Metal Building Architecture Series Impacts and Entices College Classrooms

MBMA has found developed a variety of ways to impact this influential audience.
Education has been a foundational component of MBMA’s mission since the association was founded in 1956.

How do architecture and engineering students learn about metal building systems? Rarely is it in the classroom. Rarely is it in the office when they begin their professional careers. For most architects, the concept of a metal building is relegated to the ranks of a Costco wholesale club or a Dollar General building template. Rarely do they understand the quality, versatility and design efficiency that makes for good architecture.

But that is changing.

Over the past three years, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) has been working hard to impact the next generation of architects. Their goal is to change hearts and minds by first reaching out to professors at universities nationwide who teach architecture curricula. It will be those professors who impact what design students learn. MBMA has developed a variety of ways to impact this influential audience. Primary tools include:

  • An education-centered website: MBMAeducation.org
  • An annual faculty workshop: gathering professors to one location to focus their attention on metal building manufacture and design.
  • A student design competition: where professors act as advisors to help students fully engage with the architectural opportunities that metal buildings provide.
  • A variety of teaching tools: from videos and webinars to print resources.


One of the most popular elements of the program is the downloadable Architectural Significance in Metal Buildings Educational Series. These documents offer 20- to 24-page project case studies. Each offers students an in-depth look at one specific building project and describes in detail what it takes to create an engaging and highly valued metal building solution. Each folio includes practical details, from building size and budget to the names of the design and construction teams and their subs. The information is created via extensive interviews with the owners, architects, engineers and contractors responsible for the structures. Each folio also provides comprehensive project details, project goals and relevance, and a list of resources.

“The folios are packed with useful and interesting information—and are peppered with engaging graphics—from hand sketches and CADD drawings to photos showing both construction and the completed projects,” comments MBMA Director of Research and Engineering Lee Shoemaker, Ph.D., PE.

Each folio’s Project Details section provides specific information—from building size and budget to the names of the design and construction teams and their subs. Each Project Description is a poster-type spread that offers a significant overview photo or drawing and a meaningful quote, typically from the owner. Then the project description goes into extensive design and construction detail, derived from the project team interviews.

The Goals and Objectives segment gives a deeper dive into building details and specific information that will help students understand the processes that impact metal building design decisions.

The folios also provide a Relevance for Students segment, which includes a variety of questions to stimulate students’ thoughts about metal building system design. Each folio then concludes with links to relevant resources and a page of credits to acknowledge the many people involved in making the case study come to life.

The folios aren't just for students. Anyone and everyone affiliated with the metal building industry can use them.
MBMA’s Education and Architecture Committees are proud to keep that heritage vibrant through the introduction of the comprehensive student folio series.

Why Materials Matter

What caused MBMA to come to the conclusion that a library of teaching tools for faculty use could actually reach and impact future design professionals? How did the process even evolve?

The folio experiment all began when MBMA was developing the concept for its student design competition. In the development process, the team recognized that the students entering the competition needed to understand and embrace the concept of using metal buildings in architecturally significant ways. How could they do that without documented resources to help them understand? The MBMA team knew they needed a way to enhance interest in and enthusiasm for metal building systems to reach the next generation of architects.

But how?

The first step was to do the hard work of research. What resources were already out there? What were professors currently using? What types of materials would best engage and educate today’s aspiring architects?

These and other questions were posed to architecture faculty members. Professors provided invaluable input and thus the process began.

One resource often recommended by the educators was the library of Bartlett Design Research Folios produced through The Bartlett School of Architecture, a program of the University College of London. The Bartlett School materials refer to the university’s architectural component as “one of the most influential, exciting and innovative architecture schools in the world, setting the agenda for what architecture is and could be.”

From 2008 to 2014, the school developed 38 folios to educate and inform students. While the school’s website says that the folios showcase some of the research completed by the school’s academic staff, many of the documents were authored by staff at specific architectural firms.

These folios—though far from glamorous and a bit of a dull read—resonated with the MBMA staff and the association’s volunteers who were tasked with finding a solution. The team set to work, and the result, three years later, is a set of high-quality, engaging documents to intrigue and entice future architects, engineers and other design professionals.

“We actually created the first folio during the exploratory phase of the design competition process,” says Tony Bouquot, MBMA General Manager. “We needed to see what a folio could look like, and  we had to find out if owners, architects, engineers and contractors would buy into the concept. We developed three more folios last year and three more have already been completed this year.”

Kristina Yu, AIA, is the Associate Dean of Curriculum, Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of New Mexico. She has attended MBMA’s annual faculty workshops and has been the advisor for student teams in the MBMA Student Design Competition for the last two years. She is a proponent of the folio series. “These are awesome tools,” she says. “I use them every semester.”

Another folio fan is Greg Snyder, Associate Professor of Architecture and the Undergraduate Program Director for the School of Architecture at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. “I use MBMA teaching videos, folios and research materials for my classes,” he says.

The first step was to do the hard work of research. What resources were out there?
The MBMA team needed a way to enhance interest and enthusiasm in aspiring architects.

Beyond the Classroom

Yet the folios are not just for students. “Anyone and everyone affiliated with the metal building industry can use them for employee and customer education, to share with potential customers, and to present to local groups,” Bouquot says. He encourages readers to access the free publications at www.mbmaeducation.org/resources/.

Bouquot also suggests that readers pass on this resource to their contacts at local colleges and universities. “Students need this knowledge,” Bouquot adds. “Metal buildings have so much to offer and so much potential to embody architectural excellence. It’s our collective responsibility, as members of the metal building industry, to be evangelists that share knowledge that impacts the future of our industry. If we are to advance the acceptance and appreciation of metal buildings as a versatile and valuable building solution, we need to bring our enthusiasm and our knowledge to a wider audience.”

John Underwood, consultant to Behlen Mfg. Co., Columbus, Neb., is chair of the MBMA Education Committee and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for MBMA’s folio initiative. Contact him at john.underwood@behlenmfg.com.