Series on Developing Systems and Methods That Are Shaping the Future of Construction.
(Part 1 appeared on March 20, 2012) 

3. Transparent Aluminum

Aluminum was discovered in 1826, but pure metal was hard to separate from its ore. In 1855, aluminum bars were displayed at the Paris Exposition alongside France's crown jewels, which was appropriate since the metal cost about half the price of gold. 30 years later, an economical process for extracting aluminum was discovered, making it an inexpensive and commonly used metal.

100 years later, transparent aluminum was invented... in the mind of a writer for Star Trek. It was envisioned as a commonly available material in the 23rd century.

Now, 200 years ahead of schedule, several forms of transparent aluminum have already been developed. In one, an immensely powerful X-ray laser knocks electrons out of aluminum molecules, rendering it nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation. This process is completely impractical in its current form: each laser pulse consumes enough electricity to power a city and the invisibility lasts only about 40 millionths of one billionth of a second.

Transparent aluminum oxynitride, however, is already in use as a replacement for bullet-resistant armored glass laminates. The ceramic material is half the weight and twice the strength of armored glass. It is also twice the cost of armored glass. But that deal-breaker will probably not last long. Aluminum's history suggests that today's "completely impractical" can be tomorrow's "nothing to it."

Recommendation: We used to ask, "How can we solve new problems with existing materials?" The new paradigm is, "How can we solved existing problems with new materials?"  

4. Big Wood
Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has made the jump across the Atlantic and is now available in Canada from Structurlam and other fabricators. Like plywood, CLT is fabricated into panels with multiple layers of wood, each set perpendicular to adjacent layers. But instead of using thin veneers, CLT uses lumber to create panels that can be five or more inches thick. And instead of commodity 4 x 8 ft. panels, panels are custom engineered and fabricated in sizes limited only by handling considerations; plywood on steroids. 

The panels can create load-bearing walls or decks that are 1/6 the weight and 1/3 the thickness of concrete with similar load-bearing capability. Its building code classification as inherently fire-resistant heavy timber construction, plus its structural properties, makes CLT a viable candidate for mid-rise buildings; indeed it has already been used for nine-story buildings in the UK

Since wood sequesters carbon dioxide and is a renewable resource, CLT has good environmental bona fides. It may become even greener as it enters the US. A team here proposes to assemble CLT with interlocking dovetails, eliminating the need for adhesives.  More, they propose to source wood from dead, standing trees in forests devastated by Pine Bark Beetles. This wood has low economic value, but a vast supply: millions of acres in the Intermountain West are victim of the infestation.

Recommendation: This may affect your business, even if you are not in the wood industry.

5. Think Blue
Climate change has a pernicious effect on the availability of water for human consumption, agriculture, and industry. Consider, for example, communities (and nations) that depend on a steady supply of water from melting mountain snow pack. With glaciers in retreat world wide, melt water can be exhausted before a hot, dry summer is over.  Here are three types of responses.

An alternative water source is atmospheric humidity, and new processes are reducing the energy required for condensing it into liquid water. The new AirDrop system uses photovoltaic cells to power fans that drive air through underground pipes where the air cools, condenses, and is captured. While initially proposed for agricultural irrigation, the same concept should work using the thermal mass of a structure to condense moisture. 

Another source is what is now call "waste water." Global Environmental Technology Services (GETS) has technology for wastewater treatment that is, compared to conventional treatment plants, odorless, takes 8 seconds instead of 20 days, does not use hazardous chemicals such as chloride, and fits on 1% of the land. Their small and fast system may allow water to be treated and reused on site, and to eliminate costs of connecting to a centralized sewage system. 

A third trend to watch is a growing range of products to implement a very old idea: rainwater collection. With our former water abundance challenged and price on the rise, rainwater collection is suddenly innovative.

Recommendation: New products and systems may have to be implemented on a small scale at first.

Watch for Parts 3 & 4 next week

10 Trends To Watch - part 1 of 4

Developing systems and methods are shaping the future of construction.

Chusid Associates endeavors to identify trends that will shape our client's future business.  We have observed a number of recent developments worth watching, and we present them here, with products emblematic of those trends. Some are still in early phases of laboratory development; others have been lurking in the periphery of construction and are now poised to leap, fully grown, onto the architectural stage. What they have in common is that they challenge our thinking and help us anticipate construction's future.

We present 10 trends in a special, 4-part post.  Watch for parts 2, 3, and 4 over the next 2 weeks.

1) Lighting Beyond LED
After a long gestation period, light emitting diodes (LED) have finally become commercially viable. Yet, even before they have risen to their full potential, the next wave of illumination sources is on the horizon. Particularly significant are a trio of new technologies for producing very thin, flexible sheets of illuminating material. Unlike LED panels that are made up of hundreds of point light sources ganged together, the new technologies provide even illumination output over their entire surface.

Organic light emitting diodes (OLED) are already seen in flat TV screens, monitors and smart phones, and several companies are racing to turn them on in the lighting market. ( Light emitting capacitors (LEC), developed by Ceelite Technologies (, are being used in back-illuminated signs to create thin fixtures with even light distribution. And quantum dot light emitting diodes (QLED), developed by QD Vision (, are crystalline semiconductors that can be tuned to emit very pure colors of light.
Rapid progress is being made towards improving longevity, improving efficacy, and larger sheet sizes. Costs should decrease once these light sources are produced on high-speed "printers," as currently proposed.

 Their flexibility and thinness suggest new ways to design with light: Creative new forms for luminaires. Walls and ceilings liberated from the need to use surface-mounted or recessed luminaires. Glass that is transparent by day and light emitting at night. Cabinet shelves that illuminate their content. Doors with illuminated faces to aid emergency egress.
OLEDs used a window blinds
GE proposes that thin, flexible OLEDs can be used as window blinds.

Recommendation: Look for innovative ways to incorporate lighting into your products

2. Robots Rising
Robots are already in use in building product manufacturing. For example, Boral Brick uses robots to stack green brick for kilning, and to pack finished brick for shipping as palletless, minimally-packaged cubes. The news is that robots are moving into the field. For example, robots are being used to lay bricks in elaborate patterns that would be quite labor intensive to do manually.  (For example, see

Theometrics has a fleet of mobile robots that measure a building interior in three dimensions, capturing more data points than would be affordable with manual surveying, and automatically generating a model of the structure. Equipped with a marker, it will mark the layout of conduit, partitions and other work. Equipped with a drill, it will assemble components.

