In addition to being energy efficient, Kalwall’s panels are fire and impact resistant. The composite sandwich panels are 2¾ or 4 inches thick. They are formed by permanently bonding specially-formulated fiberglass reinforced translucent faces to a grid core constructed of interlocked, extruded structural aluminum or thermally-broken composite I-beams. The panel’s insulating properties are further enhanced by adding increased densities of either translucent spun glass “batts” (fibers) or aerogel.

With so much attention on sustainable design, more projects like Georgia Tech’s net-zero lab are sure to be on the horizon. “The future looks bright for composite sandwich panels because daylighting has become integral to successful designs,” says Kurt Kistler of Kistler-McDougall Corp., the official distributor of Kalwall panels in Georgia. “Without daylight, many minimum standards cannot be met.”

Attracting the Attention of Architects
While these three projects highlight the potential of composites, industry pros recognize that breaking into the architecture market isn’t easy. So how do you grab the attention of architects? The consensus is to pick partners that understand materials.

“There are firms with material sensibilities that are not stuck on ‘doing it my way,’” says Riebe. “They get incredible and new results in coordination with some of the best engineers and construction companies out there.” If you bind yourself with progressive architects, he adds, you’re likely to find business opportunities.

Kreysler concurs. “Architects who take the time to understand materials are more likely to be better clients,” he says. “There’s a real interest in composites on the part of younger, more forward-thinking architects. They are always looking for something new and unique. And fiberglass represents a material that offers design flexibility not available in conventional materials.”

Insider Advice: Architects & Contractors Speak Up

Two architects and a general contractor shared what companies in our industry can do to increase the use of composites in architectural applications:

“There is a lot of room in the building industry for composites to find a foothold, but it’s going to take some big changes to understand the relationship between architecture and composites. I would like to see more research and understanding on how composites can be used in structural elements. There’s a lot of work to be done there.”

– Jefferson Ellinger
Founding Partner of E/Ye Design,
an architecture firm

“As with any materials, highlighting the advantages in relation to the application is key. Composite companies would be well served by not only explaining the strengths of the materials, but also the impact those materials have on other elements of the project. For example, lower weight means reduced structural requirements.”

– Matt Rossie
Vice President of Webcor Builders,
general contractor

“The more composite companies can do to get involved in a project in the early stages, the better chance there is to have this material become intrinsic to the project.”

– Giancarlo Valle
Designer for Snøhetta,
an architecture firm

Taking Composites to New Heights

Several years ago, the large-scale use of FRP cladding on buildings such as the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Art would not have been possible. Two formidable challenges stood in the way – material limitations
in the International Building Code (IBC) and the National Fire Protection Association’s 285 test. To read our
exclusive online article about overcoming those challenges, visit and click
on “Online Exclusives.”