What’s Driving Specification 2.0?
April 6, 2021
A while back I wrote a post about the building industry’s million-dollar question: “How do you get spec’d by an architect?” It remains one of the most important questions when you consider the architect industry’s purchasing power and role in material selection. But it’s not the only question driving specs, and it’s not the only one worth evaluating.
Two equally important questions to add to the specification conversation are: What do owners want? And what do building codes require?
The role of the owner
An architect may have certain materials in mind for a building, from hyper-insulated, operable glazing to adaptable products for flex workspaces, but the viability of these strategies boils down to how the building is going to be used. An expansive, double-glazed curtain wall with exceptional solar control and insulating capabilities may help an educational facility design team to meet stringent energy goals, but negatively impact occupant outcomes if it’s in an area where students are frequently studying and glare isn’t properly accounted for. Performance and use must align.
While architects are well aware of this tension, it’s something we in the glazing industry should be evaluating as well. Understanding what building owners want early on and how they envision occupants using a building makes it that much easier to tailor glass and framing products to exact project needs. This ultimately increases chances of specification and decreases risk of being value engineered out of projects.
Taking into account codes
It’s also important to consider how an architect’s desires and building codes play nicely together. We see this often in the fire-rated glazing world. Buildings are getting more complex, the occupant experience is being accounted for more and firms are constantly pushing the boundaries of design. They understandably don’t want to compromise their overall vision to meet code, but making sure crucial life safety, security and performance standards are met is a must.
While this conflict isn’t new, it also isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Architects are continuing to ask, “is this possible” and “what’s available?” We saw this just the other day when a firm requested exterior fire-rated glass with frits and coatings typically reserved for non-rated applications. The question for all of us in the glazing industry is: how are we responding? What’s not possible and will negatively impact performance outcomes? On the flip side, what needs to be tested? How we can we continue offering solutions that deliver on all needs?
Where we’re headed
Taking it a step further, the future of codes and standards is already driving specification, bringing with it heightened innovation. Consider how energy, security and life safety regulations are tightening. In some instances, numerous stringent performance standards may apply to the same product. Thom Zaremba brought up a great example of this in a recent code interview. As energy codes increase in stringency for the exterior of the building envelope, Zaremba noted that exterior glazing in tight lot line situations will not only need to meet applicable levels of fire protection, but also ever-increasing energy standards. A future where exterior fire-rated glass will need to help generate electricity from the sun for building use is not far off.
On the security front, we’re already seeing this “multi-demand” scenario play out in specs calling for fire-rated glass with all sorts of security requirements. While these security measures are not yet mandated by code, the desire for multifunctional glass is already here and growing. Offering solutions to meet current and future demands is key as building owners look ahead and evaluate long-term performance and upgrades.
What it comes down to
While I can’t ultimately say I know what drives specification, I do know the tension between what an owner and architect want and what’s mandated by code is good for the industry. These two factors continue to drive innovation and push boundaries. When we pay attention to them, we make it easier for firms to realize their designs.