The pace of robotic research is quickening. Southern California Institute of Architecture's robot lab, for example is exploring "freeform additive" fabrication and onsite construction in "unprecedented emulation, simulation and animation environments in which computational geometry, material agency and fabrication logistics merge." 
Robots at SCIARC Lab.
Large industrial robots configured in a multi-robot work cell are exploring the future of robotic construction.
Recommendation: Robotics will change the ecology of construction.  How will you evolve to survive?

Smarter Buildings

According to IBM, smarter buildings will be able to use resources more intelligently, which will lead to reduced costs and greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to smarter, more efficient cities. Their Smarter Buildings team helps customers "listen to the enormous amounts of data" their buildings are generating. By listening to this data through embedding smarter technologies into the physical assets of an organization, building owners, facility managers and other stakeholders can analyze energy use to squeeze out inefficiencies.
The five trends they predict may be useful in planning new products and services for building product manufactures:

Smart Neighborhoods

Groups of buildings will mimic living systems. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of smarter cities, which are just systems of systems—water, power, transportation, etc. Like a living system in nature, they can be highly complex, especially when considering the conglomeration of infrastructure over a city's 100- to 200-year history. In Washington, D.C., water pipes date back to the Civil War, for example. A neighborhood is a microcosm of the city; to make a city smarter, starting at the neighborhood level is more manageable. IBM is working to help the community become early adopters of smart grid technology that will electronically monitor, analyze and minimize power consumption in residential and commercial buildings—as well as of on-site solar and other clean-generation systems.

X-Ray Vision
Occupants of smarter buildings will get better visibility into building’s functions, such as how much water and energy they are using. Most businesses and residents now find this out by looking in their rear-view mirror—the previous month's utility bills. With smart meters, residents and businesses are getting closer to real-time views into their actual usage. With smarter buildings technology, building managers have a cross-building view into actual performance of all systems so they can make adjustments and repairs when needed, a key step when looking at large facilities, campuses and cities. Using analytics provides deeper, X-ray vision into what's happening in real time.

As buildings and cities are instrumented, managers will rely more on analytics to flag outlying behavior and to recommend optimal settings for heat, water and other facility maintenance. Predictive maintenance will become condition-based. At its 3.2-million-square-foot Rochester, Minn., campus, IBM integrates data from more than 300,000 data points, consolidating it into a common repository for effective analytics. Through this solution, the Rochester facility cut energy use by 8 percent, on top of the 6 percent reduction already being driven through aggressive energy-improvement programs.

Beyond Parking
Applications that pull data from a building and a city's "Internet of things" will proliferate. Parking applications can help drivers find available parking spots, for example. But it goes beyond that. The Internet of things gives people information, the first step toward making change. Through the increasing connectivity, people can act as living sensors to provide data and feedback to make changes and create smarter cities and buildings. For instance, some cities are extending that Internet of things to city services such as enabling citizens' to alert cities to potholes, graffiti and water issues by taking photos and sending them to city management, where they can be prioritized and dealt with. Cities are using geospatial intelligence to send crews with the information they need and the overview of where the projects are to map out the best driving routes.

Now Serving at the Energy Cafe

Building managers will order from a menu of energy, allowing them to choose energy by source and/or cost. Just as shoppers can chose which type of produce they want based on cost and source, city and building managers will be able to do the same with energy sources. With smart meters, building occupants know how much energy they are using. However, organizations in the future will also be able to choose the source of their energy. If they have carbon footprint targets to meet, they can decide to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. If that gets too costly, they can shift more to natural gas.

Real Estate Management Becomes a Science

A company's finance/real estate team is evolving into a smarter buildings team. In the next few years, accounting changes will require all publicly traded companies to add billions in new assets to their balance sheets. As organizations begin to itemize all their property assets, they'll also look into ways to reduce costs. What they're discovering is that by learning how their buildings are wasting energy, they are finding new ways to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. The cost of energy use in New York City municipal buildings totals more than $800 million each year and accounts for about 64 percent of the greenhouse gas emission produced by government operations. With carbon intelligence software, the city is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2017.

Edited from material posted at 

Sustainability and Built-In Obsolescence

LED modules, like these from CREE, may offer an alternative to obsolescence
A lighting sales rep gave recently visited my office to demonstrate his new line of LED light fixtures. The product has outstanding performance in most of the ways I expect from a commercial-grade luminaire: uniform and controlled light distribution, good color balance, an attractive housing, and the amazingly high efficacy (illumination/power) of the latest breed of LED.

Then I asked the rep where I could get replacement LEDs when the current ones fail.  He hemmed and hawed and then admitted the manufacturer did not have a program to sell replacement lamps or electronic drivers. "But that doesn't matter," he said, because the components are warrantied for five years, and by then there will be better technology and you would just replace the entire fixture.

While the company's literature touts how much energy its fixtures would save compared to fixtures with older and less efficient light sources. Yet the literature is silent on the environmental costs of replacing the housing and other components that could, feasibly, last for decades.  Making the matter worse, the housing was not designed for ease of relamping, further reinforcing the throw-away mindset.

I learned about lamp obsolesce the hard way.  Years ago, at a yard sale, I found some funky looking, gently used, industrial grade fluorescent light fixtures for what I thought was a bargain price -- perfect for the dark basement I was fixing up.

It turned out that the units required a size and style of fluorescent tube that had gone out of production. Sure, replacement lamps were still available, but they cost more than replacing the entire fixture with newer models.
Hubbell Roadway RF LED Retrofit Kit
Some lighting manufacturers are trying to address this type of problem. Some, for example, make LED elements that can be used to retrofit their older products. Looking forward, other companies are developing LED modules that can be used interchangeably in a variety of luminaires. As LED technology improves, the company can offer upgraded modules that do not require entire fixtures to be replaced.

I believe innovative solutions like these provide a better value to buyers, reinforce the manufacturers' green branding, and create a platform that can carry the manufacturers further into the future than they would get with throw-away products.

The marketing take-away from this is that manufacturers claiming to offer green products must look at the entire product life cycle, and offer a strategy to minimize the impact of improved technology.  As a species, we can no longer accept the culture of planned obsolescence.


This article was published in the late 1980's, but may still provide some insight to the present day.

Although still relatively new tools in the architectural office, videotape presentations are nevertheless changing the way design teams explore and evaluate building products. To be sure, the number of VCRs in architectural offices has not yet approached the 70 percent penetration some experts estimate the video medium has achieved among America's households Yet, when viewed in the context of today's electronic office, videotape is making significant gains.

A recent study of design industry professionals showed that more than 30 percent of the design and construction office  surveyed used a VCR in day-to-day office operations, Respondents also indicated that they viewed some three videotapes each month as part of their regular office duties. Perhaps most significant is the fact that nearly 99 percent of these same designers said that over the next half decade, they fully expect to substantially increase their reliance on new automation and communication technology, including VCRs.

