Today we have the honour to host in our blog John L. Wheaton, CEO and Co-Founder of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering in Ohio.
John is a legendary figure in facade industry, having engineered, consulted or directed on thousands of exterior cladding projects, including custom and standard curtain-wall systems, panel systems, stone facades, architectural components and most other types of exterior wall systems across United States and Caribbean.
He is Structural Engineer by discipline and Professional Engineer in multiple States.
Additionally, John is the host of the fabulous podcast Creating Structures (https://creatingstructure.buzzsprout.com/) featuring interviews and discussions about life, business, architecture, construction and more. The podcast is available on all favorite podcasting platforms, I personally prefer to listen it through Apple podcasts.
Skyline: John, you are in this business for almost 40 years now. During this period, we have experienced 5 or 6 downward economic cycles. What is the relation of construction cycles relative to those in general economy?
JLW: In our space we are at the tail of recession cycles. It’s seen first in retail, consumer goods, and similar, then other things downstream like home purchases, new home construction, then on and on until it hits the commercial construction space. We have long lead times to assess and monitor what is happening in the markets by being at the tail end of the downturns, typically. Through the process it’s expressed in fewer RFP’s, more competition, less work over time. We typically have been 12 months to 18 months behind, since many projects, once started, have to go to completion. This isn’t always the case, since all cycles of downturn are unique, but construction and specialty subcontracting is at the back end however long it takes to get there.
Skyline: Many of the businesses in our field are family ownership and management. How do you see the performance of those businesses over time.
JLW: The truth is that most business are privately held in general. All privately held businesses are “family businesses” (private money put up by someone that is at risk.) My view is that it runs from poorly managed to well managed depending on may factors. Privately held “family” businesses, whether simply financed by private ownership with a management team or owned and operated by private ownership with a management team supporting, can be well managed or poorly managed. It depends on the level of function or dysfunction in the leadership. All companies rise and fall on the strength of ownership, and how they think, conduct, operate, finance.
Skyline: Do you predict that the use of Revit will replace traditional AutoCAD in the near future.
JLW: I am not big on predictions, but I have been both in the forefront and the backend of this question about the shift to REVIT. The question is broad and the answer depends on what context we work within. REVIT has been and is replacing traditional AutoCAD at many architecture companies. However, it will not replace AutoCAD in near future in the glass, glazing, façade, curtain wall space. Professional services firms, contract glazing companies, and architectural fabricators all use their own approaches. I know some that use RHINO, some AutoCAD, some REVIT in part or in full, and some INVENTOR. Some use a combination of all or part of them. It just varies based on the application, people, training, processes, and other factors. No one software fits all applications. They are all just “tools in the toolbox.”
Skyline: We see lately bigger and bigger openings in buildings, let it be cladding panels or glazing. What challenges does this imply for structural engineers?
JLW: Bigger openings, taller, wider, panel, glass, infill, cladding materials, just make more opportunity for structural engineers to help support and inform the process. The challenges can lie in various areas on how it influences required system depths, anchorages, connections, and performance criteria of the “panel” itself. Some clients don’t think through the cause-effect relationship of how the bigger opening or cladding material may affect the framing that supports it. I like that things are “pushing the envelope” with ever increasing measure and exploring the limits of materials. It creates opportunity and value for those brave enough to step into it.
Skyline: What is the real value of PE stamp for engineering.
JLW: Well many may be surprised to hear me, as a professional engineer (PE), say this but there is no intrinsic value to the PE stamp alone, but in the knowledge, approach and integrity of the PE overseeing or executing the work. Fundamentally, the PE stamp is supposed to have value to a project in validating that the work is engineered according to the appropriate standard of care, performance criteria for the systems, and for the benefit of the health and welfare of the occupants, public or users. There should be a strong risk mitigation component that brings confidence to the client and all constituents that engage touch or use the building or systems supported by the PE stamp. But the PE stamp is only as good as the PE behind it. PE’s do much to make the world a better place, much of which is not recognized. Approached properly, a client should receive not only the peace of mind that the PE’s stamp certifies the integrity of the system, but that they also provide client-centered or client-specific value that is expressed in the cost-to-value ratio. This can be manifested in various ways such as material or labor optimization, simplifying design, reducing complexity, communicating clearly, and more.
Skyline: What is a project that you really feel proud of?
JLW: I feel proud of every project we do and complete. Some notable projects include University of Baltimore Law Library in Baltimore, MD, Rainier Square in Seattle, AJ Celebreze Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio, University of South Florida Judy Genshaft Honors Building in Tampa, Florida, the RUFUS (Amazon) HQ buildings in Seattle, and many, many others across the USA and in the Caribbean.