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Conversation with an Architect

Steven R. Webster, Posted 01/02/2013

conversation_with_architectOn many occasions design-build metal building contractors receive phone calls from architectural firms looking for information and early budgets. Often it sounds like this:

"XYZ Construction, how can we help you?"

"I am with the High Falutin' Architect Group and I need assistance with specifications on a metal building."

"No problem, I'll transfer you to Bob Know-It-All."

"Good Morning, Bob. My name is Dave Over Design from High Falutin' Architects and I need help right away to specify a metal building and get a budget figure."

"No problem, Dave. What is the end use of the building?"

"Bob, I can't tell you that because we don't want it out on the street that we are planning this project at this time."

"OK, Dave. Do you have any preliminary plans we can look at?"

"Sorry Bob, we are not that far along."

"Dave, can you give me a basic size?"

"Sure Bob. It will be 20,000 square feet."

"Excellent, where will it be located?"

"I can't tell you that at this time as we don't know yet …"

Pause … Bob is getting aggravated.

"Look Dave, we will be glad to help you but you need to come up with more information to go on. We can go around and around forever about this project on the phone. I suggest you visit our offices, which are located in an engineered metal building. That way you can see firsthand how we put a project together."

"That sounds like a great idea. How about this coming Tuesday?"

Done deal.

I can't tell you enough about inviting designers, owners and to specifiers to meet with you to view systems construction firsthand while assembling a new project.

Personally, I feel we all say "It's on my website" or "I'll send you a link" way too often.

These days, preliminary drawings go out and then the emails start to fly. Within three days, there are so many facts flying around it is difficult to keep track

. Back to the visit:

Bob greets Dave in the lobby of his office.As Bob gives the tour he explains how they integrated a two-story building section in the front to accommodate the offices while maintaining clear open space in the rear section for equipment access and rack storage.

They settle down at a large conference table in a room with strip glass at one end and high ceilings.

"Nice," Dave comments.

"Thanks," says Bob, pointing out that they set up the space to show what they typically build for their customers.

The two start out by reviewing a preliminary plan Dave brought along.

Bob sets up his laptop and begins to input information as they look over the layout explaining that, "Our sophisticated systems require input to produce the proper frame sizes, bay spacing and interior clearances you require.

"Our computer systems produce the documents needed to design the supporting foundations, window and door systems, as well as energy code compliant assemblies to meet the requirements of today's code no matter where they are located." Dave notes, "You guys in the 'engineered building systems' business have come a long way!"

"You are right, Dave. Systems construction allows us to custom fit a structure to today's needs no matter how high or large."

Bob sets up the project in the program and runs the design. He hooks up his projector and flashes a 3-D model of the building up on the wall.

Dave is taken back by the accuracy and speed of the computer model. Bob manipulates the model, peeling away the roof and wall panels to reveal the main frames and secondary framing that support the metal envelope.

"I'll tell you what Bob. My owner needs to see this."

You know where the conversation is headed now. Dave asks about the history of metal buildings. Bob directs his computer to He explains if you visit the Metal Building Manufacturers Association website you will find a wealth of information on engineered building systems design. conversation_with_architect_two

They view a piece by W. Lee Shoemaker, P.E., Ph.D., director of research and engineering at the MBMA:

"Metal buildings have evolved over the years from utilitarian tin sheds to highly attractive, multi-use structures that are not even recognizable as metal buildings. Many factors have contributed to the wider application and market growth of metal buildings over the decades. One significant reason that metal buildings have rapidly evolved is MBMA's focus on technical issues that confront the metal building industry. This includes sponsoring research to learn more about the structural behavior of metal buildings with an eye on optimizing material utilization and the appropriate loads that should be specified in the building codes. In fact, all low-rise construction has experienced improvements that are a direct result of research and building code changes that have been sponsored and promoted by MBMA."

Dave inquires about other metal products that they might incorporate into their building construction. Bob introduces some photographs of a recently completed project where they worked hand-in-hand with a high-end architect and a reputable design-build contracting firm to complete a LEED certified corporate headquarters office building in Stratham, N.H., last year for Lindt and Sprüngli (USA) Inc. Four 4-inch insulated metal panels crafted into some curved walls combined with glass and sunscreen systems made the project really shine.

They close by making an appointment for Dave's client to visit too.

As Dave drives out of the property, he looks back and says to himself, "This all started with a simple conversation and now I have a new relationship."

Steven R. Webster is the current president of the Metal Building Institute and a past president of the Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association. Webster owns Dutton & Garfield Inc., a 43-year-old design-build metal building construction firm located in southern New Hampshire. For more information, visit

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