Building product manufacturers and trade organizations have long recognized the one two punch packed by a sight-and sound medium like videotape Accordingly, 34 percent of all product videos that architects' and their associates reported viewing over the past year were screened at trade shows and  industry meetings for design professionals.

Construction product videos afford manufacturers the ability to pitch a story through memorable images, on-site demonstrations, and direct visual comparisons. For architects with limited opportunities to get out into the field, video also offers an electronic alternative for seeing products being fabricated and, most important, being put to the test on actual job sites. And as many manufacturers cut back on field staffing, video enables their experts to present knowledge on tape.

Construction product videos are even serving new purposes quite removed from the architect manufacturer sales cycle. For example, many architects now use videotape productions provided by product manufacturers as part of presentations to building owners. The tapes often help design professionals explain to their clients why a particular material has been selected for a specific application. In the process, such tapes provide background on the products covered, while simplifying the architect's potentially difficult mission of conveying important considerations to a nontechnical audience.

Also, members of the design or construction team with less than a thorough working knowledge of a product's finer points can quickly be brought up to speed through the use of tapes. Increasingly, videotapes are finding a prominent place on the agenda at many architectural firms' project team meetings, luncheon seminars, and in-house training programs.

Frequently free for the asking to qualified design professional construction product videotapes are best put to use by firms &at have a systematic approach to their procurement and cataloging. Whether they are left behind following a sales call or requested in response to advertising, videos carefully organized as part of a firm's reference library get the most use and provide architects and their clients with the greatest benefits. A staff member should be assigned to solicit, then organize and catalog product videos as they arrive at the office. Cross-referencing videos to printed volumes on file is a prerequisite to making design team members aware the tapes are on hand to assist them in the completion of their duties.

One notable result of the explosive growth in the home video market has been the willingness of design professionals to check out materials from an office library for viewing after business hours at home. Away from the demands of an office, people are often more receptive to absorbing and retaining information without the traditional drudgery of poring over pages of printed text and graphics.

For all that they offer, construction product videos are not a substitute for printed reference manuals and guides. With video, there is no opportunity to edit specifications, extract engineering formulas, or trace detail drawings. Rather than serving as a replacement for traditional reference documents, videos are most valuable when used as an electronic source of supplemental data.

As the inherent value of videotape continues to gain widespread recognition, look for new and different uses for these communication tools. Fresh applications already starting to emerge include video magazines for architects, cinematic tours of manufacturing and testing facilities, concise summaries of round table discussions and, of course, new and innovative presentations of products and their performance.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Progressive Architecture, Copyright © 1988

10 Best New Building Products of 2010

At the end of each year, the staff at Chusid Associates nominates and votes on its list of the Ten Best New Building Products of the year.  Our intention was to blog about all ten, but we got busy and only managed to write about a few of the winners. Without delaying the project further, here is our truncated list:

The pace of innovation continues. The tough economic times are actually proving a boon to some companies, as they use the opportunity for research and launching new products that, in the continual press of sales during a good year, would normally get buried. Several of this year's entries are innovations on ages-old problems, while others represent the intersection of several cutting-edge technological developments. A few were included not because the actual products were significant, but because of the trends they represent.

1. Plasma Lighting: Solid state lighting, in the form of LEDs, have been a major trend for the past few years. Now plasma lighting is taking the spotlight, offering in some cases twice the lumens per Watt of LEDs. Right now most of the plasma lighting available is for stadium and street lamp-sized installations, but miniaturization to commercial and industrial scale seems inevitable.

Multiquip's H2LT Hydrogen Fueled Light Tower drew a lot of attention at World of Concrete for combining low-energy, high-intensity light with quiet, low-polluting hydrogen fuel cells. The plasma light bulb produces 22,000 lumens while consuming only 255 watts, with a life expectancy of up to 50,000 hours. Beyond its energy efficiency, the tower made our list for one simple reason: it is sparking imaginations. At the show, people were walking away from the Multiquip booth discussing new ways and places they could use this technology, sewing the seeds for the next generation of innovations.

This all-glass wall is energy efficient.
2. Phase-Change Insulated Glass: Another ripe field for innovations is combining multiple successful technologies into a single high-performing system. This becomes especially important in sustainable design when building systems often need a higher level of flexibly to meet multiple design objectives simultaneously; natural daylighting is advantageous, for example, but too much interferes with the building's thermal performance and energy use.

Glass-X, from Greenlight Glass, addresses exactly this problem. The core of the system is phase-changing glass that stores or releases thermal energy in the process of converting from solid to liquid states. Glass-X controls thermal transfer, essentially creating virtual thermal mass to help warm or cool the interior as needed. A prism system takes advantage of seasonal changes in the sun's position to reflect hot summer light, while allowing more light, and heat, transfer in winter months.

Glass is one of our favorite building materials around the office; the amount of versatility and innovation in glass construction is staggering, and the trend looks set to continue for the next few decades. The next winner is another glass product.

3. Bird-Visible Glass: When I was five I once ran full-speed into a closed glass door, face first, so I have a lot of sympathy for birds flying into windows. The problem is so prevalent that it has become embedded in our culture; birds hitting windows is an instantly recognizable slapstick troupe. But the real-world side is not funny; estimates are that almost 1 billion birds are killed by window collisions in the US each year.

Ornalux glass has special ultraviolet patterns that are visible to birds, but not detectable by the human eye. This means birds see the window and identify it as an obstacle, and humans get to enjoy natural lighting and an unobstructed view.

Click here for our 2009 list. And stay tuned for our best of 2011 list.

Computer-Based Systems Integration

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote twenty years ago. Looking back, it is encouraging to see that many of the advances predicted then have now become part of every day design and construction practice. Yet fundamental challenges about improving communication and project quality still remain.

For many architects, integration of computer-based systems still means figuring out which end of the cable plugs into their personal computer. But the topic was given much greater meaning at the First International Symposium on Building Systems Automation-Integration held in June at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This week-long conference, initiated by Varkie Thomas of the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings B Merrill, was devoted to "the integration of computer-based systems for planning, design, construction, and operation of buildings." The conference offered bold predictions for computer technology and its effect on architecture.

While an increasing number of architectural and construction tasks employ computers, the Symposium identified two major barriers preventing computer-aided design from achieving even greater productivity. First, computers have been applied essentially as "electronic pencils," speeding up manual processes but not changing the nature of the tasks. For example, specification are written as though word processors are just fancy typewriters and CAD drawings replicate the types of lines and abstractions used in traditional drafting. Second, computerized information is still transferred from one application to another by manual methods, leading to increased costs  and errors in data processing. For example, it is rare for an architect's CAD file to be passed along for a contractor to use in construction engineering, and electronic product data are not passed along to owners for use in automated facility management. To overcome these barriers, conference participants presented an amazing variety of new computer-based systems and concepts that are already available or under development in laboratories around the world. They also called for new paradigms, based on integration of information and the building team, for the organizational structure of the building industries.

