I attended the AIA show in Washington, D.C. last week. Confession – I did not attend the AIA show the prior two years. From everything I heard, this year’s show felt very different; as in much better. Just a year or two ago the industry was still reeling. Construction was slow, housing starts were down, projects were being cancelled, architects were under-employed (or worse).
This year, the show had a strong tone of vitality. Optimism and energy were in the air. While the economy may not be roaring yet, it at least seems to be moving in the right direction and picking up steam. A very narrow data point – I counted at least 10 large construction cranes within two blocks of the convention center in Washington, D.C. While 10 cranes in Washington, D.C. certainly does not signify a nationwide recovery, it was a welcome and reassuring sight. And based on some of my recent travels, I am pretty sure we can extrapolate similar momentum around the country. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, “growth is good.” (OK, he said “greed.” But he also said lunch is for wimps, so what does he know. Anyway, there’s no need to get carried away and get too greedy here ourselves. We’ll just take some good, solid growth.) Are there still signs of trouble? Sure. The Dow has stumbled recently. China’s growth rate appears to be falling, with unknown consequences for the rest of the world. But growth is often about confidence and attitude. That attitude seems to be pointing in the right direction.
Speaking of moving in the right direction, two weeks ago we announced that SAGE will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Saint-Gobain. As the world leader in glass and construction products, Saint-Gobain is a true global powerhouse (in the Global Fortune 500). So why would a company with over $60 billion in revenue and nearly 200,000 employees purchase the outstanding shares of a small Midwestern company with a few hundred employees? The answer is simple. Growth. (See Gordon Gekko above). Smart companies like Saint-Gobain are always on the lookout for new products and technologies that can help them leapfrog the status quo and position themselves for future growth.
Saint-Gobain takes a long-term approach toward building their business. Founded in 1665, (think about that for a minute…that is in the era of Plymouth Rock!) they made the original mirrors that graced the Palace of Versailles in Paris. A company that has been around for almost 350 years knows what it means to have a long-term outlook. They are still concerned about quarterly earnings and creating immediate shareholder value, but they understand that new, game-changing technologies take time to sprout. And SageGlass® is sprouting before our eyes. One recent example from the AIA show this year: our sales leads were 3 times higher at this year’s AIA show compared to last year. This means that more architects are aware of SageGlass and are interested in applying it to solve their solar control issues.
Why is a long-term outlook important? Because disruptive technologies like electrochromic glass build momentum over time until one day, almost imperceptibly, they are in the mainstream. French companies seem to understand that. In Forbes earlier this month, Michael Kanellos wrote an interesting article about the “French Revolution in Green Technology.” He points out that French companies are investing heavily in U.S. start-up technologies because their “conglomerate” structure can better accommodate and fund new ventures that require capital and a longer runway. As he puts it: “Conglomerates are better suited to develop and market green technologies. Some of these ideas take millions of dollars in capital and years to develop. Start-ups typically don’t have these luxuries.”
Saint-Gobain is investing in SAGE because they share our belief that dynamic glass is an emerging technology that is poised to go mainstream. With a new 320,000-square-foot (97 540-square-meter) manufacturing plant and more projects in the pipeline every week, SageGlass is ready to change the way the industry thinks about solar control. Energy savings? Check. Sustainability? Check. Glare control? Check? Preserving a view and connection to the outdoors? Checkmate. Let’s face it, global warming benefits aside, does anyone think we shouldn’t maximize energy savings and reduce HVAC loads as much as possible? And if you can reduce energy, enhance sustainability, maximize daylighting, and do so while providing the occupants of a building a view to the outdoors, you are that much closer to fulfilling the promise of the building of the future. Without sacrificing aesthetics or window-to-wall ratio. I’m guessing that is a big reason why leads are up 3X.
Architects represent the leading edge for the adoption of new technologies in the built environment. Technologies such as SageGlass dynamic glass are typically specified into a project well in advance of construction. Venues such as the annual AIA show are a great source for learning about new innovations. There were many other great new ideas throughout the show floor. This is why SAGE has had a booth at the AIA show for the last 5 years. Every year we are able to share our vision with more and more architects. We hear what you like and don’t like. This dialogue makes us better. And helps us better support the needs of architects. Which helps all of us design better buildings. Which makes all of us more satisfied and productive. It is nice to feel the energy pumping again. Thank you. And hurray for the AIA.