Saturday, June 21, 2014

Integrating Construction

Axonometric drawing by MLTW depicting the framing system for one of the units of Condominium No. 1, Sea Ranch, CA

Whenever I read Bill Kleinsasser’s words, I’m reminded about how multivalent and challenging what we do as architects is. His premise was always that our work reveals what we have considered, and that our goal should be to take into account all that should be considered in design and do it well.

The palette architects work with includes various types of structural systems. If we select them appropriately and employ them with style, skill, and grace, the potential for these systems to contribute to the making of great architecture is boundless.  

That being said, Bill wanted his students to appreciate how good places are an inclusive integration. He repeatedly told us how successfully integrating construction systems contributes to establishing a lucid outline for the whole. We learned that making architecture, let alone a great building or place, requires tremendous discipline. At the same time, Bill made sure we understood we could not seriously consider a particular structural system to the exclusion of other essential concerns. With Bill’s guidance, we discovered how important it is to respond to many frames of reference at once and throughout the design process. This was his definition of Synthesis.

Establishing a Primary Structure
If the construction system of a building does not define the intended spatial order of the building, it will confuse it. The construction system has to be there, so it either does or does not articulate the intended order of the whole. To integrate construction and spatial order, the designer must unite two understandings: understanding of spatial intent and understanding of essential constructional discipline.

Spatial intent includes the rooms, sub-rooms, zones, paths, services, relationships, contextual connections, and conditions of daylight that need to be defined.

The essential discipline of a construction system includes:
  • Materials (their strength and character)
  • How vertical support is provided and how often (this establishes maximum spans)
  • How lateral support is provided and where—diagonal bracing, shear walls, rigid frame, or a combination—this support must be multidirectional and distributed in a balanced manner 
  • Directionality of the system—if there is any
  • Inherent shape and geometry of the system, especially the roof
  • Need for material continuity or unbroken mass—this will identify where vertical and horizontal openings can and cannot be made
  • Capacity for variation, inflection, and addition
  • How the system meets the ground

  • Determine spatial intent (use the diagram of operational laws).
  • Consider the essential disciplines of several likely systems of construction.
  • Choose a system of construction where discipline is compatible with spatial intent. Also consider: a) fireproofness; b) perceived character—color, texture, softness, strength, gestalt; c) availability; d) long and short-term cost; e) feasibility; f) legality.
  • Diagram the essential spatial discipline of the system. Describe vertical support, lateral support, inherent directionality, inherent geometry and shape (especially in the roof), possible openings, possible inflections and additions, inherent ground joint.
  • Follow the discipline of the constructional system as the building is developed. Remember, you may stretch this discipline but you may not break it.
  • Establish vertical and horizontal chases with columns and shear walls (hollow primary structure is better than solid for distribution of pipes, ducts, wires, elevators, toilets, storage space, and other service).
  • Make several three-dimensional models of just the primary system of construction (the permanent, load-bearing system). This will allow testing of how well the primary system defines spatial intent. Check its performance in regard to all aspects of spatial intent.
  • Make the primary construction system vivid as well as clear.

 The Sea Ranch condominium project by MLTW offers further explanation:

The construction system in the Sea Ranch is a 2-directional wood post-and-beam system with a wood plank roof deck and a wood plank curtain wall. The roof is a moderately pitched shed. Lateral support is provided by evenly distributed, multi-directional wood braces, which occur above the height of eight feet. “Hollow structure” isn’t needed.

The system was selected because it could provide:
  • Maximum internal openness
  • A strong framework (perceptually and actually)
  • A simple roof shape (easy to combine with other similar shapes)
  • Maximum opportunity for wall openings below the height of eight feet
  • Softness of material (compared to concrete or steel)
  • Rich color and texture
  • Low initial cost
  • Easy maintenance

The essential discipline of the system (the requirements that had greatest impact on spatial organization) included the following:
  • Vertical supports had to occur at intervals of approximately 16 feet or less in two directions (given the beam depth that was considered appropriate) and be sufficiently stiff to resist bending.
  • Overhead lateral bracing had to point in all directions and be distributed in a balanced manner.
  • Wood members had to be kept out of contact with moisture.

Though very simple, this essential outline came into play very early and remained a significant organizational force throughout design. As a discipline, it was stretched but not broken.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

From Concept to Reality

Members of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects tour the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion project work site, June 10, 2014) 

My coworkers at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (RSA) and I recently took advantage of a perfect late spring day to tour the University of Oregon’s Student Recreation Center (SRC) Expansion jobsite. The $50 million project is currently the largest our office has under construction. As always, the opportunity to visit a construction site to see a building we’ve designed emerge from concept to reality is a special treat. This is especially true for the younger members of our office who may be less familiar with the realities of construction and the consequences of decisions made during the design process. I likewise found the visit informative since I am not one of the members of the SRC project team.