Computers and Practice
Many designers still practice what Tor Syzertsen from the Norwegian Institute of Technology called "Pencil and Paper-Aided Design (PPAD)." But he predicted that computers will soon be such an intrinsic part of architecture that we will drop the phrase "Computer-Aided" from our description of design. He called for the creation of "knowbots" to automate routine architectural tasks, many examples of which were presented during the week-long conference.

The Intelligent Design Checker, for example, can review a set of drawings for compliance with bullding codes and other standards. Nayel Shafei from Prime Computers, Inc., described how the New York State Facilities Development Corporation uses the program to check compliance of hospital designs with National Fire Protection Association standards and the New York State Life Safety Code. The Checker flagged so many violations in drawings submitted for final approval that the Facilities Development Corporation now requires architects to run the program during the design phase of projects, when corrections can be more easily made.

Architects typically design a building envelope and then pass it to mechanical engineers for an energy-use evaluation. This results in slow and costly iteration of design between architects and engineers. To improve this situation, both Larry Degelman of Texas A&M University and Edna Shaviv of the Israel Institute of Technology presented expert systems that integrate energy analysis and architectural design. Their systems allow architects to visualize buildings in 3D and simultaneously receive feedback on the energy consequences of design decisions. Both are using knowledge-based programs to suggest U-values, window placement, and design strategies to satisfy energy-code constraints.

Mehdi Khalvati from ASG explained that CAD programs could become "integrated architectural systems." ASG software, which runs with AutoCAD, links graphic information to specification writing, cost estimating, and product information. In a software package that ASG distributes for Boise Cascade, wood beams are treated as objects that contain information about their performance characteristics and limitations rather than just as lines; the program can automatically size and arrange wood floor framing members.

Expanding upon this theme, a team from Carnegie Mellon University demonstrated ARMILLA, which incorporates expert systems with a CAD drawing tool to aid the design of a building's structural, HVAC, plumbing, and other systems. A knowledge-base of engineering rules automatically makes trade-offs to coordinate the placement of beams, ducts, and risers.

New Models for Architects
Traditional architectural drawings, even those produced with the latest 3D CAD programs, are abstract geometrical representations of building components; the meaning of the lines is determined by the architect.

Computerized models, on the other hand, are constructed of "object-oriented" representations of each building space and component. "Object-oriented" is the computer equivalent of the architectural concern for the nature of materials; it is Louis Kahn's asking a material what it "wants to be." Object-oriented databases key building elements to information about what they are, their performance, and their relationships with other objects. Objects interact with each other according to knowledge-based rules and constraints. "Self-knowledge" enables objects to assert themselves to automatically generate designs or construction and facility management reports. Instead of the static abstraction of traditional drawings, this kind of computer model portrays a virtual reality that responds to changes in materials and conditions as would real buildings.

Visualization Software that creates photographic-quality 3D pictures of buildings will be valuable for both client presentations and as construction planning tools. Simulations will enable designers and owners to predict operating loads more accurately and to optimize the structure's performance by adjusting for varying conditions, thus reducing the need to over compensate for safety factors. And as new user interfaces are refined, architects may find themselves working in cyberspace environments that convey the illusion of being able to manipulate computer-generated items in the actual space.

Other developments in computer science presented at the Symposium that may affect architectural practice include neural nets, hypertext, artificial intelligence, and multimedia. Anticipation of these tools led to heated discussion about where the ultimate boundaries between human and machine capabilities might be. Some argued that creativity and aesthetics were not feasible or appropriate uses of computers. Shaviv countered with the example of a student with no architectural training who developed a program to draw housing plans based on code restrictions and a set of rules defining spatial relationships. "Some of the schemes the computer made were of great originality and beauty, designs a trained architect would never have dreamed of." Others argued that computers could stimulate human creativity by freeing designers from routine chores and presenting a greater range of options for them to consider. One software developer believed human intuition will remain an essential part of architecture; his program includes a "help key" that provides information unrelated to the task at hand to stimulate the user to make problem-solving breakthroughs.

The Need for a Standard
Developing the standard code necessary for object-oriented models will be an enormous undertaking and may not be practical in a fragmented industry that supports a multitude of incompatible computer and software systems. To overcome this, the Symposium struggled with standards and technical guidelines for exchanging computer generated information directly between systems and across the building industry. Current exchange protocols like the Initial Graphics Exchange Specification (IGES) and AutoDesk's DXF format primarily exchange geometrical drawing data. New standards are required to accommodate the richer information environment of object-oriented models.

The leading proposed standard is the Standard for The Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP). STEP is being coordinated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and by the Product Data Exchange (PDES) in the United States. A PDES  brochure explains that STEP "will provide a complete, unambiguous, computer interpretable definition of the physical and functional characteristics of each unit of a product throughout its life cycle. (It) will enable communications among heterogeneous computer environments; integration of systems that support design, manufacturing and logistic function/processes; and support automatic, paperless updates of system documentation."

Development of a comprehensive data exchange standard will be extremely costly but is of paramount importance to automation and integration; but funding for the construction industry's effort is problematic. Participants in the Symposium, however, felt that development of STEP is of such importance to United States competitiveness in global construction that they called for a government effort comparable to the building of the Interstate Highway system. "Who will be the President Eisenhower to make it happen?" one participant asked.

Life-Cycle Models
The ability to share a common building model will change the organization of building projects. Duvvuru Sriram from MIT called current design methods over-the-wall engineering. "The architect works on a design and then throws it over the wall to an engineer. The project is thrown over the wall to a contractor who uses the drawings as a sketchpad to figure out how the building will really be built, and it is eventually thrown to the building owner who has to figure out how to operate the facility." He proposed a knowledge-based management system and distributed databases that would facilitate collaborative design among all building team members.

Information must also be managed so that it has value throughout the life-cycle of a building. As information is gathered, from the earliest planning stages through demolition, it should be sorted for value and stored in an accessible electronic form. Instead of merely automating current procedures, every part of architectural practice must be reassessed While putting product catalogs on to computer diskettes is a necessary first step, we should not lose sight of the need for an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system so that product data can flow directly from a manufacturer's catalog into a project database and then back into a manufacturer's production scheduling program without the time and expense of shop drawings. Owners will start demanding computer models for use in space planning, energy management, preventive maintenance, and operating systems; the quality of a building's database will be an asset they can carry to their bottom line.

