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The Post-Pandemic Evolution of the Architect-Manufacturer Relationship

Acelab Team for Architect Magazine

When researching or specifying products, architects are used to juggling hundreds of materials from confusing websites, chasing down product reps, and drowning in spreadsheets and sticky notes.

On top of that, more stringent energy codes, changing ethical and environmental standards in the production of building materials, and more complex projects have led architects to expect increased transparency, involvement, and innovation from the manufacturers they work with. The digital tools that have emerged post-COVID are rapidly pushing the architect-manufacturer relationship into a new era.

Collaboration = Communication + Timing

Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword, but a growing factor in successful project outcomes. When architects seek out novel materials that meet design and sustainability standards, manufacturers are stepping up with cutting-edge products that innovate in their sourcing, maintenance, and aesthetics. As projects become more complicated and timelines shrink, manufacturers are getting involved with design-assist services that streamline design and installation.

For both parties, timing is crucial. Design teams are asking for quick responses to their questions, visual databases of products to choose from, and custom options that flex to project conditions. Manufacturers are looking for earlier involvement in the design process to deliver product data, education, and solutions to architects. These joint efforts are crucial for pushing boundaries and setting new benchmarks in the field.

AI-Enabled Innovation Between Architects and Manufacturers

Tech is driving these new configurations of the architect-manufacturer relationship. By breaking down information barriers and communication delays, new digital collaboration tools let ideas flow seamlessly from concept to construction.

As an AI-driven material research and collaboration platform, Acelab pushes the dynamic between architects and manufacturers beyond conventional limits. Architects use targeted filters to find building products and connect with manufacturers, getting the exact product specs and expertise they need for each project. When architects have access to up-to-date product information, education, quotes, and lead times, they can respond to project conditions more efficiently and creatively than ever before.

Architects Are Looking to Manufacturers for Sustainability, From Production to Service Life

As the meaning of sustainability expands to include the production, maintenance, and durability of a product, architects are looking to connect with manufacturers that can deliver meaningfully improved alternatives to conventional options.

Tower Sealants, one of the manufacturers on Acelab, is an example of a company that is delivering on sustainability from sourcing to service life. Their manufacturing facility treats wastewater on-site in a licensed facility, and is purposely located less than 50 miles from the mines that produce their heaviest and most used material. During their 30-year service life, their water-based sealants can be cleaned with soap and water instead of mineral spirits, an ongoing reduction in VOC’s and potential runoff pollution. Their upcoming innovations solve single-waste plastic caulking tube disposal with a reusable caulking tube that’s even cheaper than conventional caulking.

This shift towards increased transparency is driven by a growing awareness of environmental issues and a desire to reduce the ecological impact of buildings. Architects are interested in materials' sourcing, production processes, and end-of-life considerations. Manufacturers like Tower Sealants work proactively to anticipate an architect’s product needs. By collaborating with manufacturers like Tower Sealants, architects can make decisions that align with their project’s sustainability targets, down to the sealant.

Manufacturers Are Providing Design-Assist Services for Unique Conditions

Projects are getting more complex, performance requirements are getting harder to navigate, and custom solutions provided through manufacturer design-assist are emerging as an important point of innovation in architectural design. By collaborating closely with manufacturers, architects optimize designs, ensure product compatibility, and streamline the construction process.

One example of the impact of design-assist coordination is how Cladiator, an innovative cladding support systems manufacturer, has worked with firms to create custom solutions for eliminating thermal bridging, accommodating continuous insulation in assemblies, and developing true rainscreen solutions on projects. As a result of the flexibility and customization of their systems, Cladiator is able to develop unique sustainable cladding support assembly solutions for any cladding type a design specifies.

Illustrating this collaboration, where clip-on rails used to be installed clip-by-clip and require constant leveling, Cladiator’s clip systems can be installed in 10-ft. segments. This improves efficiency and reduces cost, creating a standard unit and system for architects and designers. It also benefits manufacturers by fostering stronger relationships with designers and enhancing their products' marketability.

By working with architects early in the design, the architect-manufacturer relationship enables big strides on complex project delivery and installation. Manufacturers like Cladiator represent the key ways architects and manufacturers can work together to innovate past outdated areas of the design and construction process.

Architects and Manufacturers: Inspiration Goes Both Ways

Technologies such as 3D printing, robotic fabrication, and advanced materials are revolutionizing the way buildings are designed and built. Architects are exploring new possibilities in form, texture, and structure, enabled by these technologies, to create more efficient and beautiful buildings. At the same time, manufacturers are leading advancements in sustainable production practices that drive architects to consider the environmental impact of their material choices.

It’s here, at the intersection of both architecture and manufacturing, where creative thinking meets technical expertise. The resulting products and structures shape the future of how we design and build.

STO Corp, based in Atlanta, is a manufacturer continuously iterating and building on these ideas. By working closely with architects, they gain valuable insights into emerging trends and market demands, which informs their product development strategies. With their commitment to sustainability, they’ve become known for products like StoVentec Glass, a rainscreen system using 100% recycled glass on a carrier board with 96% recycled byproducts.

With advances in cladding that include custom shaped panels and blocks, custom color matching, matte vs. polished glass, and more, architects see these products and are inspired with new design ideas. The StoVentec team has found architects coming to them to discover possibilities for cladding they may not have known about. This, combined with the manufacturer’s in-house engineering collaborating with architects, leads to customizations that push the boundaries of traditional construction.

Building New Futures, Together

The efforts of architects and manufacturers together are creating a future where architecture has more diverse aesthetic possibilities, and buildings are becoming more sustainable, efficient, and responsive to the needs of society.

AI-driven materials research and workflow tools like Acelab are playing a significant role in shaping how architects and manufacturers collaborate. These tools enable architects to explore a wider range of materials and construction methods, helping them make more informed decisions about sustainability, performance, and cost. For manufacturers, AI-driven tools streamline the design and production process, allowing for greater efficacy and accuracy when meeting a project’s specifications.

Like the software code that gives way to new tech, building products are components that must work together seamlessly to create a functional whole. Today, tech is becoming the component and driver that's shaping how architects and manufacturers are building new futures, together.

About Acelab

Acelab is a free materials research, selection, and collaboration platform for architects, by architects. Explore Acelab’s AI–powered tools to optimize product selections based on criteria such as cost, availability, aesthetics, performance, and sustainability.

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