The architecture market is a large and growing market, ripe with opportunities for composites professionals. The non-residential segment – typically buildings of three or more stories – grew 5.8 percent in 2014, with $7.2 trillion spent on projects. And it’s expected to rise another eight percent next year. These market statistics and an optimistic outlook were shared by Jefferson Ellinger and David Riebe during the CAMX pre-conference tutorial “Composites in Architecture” on Monday.

“There are a lot of opportunities here,” said Ellinger, an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and founding partner of E/Ye Design, an architecture firm based in Jackson, Wyo. “Right now, the composites industry makes up a very tiny part. But there’s a huge market in architecture right around the corner.”

Ellinger said there are two primary ways companies can become involved in architecture. The first is to make a product that can be specified, such as bathtubs, counters or decorative items. The second is to provide an integrated system like cladding. The latter strategy provides better opportunities for composites companies to partner with architects, said Ellinger. While specified products can be swapped out, integrated ones are often explicitly linked to the project.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of working on an integrated system is the long project cycle. “A lot of shops – mine included – are used to taking on a project when the money is flowing: You sign a contract and go into production and tooling,” said Riebe, a partner at Windsor Fiberglass Inc., a fabrication shop in Burgaw, N.C. “That’s no longer the case when you get into the architectural market at the systems level.” There may be a significant upfront investment in time, where you are developing ideas and sharing the resources before landing the account and beginning production.

However, in the long run, it’s advantageous to get involved at the beginning: You are less likely to be subject to competitive bidding and become integral to the project. “You want to engage architects early on to get on their radar,” said Ellinger.