The complexities of modern construction have created building teams with experts in many fields. Future architects may be able to work with fewer consultants as expert systems become more powerful and electric databases provide easier access to specialized information. This should lead to leaner and more productive building teams, but will require new approaches to architectural education and Practice. Ron Wooldridge of The Locke Group warned that "the good news is that 45 architects with computers will be able to do the work 50 people working manually. The bad news is that the 45 may not be a subset of the current 50." He urged architects to use integration and automation to add value to their work and to develop the knowledge-based systems and databases that would enable their firms to regain competitiveness.

The final advice from the Symposium is to not become too married to the current generation of AEC computers and applications. Rapid changes are coming that may make your personal computer as obsolete as a slide rule. Firms that accept the challenge of automation and integration will have to weather a turbulent period of industry and professional realignment, but are likely to emerge more competitive then before.

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By Michael Chusid, originally published in Progressive Architecture, ©1991

Computer-Aided Manufacturing

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote over 20 years ago. Since then, computer-aided manufacturing has become widespread. Of course, now it is driven by BIM, not CAD.

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the use of computerized systems to help manage manufacturing operations, CAM encompasses techniques such as numerically controlled fabrication (in which geometric coordinates control automated cutting tools or other machines similar to the way a CAD plotter works), automated control systems, robotics. and programs for production scheduling. inventory control. quality assurance, accounting. and information management. Proponents claim that CAM can increase productivity and enable a manufacturer to respond more quickly to changing conditions. In an automated factory. for example. information about a firm's resources and products may be stored in a common database. When an order is entered, the CAM system would help the people operating the plant to schedule the flow of materials and resources in coordination with other orders in the shop. notify suppliers when materials or components must be delivered. and provide cutting, hatching. or assembly instructions for automated equipment. In addition, CAM could be used to help monitor operations and make necessary adjustments. This "factory-of-the-future" is already operating. to varying degrees. in manufacturing plants around the world.

CAD-CAM is the logical connection between the computer aided design (CAD) system used in the design of a product and the CAM system used in its production. CAD CAM allows design data to be used directly in the manufacturing process. For example, the same dimensions used to draw a product can be used to drive a numerically controlled machine tool. In addition, CAD-CAM can make it easier for a designer to incorporate manufacturing considerations, such as the availability of critica1 resources, into design decisions.

There is a widespread assumption, based on the differences between "real estate" and "personal property." that construction is so different from manufacturing that management techniques used in one may not apply to the other. But since the dawn of the industrial revolution, construction has been successfully borrowing ideas from manufacturing. As early as 1851, for example, Joseph Paxton employed basic manufacturing techniques such as standardization and assembly lines to the design and construction of the Crystal Palace. More recently.manufacturing concepts such as critical path scheduling and just-in-time delivery have moved from the shop floor to the job site. The time has come to appraise manufacturing experience with CAD-CAM to apply its benefits to construction.

AEC opportunities for CAD-CAM
The difference in the structure of the construction and manufacturing industries creates the first hurdle for CAD CAM in the AEC world. In the manufacturing environment. marketing design, engineering, purchasing, and production all take place within one corporate structure. But in building, separate corporate entities - developers, architects, suppliers, general contractors, subcontractors. etc. -are each responsible for separate facets of the total process. In reality, the conflicting departmental concerns within many industrial firms are just as hard to coordinate as the fragmented construction process. And like architects trying to coordinate their work with facility managers and consultants. manufacturers must integrate their CAD-CAM systems with those of their customers and suppliers. But before CAD-CAM can reach its potential in architecture, and construction.the building industry needs to establish information protocols so data can be freely passed throughout the building team.

A simple first step wards CAD CAM would be for designers to distribute construction documents to bidders and contractors on electronic media. This could allow contractors and suppliers to extract information from the design documents more efficiently and will become increasingly attractive as architectural drawings evolve into intelligent graphic databases. Unfortunately. liability concerns about claims for erroneous data may prevent most architects from venturing into this area of expanded service. Large building owners, who stand to gain the most from increased construction productivity, may have to take the lead and insist upon the sharing of electronic data.

A seminal example of CAD-CAM communication between a building designer and builder is the new Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign designed by Smith, Hinchmann & Grylls. The building is clad in intricate patterns of colored bricks produced in special sizes and shapes. The architect's CAD drawings went beyond the customary elevation drawings to provide detailed layouts for each brick pattern and special condition. Because of the time and cost to, draw brick details manually, in the past an architect may have provided only minimal drawings and left the mason to figure out coursing in the field. CAD-CAM gave the designer better control over the building's appearance and provided the contractor with easy- to- follow installation requirements and more accurate information about quantities and dimensions.

Another area of CAD-CAM innovation has been the sharing of electronic data between architects and building product manufacturers. New computerized tools are being developed that will link an architect's design vision directly to a producer's manufacturing operations.

CAD-CAM will enlarge the sire of the architectural palette. Rather than manufacture large quantities of uniform products to be put into inventory, many producers now find it more economical to manufacture on order and are switching to more flexible manufacturing systems. This trend, together with CAD-CAM integration, will enable custom produced building materials to be more economically manufactured in smaller quantities and with shorter lead times.

Lead time will also be reduced because CAD-CAM systems will simplify project administration. For example, shop drawings are now required for a manufacturer to demonstrate his understanding of the architect's construction documents. But if the construction documents were produced using software supplied by the manufacturer. the need for shop drawings might be reduced or even eliminated. Electronic data exchange between designers and manufacturers will mean simplified order-entry procedures and faster quantity surveys and bidding. A unified database of design and product information can also expedite construction.

The Immediate future
Consider the following CAD-CAM examples which are already available or under development:
A pre-engineered building system manufacturer provides its dealers with an interactive design program. The program allows dealers to quickly evaluate design and structural options and takes clients on fully animated video walks through their proposed buildings. The dealer's electronic file is then transferred directly into the manufacturer's production schedule for fabrication.

A floor covering manufacturer is developing a program that can be used by interior designers to design custom patterns and color combinations. In addition to encouraging design experimentation, the software will enable designers to insert their design into a 3D CAD visualization program. The custom design  will then be used by the manufacturer to fabricate actual samples in far less time than is currently required to manually program special production runs.

System furniture manufacturers offer design programs that prepare electronic bills of material for direct order entry. The program also assigns each component in a project an  ID number. When components arrive on the job site, they are bar coded to assist the contractor with assembly and the owner with inventory control.

Techniques similar to desk-top publishing are being developed to offer designers unprecedented abilities to create ornamental treatments that can be economically produced by numerically controlled graphic and milling machinery.

