Zahner Director of Engineering Paul Martin talks with Novedge about the Zahner approach towards high-end custom architectural work.
A few weeks ago our Paul Martin sat down with Aurora Meneghello of Novedge to talk about Zahner’s approach to engineering and fabricating the complexities of unique structures. Below is the interview which took place:
Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Paul Martin: Within Zahner, I work up front with architects and designers to develop projects. Typically we are contacted early on, in the Schematic phase, where a design team likes the concept of using metal in a façade, but needs assistance in material selection, finishes, system design, and (always) budgets. Everything we do is custom, so there is always a degree of development early on.
Personally, I was not involved with architecture or sheet metal in any capacity prior to Zahner. I have a mechanical engineering degree and had been doing 3D design work in the semiconductor industry in silicon valley. After relocating to Kansas City, I found Zahner on a whim. They were in the early stages of the Experience Music Project which can only be comprehended is 3D. That was also the development of the first generation of the ZEPPS technology.
Novedge: What is or has been the biggest influence on your work?
Paul Martin: We are in the position of not imposing a style or aesthetic on a design, but rather we facilitate other people’s designs. We have developed systems and technologies to allow us to realize very complex geometries and intensive numerical challenges. I would say that the person with the biggest influence on my work (and the work that the company does) is Bill Zahner, CEO and President.
Paul Martin: Zahner is a 4th generation company, but Bill got us steered in the direction of high end custom architectural work. His passion and drive is amazing and infectious. We seek out the most complex work and never do the same thing twice. His capacity for risk enables us to take on the hardest work. Where most contractors have relationships with General Contractors in order to secure work, we align ourselves with the design community.
Novedge: What is your approach to collaboration and team work?
Paul Martin: Our work tends to be very relationship based with a design team. It’s vital that we understand design intent when working so early in the process. Inevitably there will be changes to scope and design, so it’s important to know the underlying intent. We often work in a design assist capacity during pre-construction. This allows us to work directly with the design team in order to develop system details, consider material and finish options, create 3D models, construct full scale mockups, etc. to develop the design to a stage where it is fully understood and specified. We bring the experience and know how to inform the design and optimize for fabrication and installation. It often helps the process to impose constraints on the design to further the process. Budget is always a constraint, we want to know up front what the budget is so we can design to it. Unlike consulting firms, our business model is based on making things. The design process is a means to the end, but where we can have very significant contributions.
Novedge: When working with large teams, how do you handle coordinating and supervising everybody’s work?
Paul Martin: This happens in a couple of different respects. During preconstruction we typically work with a design team, general contractor, owners representative, consultant, maybe a few others. Once we are under contract and in production, we have a large internal operations group that needs to have an understanding of the project deliverables. We don’t operate under a plans and specs model, there is usually some nuance to the design that isn’t necessarily captured in documents. I’m on a roll to make sure that there is continuity from the start of the design process to the end of construction. As always, communication is the key, making sure that there is a common understanding of the end goal.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Paul Martin: We’ve got a nice little portfolio of work in San Francisco. In addition to the de Young, there is the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which tends to fly under the radar, even in the City. It’s one of my favorite Libeskind projects. We had been involved with the project since the late 90’s when Libeskind made his original designs. There was a lot of turmoil with the organization (not to mention the economy) which resulted in it being on hold for many years.