Over 17,000 architects and fabricators from around the country gathered to attend the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Conference at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., May 17-19. Composites are a relative newcomer to the wood, glass, metal and concrete heavy U.S. architectural market. In order to bridge the gap between manufacturers and architectural end users, leaders at the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) Architectural Division organized its first booth at AIA to communicate material benefits to attendees.

Bill Kreysler, chair of the Architectural Division and president of Kreysler and Associates, American Canyon, Calif., believes that improved communication with the industry will ultimately be the catalyst to spearhead more composite architectural projects. “As building codes become more favorable to composite materials, it is clear that AIA was the place to be if we want to get the word out that composites are a viable and often better alternative to traditional materials,” says Kreysler. “What also was clear was that if we intend to compete with wood, metal and concrete, we will need a more coordinated and well thought out approach.”

Since this was the first time exhibiting at AIA, the group used booth space offered by another ACMA member, Best Bath. Kreysler along with Michael Dobronos, president of Architectural Fiberglass Inc.; Charlie Wittman, president of Architectural Fiberglass Corp; Mike Stevens, service staff scientist at Ashland; John Sawayda, technical service at CCP; Nick Dembsey, professor at WPI; and Julie Yost, senior marketing lead at Owens Corning; joined Gary Multanen, president of Best Bath to advocate composite products to show attendees.

“Thanks to Gary, the Architectural Division has taken one more small but important step towards more aggressively marketing composites to the multi-trillion dollar construction industry,” says Kreysler. The companies filled the booth with posters and examples of recent composites architecture, which interested a number of attendees who wanted to learn more about the material.

Many of the composite projects completed by the ACMA members are already well known to the AIA attendees. Members have been featured in architectural magazines like the May 2012 issue of Architectural Products, a publication of the U.S. architectural market by Construction Business Media, which showcased the “Blue Bear” made by Kreysler in 2006 and the “Cascade FRP bus stops” in Orlando, Fla., created by Walter Geiger and Entech Creative in late 2011 and featured in the January/ February 2012 issue.

Kreysler’s “Red Rabbit” sculpture was also the cover photo of May 2012 issue of The Construction Specifier, the Construction Specifications Institute’s official publication. These stories do much to increase composite knowledge in the architectural marketplace.

Communicating composites to architects

According to AIA attendees, architects today are more familiar with the uses for composite materials than a few years ago, but they aren’t avidly looking for new ways to use the products in new designs. “For the composite industry to get involved in markets like this one, ACMA and other composite companies need to start attending conferences where they can find customers and educate them about our products,” says Multanen. “We can’t sit and wait for them to come to our conference; they will need to learn from example first.”

The relationship between composites and the architectural market is still young, and, thanks to the advances made by the Architectural Division, there are many opportunities ahead. For example, next year the division would like to collaborate with composite companies to give architects a better idea of overall material advantages. “Many industry organizations sponsor pavilions where booths cluster to show common products. There were several composite manufacturers with booths scattered around the exhibit hall with less than ideal exposure,” says Kreysler. “If ACMA banded these exhibitors together along and sponsored a ‘composites pavilion’, there would be a greater impact and synergy.”