New techniques for desk-top manufacturing enable three dimensional prototypes to be constructed directly from computer data. In these systems, a laser "draws" an object onto a photosensitive or heat-fusible polymer. The laser causes a thin film of the polymer to harden, and the three dimensional shape is gradually built up layer by layer. While the initial applications for this equipment will most likely be complex machine tool parts, costs will likely come down to a point where architects can use it to design and manufacture custom ornaments or building accoutrement like door knobs or plumbing trim.

CAD-CAM is part of the trend towards higher levels of integration between computer programs. The building industry is entering unexplored territory in which traditional methods and relationships will be reexamined. While there will be many false starts and other risks, the journey appears worth taking. CAD-CAM is likely to lead to new levels of design and construction productivity and provide new outlets for architectural imagination.

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Progressive Architecture, Copyright © 1990

Pick up your sales to contractors

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid published 14 years ago. There have been dramatic changes during the intervening years. Now, many contractors are as connected in the field as they are in the office, thanks to mobile computing and wi-fi.

Technology, timing, and training are the keys to reaching busy contractors

Many of our customers are small contractors. They spend their days out on job sites or running around town in their pickup trucks. Because they are rarely in their offices, it's very difficult to make sales calls. Can you suggest ways to reach contractors like these? - G.C., marketing vice president

As you have discovered, the key members of contractors' staffs are usually out in the field, picking up materials, visiting plan rooms, and running jobs. Few small contractors keep regular office hours.

Technology can offer solutions. The growing use of cellular phones has made it possible to locate contractors in the field or in their truck cabs. Portable computers with fax modems are another means to reach contractors on the go.

Technology can also help building product makers deliver product information when customers need it, even if salespeople aren't available. Most small contractors are so busy during the day they have to plan projects in the evening and on weekends. Online services can give contractors information, including product literature and order status, during these off hours.

There are other ways to reach contractors in their pick ups. A major roofing company recently distributed a series of audio tapes on managing a roofing business. They suggested that contractors put their driving time to productive use by listening to the educational programs in their vehicles. The tapes gave general advice on marketing, safety, and other management topics, but also told their captive audiences about the manufacturer's promotions and customer service programs.

While your customer may not keep bankers' hours, most contractors do have a predictable rhythm to their work schedules. To reach them, your salespeople may have to make calls early in the morning, before contractors leave for job sites, or keep a pair of boots in the trunk to call on prospects in the field. Part of salespeople's jobs is to get to know contractors' work habits and identify the best opportunities to make calls.

Hilti, a manufacturer of construction grade fasteners, has made a specialty of calling on contractors in the field. Bypassing independent distributors, Hilti's salespeople deliver inventory on the spot and demonstrate the latest in tools and fasteners. Their bright red vans are familiar on job sites.

Leveraging distributors
Lacking sales fleets like Hilti's, other manufacturers have discovered a valuable alternative for reaching small contractors. Many contractors start their day by stopping at a distributor's warehouse. With such frequent customer contact, distributors can play an important role in promoting your product.

However, most distributors are geared toward taking and filling orders, not selling. If you want sales leverage from your distributors, it is up to you to motivate them. And you must train them so their staff can speak authoritatively about your product.

One strategy is to bring key personnel from each distributor to your plant for training. If you can't justify this expense, bring training to them with seminars, videotapes, and hands-on demonstrations.

Besides technical presentations, include sales training, so distributor staff know how to ask for an order. Davis Colors, a leading manufacturer of concrete pigments, trains counter salespeople at ready mix dealers to ask, "What color do you want?" to encourage customers to get pigments added to their concrete.

After you have trained the distributors' staff, offer to train the distributors' customers. Most leading distributors will let you use their warehouses or yards to train local contractors. Such after-work sessions are great opportunities to build goodwill for you and your distributor. If you include a hands-on segment, make sure your demonstrator is a top notch crafts person who will earn the respect of your audience.

Support your training by providing merchandising materials for your dealers. Co-op money can put your logo in local advertising, on the dealer's stationery, and on exterior signage.

Develop attractive point-of-purchase materials, such as freestanding displays and posters for distributors' showrooms, and combination show cards and literature racks for sales counters. Just in case contractors still don't get the message, encourage the sales clerks to wear shirts with your company logo.

Finally, use your sales time strategically. Time spent getting your product specified for a job means many contractors will be familiar with your product when they prepare their bids. And in every community, certain contractors set the pace for the rest. Concentrate your sales efforts on reaching these leaders, and leave the rest to word of mouth.

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright ©1997

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.

Building Codes Save Lives

Innovative building product manufacturers must frequently deal with expensive frustrating building code agencies and local enforcement jurisdictions. Yet the process of creating and enforcing standards helps to save lives and reduce property damage.

This was borne out by the recent earthquakes in Japan, as this dramatic video of swaying buildings testifies:

We must also recognize the ingenuity of the design and construction industry that strives learn from our failures to create safer structures.

Use high-touch opportunities at trade shows.

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote more than 20 years ago. While the internet has become more robust than could be seen then, trade shows still remain an important part of the marketing mix.

Does it make sense to cut our exhibiting budget to finance Internet development? If we decide to go to shows, what should we do to get the most from our exhibit?- N. W., marketing manager

High-tech marketing, such as the Internet and other multimedia tools, will only increase the importance of trade shows in building product marketing. As online sales and customer support increase, personal contact between salespeople and customers will decrease. Trade shows let you maintain that personal contact.
This is the dichotomy of high-tech/high-touch marketing predicted 15 [now 35] years ago by John Naisbitt in his book Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives.

"The more technology we introduce into society, the more people will aggregate, will want to be with other people," Naisbitt wrote, "We will eventually do some shopping by computer, but only for staple items of which we have a very clear sense and experience. It will be no substitute for the serendipity and high touch of shopping for what we want to be surprised about."

Several building product marketing executives have recently told me that more of their customers are bypassing sales reps and dealing direct with the factory, entering orders online, exchanging CAD drawings by e-mail, and teleconferencing. These marketers are spending money to build Web sites, but they continue to allocate funds for trade show booths to maintain a face-to-face presence with customers.

Industry shows enable an exhibitor to build brand awareness, identify prospects, and shape consumer attitudes. The opportunity for customers to see and handle your products and shake hands with your salespeople makes trade shows a powerful marketing vehicle.

If marketers aren't convinced of the continuing value of face-time, customers are. An architectural specifier I know keeps a list all year of' the products he wants to investigate and the contacts he wants to make when he gets to the Construction Specifications Institute show. His sense of purpose is not unique. Even those who attend just to walk around and see what's new go anticipating serendipity.

To increase your odds of benefiting from that serendipity, you must attract attention. At a recent show, I watched a leggy female model invite attendees to take turns on a putting green in a booth. Although she attracted a crowd by bending over to retrieve golf balls, few attendees inspected the power tools in the booth.

Other efforts to involve customers are more successful. Consider, for example, how Davis Colors used a trade show to launch its Mix-Ready packaging for concrete additives a few years ago. The new package could be tossed into a concrete mixer without opening, weighing, or pouring the dusty powders, a significant advantage for ready-mix producers.

To get the point across, Davis decorated its booth like a basketball court, but with a graphic of the back of a concrete truck instead of a basket. The salespeople wore striped referee shirts and had whistles hanging from lanyards around their necks. They held up basketball-sized Mix-Ready bags and offered attendees chances to "score with Mix-Ready" by tossing bags into the truck.

Show goers greeted the invitation with humor and relief that it wasn't another booth crammed full of product information. It didn't need to be; just tossing the bags into the mixer was enough to create an indelible impression and communicate the benefits of the new admixture system.

The booth also facilitated personal interaction between buyers and sellers. From the free-throw line, the "ref" would hand off the customer to a salesperson who could discuss product benefits one on one.

Tactile tease

Cresset Chemical Co. also uses a high-touch approach at trade shows. Cresset places placards urging visitors to "Feel me" on concrete samples so attendees can understand firsthand the impact of the company's form release compounds on concrete surfaces. Cresset's hooked-up spray equipment lets customers develop a visceral feel for operating the products. While other trade show booths are as passive as a department store window, Cresset's is more like a science museum's hands-on exhibits.

Cresset also does an especially good job of interacting with prospects in the booth. In addition to collecting names and addresses, Cresset's booth staff conduct quick interviews. They use a customized questionnaire to record prospects' current brands, product interests, buying authority, and purchase plans, and decide on the spot what follow-up actions are best. By collecting this information, the staff can make best use of their time with each prospect at the show, and can build a prospect database for later use. The interview takes a few minutes, but I suspect it makes attendees feel they have been properly attended to.

Bring the computer to the show 
The high-touch marketing environment of a trade show is also a good place to showcase your high-tech marketing. Though products still deserve center stage, a computer in the booth lets you demonstrate your Web site and explain its cyber benefits. This is especially important if you hope to make the Internet a central component of your customer service program. The more you spend on your Web site, the more you might want to spend on showcasing it at trade shows.

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By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1997

Fax speed can propel you to competitive edge

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote more 20 years ago. We can look back at the introduction of fax technology for clues about how best to adopt newer communication technologies.

It seems as if I now send and receive more letters by facsimile than by U.S. mail. How can I make better use of the fax machine in my sales and marketing program? —T.M.J., vice president, sales and marketing

The phenomenally fast spread of fax machines throughout the industry leaves us wondering how we ever got along without them. Time is money; even overnight delivery of orders, sales directives, or product information can be too slow.

When writing a construction specification recently, I called two competing manufacturers for product information. One responded by overnight delivery. Not only did it cost the firm more than $10 for shipping plus the cost of the printed literature, it also cost the firm the chance to be specified. While I was still waiting for that manufacturer’s information, the second manufacturer responded by fax.

In fact, the fax arrived while I was still on the phone with the firm’s salesperson. We were able to clarify immediately which product met my requirements. By the time the competitor’s overnight package arrived, I had completed that section of the specification.
Increasingly inexpensive, fax machines are now ubiquitous in architectural and engineering offices and are becoming more common in jobsite trailers. For overseas work, fax may be the only way to quickly and reliably send written or graphic information. Many firms have more than one fax line to avoid busy signals.

A “shoe shine and a handshake” once epitomized face-to-face selling. Now we routinely buy over the telephone from faceless voices. But the need for graphic information in design and construction limited the use of telemarketing in building product sales. Salespeople and customers still had to meet to exchange drawings and sketches.

Fax machines have turned the telephone into a more useful tool for building product sales. Along with other new technologies, such as online computer communications, fax machines will enable manufacturers to reduce their field sales forces. A salesperson who could visit only five customers a day before can now contact dozens in the same time frame. Telemarketers should have fax machines on their desks so they can send and receive drawings while on the phone with customers.

Make fax a part of your field sales automation program, too. Salespeople should have access to fax machines wherever they work to avoid delays and to cut down on telephone tag. Salespeople who work out of their homes should have fax machines in their home offices. Those on the road can have a fax in their cars thanks to cellular telephones. Traveling salespeople can use a compact fax modem with a laptop computer to send and receive faxes without lugging around a separate fax machine. They may also want to consider an “electronic mailbox” at which to receive fax transmissions. Electronic mailboxes, offered by online information services such as CompuServe, store fax messages until the recipient can download them from a hotel room or even a pay phone along the highway.

Fax machines will change your marketing communications, as well. While “junk fax” should not be encouraged, you can use the fax judiciously to notify customers of special promotions or buying incentives.

An innovative maker of expansion joint covers recognized that most specifiers did not need complete information on each of the firm’s several hundred designs. The manufacturer also felt that as technology and testing status of its fire rated joint covers changed, printed data sheets would rapidly become obsolete. The solution was to distribute a summary catalog with an offer to fax full, updated information on products of interest. The firm offered a toll-free phone number for inquiries.

To make a program like this even more efficient, consider using the new computer-based fax servers. These systems store product data sheets, test reports, article reprints, and other sales collateral on a hard disk and are linked to your customer database. When your salespeople receive an inquiry, they can call up or enter a customer profile, record the nature of the inquiry, and select appropriate product literature from a menu. The materials can be faxed directly from the computer before the conversation is over. Similar fax fulfillment services can be obtained from outside vendors such as McGraw Hill Inc.’s Product Facs program.

Make sure your product literature is readable by fax machine. Background colors or patterns that look good in print can be illegible when faxed.

Direct mail bounce-back cards and magazine reader service cards should be large enough to feed through a fax machine. Include your fax number and those of your reps on your product literature, advertising, stationery, and any form asking customers to submit information.

When shopping for a fax machine, look at those that can store the phone numbers of your sales offices, distributors, and others you communicate with regularly. A machine that can transmit to pre-programmed routing lists is a valuable time-saver when you have to communicate price or policy changes to many salespeople or customers across the country.

Emerging technologies promise to make the fax an even more important sales and marketing tool. Large format machines can transmit drawings as wide as 24 inches. Machines with high-resolution color capabilities give good reproductions of color photographs or images. Pay-for-use 900 numbers enable trade associations and others to automate fax delivery of standards and other documents they normally charge fees for.

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

Use computers as a distribution channel

The following was originally published 20 years ago, back when data was still kept on 5-1/2" disks.  How much of my predictions have come to pass? What can we expect in the years to come? 

Today’s architects and engineers make on-the-spot decisions as they create drawings at the computer. Rather than search through catalogs, they’ll choose products from manufacturers whose data is available electronically at their fingertips.

Those manufacturers are today’s competitive marketers. They’ve managed to automate their product information right into the decision making process, says Michael Chusid, president of Chusid Associates, marketing consultants for the construction industry.

“Think of the computer as a channel of distribution for your product,” Chusid says. Automation offers many avenues for selling information and creating product awareness.

Get into the plan
Incorporate a computer- aided design/manufacturing (CAD- CAM) relationship into the product, Chusid suggests. The architect creates a design using a manufacturer’s CAD software. Based on that design, the manufacturer uses CAM to create samples and customize the product for the application.

This process makes the product an integral part of the design. Customers who have bought the software will be more likely to buy the product, and the manufacturer has a foot in the door long before the project goes out for bid.

There are other advantages. Use of manufacturers’ software to produce construction documents can:

  • Cut mass production for inventory
  • Shorten lead times
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for shop drawings
  • Simplify order entry
  • Expedite construction

Software for designers is just one option. An estimating program specifically for your product can be a selling point for contractors, Chusid says. And an inventory management program will do more than a little co-op advertising to establish a strategic relationship with distributors.

Market with electronics
Computers have a place in just about every aspect of marketing. “There will be new demands on your media dollar,” says Chusid. Marketers will have to fit electronic media into their overall marketing strategies.

Various types of electronic building-product catalogs are now available. Some charge manufacturers for advertising space and distribute to a controlled circulation, as conventional print media do. Others offer free space to manufacturers and are sold to the end-user.

Disks can be used in direct mail advertising, says Chusid. They can be produced and mailed more economically than literature and they’re not likely to be overlooked.

On-line databases can share data among designers, dealers, manufacturers, contractors, and facility managers. They can be used for electronic order entry, and some have lead-tracking capabilities.

If your product line changes faster than you can educate your sales force, make the computer your product expert, Chusid suggests. Set up a computerized reference system customers can call to get information.

Automate your product
Automating product information is something virtually every manufacturer can do. But manufacturers also should look into computerizing the product itself, says Chusid.

Electronics have been introduced into the most unlikely products, he says. Plumbing systems use electronic valves and sensors. Door hardware has embraced computerized access control and security mechanisms. And lighting systems respond to how a room is being used.

How far should you go with electronics? Says Chusid: “It depends on how far-reaching you want your relationship with customers to be.”

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1991

How Does CSI's Acquisition of BSD Affect Building Product Marketing?

I’m glad to see CSI's acquisition of BSD. Having been a part of the Strategic Planning Task Team last year, I'm personally gratified to see CSI putting the plan into action in such a concrete way, by becoming more involved in the tools our industry uses to organize information.

I do think it remains to be seen, though, how the marketing of building products will change as a result of CSI's move. 

I think that BSD's programs themselves will remain unchanged in the near term, but that CSI’s ownership and participation will strengthen the products’ position in the marketplace over time. AIA’s ownership and participation in MasterSpec is key to its acceptance as an “industry standard” among architecture firms. CSI has the opportunity to develop similar acceptance for BSD if it, too, can create the impression (and the reality) that the content of the subscription is developed and maintained in a consensus-based process by a group of experienced specifiers. A conversation I had with Walt Marlowe suggests that CSI’s participation will start small, but will move in the direction I’m hoping for here.

If CSI strengthens BSD's position, BSD will be a formidable competitor with MasterSpec and its tools. MasterSpec, unlike BSD, offers more traditional word-processing tools as well as database tools, so manufacturers can easily interact with MasterSpec through word-processing documents. BSD's rise may increase the need for manufacturers and marketing consultants to “speak BSD”, that is, interact with databases, in order to get building products modeled, specified, and estimated through BSD tools.

How will the acquisition affect building product manufacturers and their marketing efforts? Before choosing a course of action, I think questions like these need to be considered:
  • Does the format of a manufacturer's guide specs need to change in order to be more easily imported into BSD SpecLink-E by design professionals who use it?
  • What does it cost to add a proprietary guide spec to BSD's SpecLink database?
  • Can specifiers learn to create the logical checklist links for SpecLink-E in guide specs, and is it worth learning to do it in-house? Can a manufacturer's specifying consultant be cost-competitive with BSD's own writing service?
  • What data should manufacturers offer for BIM interoperability with LinkMan-E?
  • What data should manufacturers offer for spec and BIM interoperability with CostLink/AE?
  • How will CSI’s participation change BSD’s pricing structure for CSI members?
  • Will CSI include discounted BSD products and services in its corporate partnership program?
In the short term, nothing changes except CSI’s endorsement of the existing products; so manufacturers have a little time to figure out what to do if BSD’s influence grows as a result. We'll be keeping our ear to the ground, and as answers begin to appear we'll come back to talk about what we've learned.

Creating New Words

Construction is a field where new technologies and practices often justify the invention of a new term. As an example, I coined the phrase, "studcast" to describe a new type of wall panel that consisted of a hybrid of prefabricated light-gage steel frame with a thin precast concrete veneer. I offered the term to all the manufacturers of this type of product, and most of them now use it to as a standardized, simple, and descriptive term.

However, some invented terms are unnecessary and can lead to confusion.  A case in point is the recently coined term, "civionics".

I first encountered the term in the article "New civionics technologies for structural health monitoring" in the November 2010 issue of CE News. While the article shares valuable information about the evolving science of structural health monitoring. I question whether the use of the term "civionics" was equally valuable.

The author, Nathan Yang, defines the term as "the synergistic combination of civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, photonics, and other disciplines for [structural health monitoring]. This definition suggests that "civionics" is an equivalent term for "structural health monitoring", a field that already encompasses a variety of disciplines. Indeed, electrical and computer engineering are already integrated into the practice of civil engineering. In this case, "civionics" is a word of of questionable value in a field already cluttered with jargon.

A search of the CE News website reviews that "civionic" has not previously been used in the publication. Similarly, a search of the internet reveals that the term has few users -- most of its occurrences on the internet result from one site quoting another. A similar concern has been raised by a commentator on Google Talk who opines, "All of the references describe [civionics] as an emerging field, yet they seem to point in a circular manner as to establishing the notability of this term. Wikipedia is not a place to establish notability. So if this term is not widely used in the engineering field, it should not have an article here." Nor, in my opinion, should notability be established by an oblique reference in a magazine article.

But marketing is marketing, and I note that the author of the CE News article works for a company that sells electronics to the Civil Engineering community. Maybe he feels his company will benefit from embracing new term. How ironic, then, that the term "civionic" does not appear in his website, either.