Rendering of the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion project

Carl Sherwood, AIA is the RSA principal-in-charge for the SRC project and also our firm’s primary liaison with the builders and the university during the construction period. Carl led our tour of the jobsite, along with Dave Quivey, project manager for Howard S. Wright Construction.(1)

Carl Sherwood, AIA (left) of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and Dave Quivey of Howard S. Wright Construction discuss a point during our tour of the Student Recreation Center Expansion project.

The students of the University of Oregon approved the renovation and expansion of the SRC primarily because of how much they value its importance to campus life and their well-being. The center was previously designed to accommodate only 2,500 people per day but daily usage had increased in recent years to between 4,500 and 6,500 students, faculty, and staff. This resulted in tremendous overcrowding and user frustration. Also, barriers to accessibility existed and, because of obsolete building systems, large portions of the SRC were functionally inefficient and costly to maintain.

The following are some of the key highlights of this student-funded project:
  • 110,000 square feet of new space
  • 40,000 square feet of renovated space
  • An expanded fitness space (weights and cardio space will double in size)
  • New group exercise and yoga studios
  • A new cycling studio
  • An additional 3-court gym (more capacity for basketball, volleyball, and badminton)
  • A 12-lane lap pool (used for lap swimming, water polo, water aerobics, and instructional classes)
  • A 3-lane recreational pool (water volleyball & basketball, and instructional classes)
  • 1 whirlpool spa
  • New and expanded 2-story locker rooms with private showers
  • New social and lounge spaces
  • A target of LEED Gold certification
For more information about our team's design for the SRC, check out this video tour of the future facility:

Presently, construction of the SRC is about halfway complete. Howard S. Wright (HSW) initiated work onsite late last summer, and promises to have the facility ready for its grand opening early next year. HSW has finished erecting all of the structural steel framing for the additions, so it was easy for us to envision the various spaces, including such volumes as the new gymnasiums and the new natatorium. With the major structural work now in the rearview mirror, HSW has ramped up the level of construction activity considerably, with many dozens of skilled tradesmen and women now working side-by-side on the crowded site. Overall, the construction progress is impressive and the project is looking good!

To ease referencing of documents during construction, employees of Howard S. Wright Construction can access hyper-linked, always updated, electronic drawing files and specifications at an onsite computer workstation .

Like several of our most significant projects, our design for the Student Recreation Center Expansion is the product of a collaboration.(2) RSA may be the Architect-of-Record but we share credit for the facility’s design equally with RDG Planning & Design of Des Moines, IA and Poticha Architects of Eugene. RDG is one of the nation’s leading designers of campus recreation facilities. The firm boasts an impressive portfolio, including student recreation centers for the University of Florida, Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, Montclair State University, and the University of North Carolina. The eponymously named Poticha Architects is headed by the curmudgeonly Otto Poticha, FAIA, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog.

The smiling crew of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects at the conclusion of our construction tour. Standing out in his orange vest is Carl Sherwood, AIA, principal-in-charge for the SRC project.

I’m always surprised by how builders translate our abstract visions with such fidelity into very real, brick and mortar buildings. Every line we draw (or more accurately these days, every virtual component we model) is ultimately executed as a fabricated or assembled element that must perform as we intended it to. Each design decision we make is consequential. It’s this point that is perhaps the most valuable lesson every young intern must learn.

Want to ensure a design concept is faithfully translated into reality? Don’t be cavalier about your duties as an architect or designer. The devil is in the details. Make sure your design documentation is clear, concise, complete, and correct. Doing so will always pay dividends once construction begins.

(1)  Howard S. Wright’s role is as the project’s Construction Manager/General Contractor. The University of Oregon favors the CM/GC project delivery method (also known as “CM at Risk”) for its largest projects for a number of reasons. These include the collaborative nature of the CM process, the potential to accelerate the design and construction phases of the project, and because the CM provides the university with a guaranteed maximum price.

(2)  The Eugene Public Library and the Lane Community College Downtown Campus are two other noteworthy examples of projects in which we partnered with other architects. We thoroughly enjoy opportunities to collaborate with notable, talented firms. We learn from these experiences, bolster our own portfolio, and win commissions we otherwise would have little chance of securing by ourselves.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Architecture is Awesome #5: Integrated Art

Cornice detail of the Wainwright Building (1890) by Adler & Sullivan

This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture. 

Many throughout history have regarded architecture to be the “mother of all arts” because master builders significantly employed the contributions of painters, sculptors, and decorative artists in their projects. These contributions enhanced architecture through the use of imagery, color, pattern, texture, and symbolism. Awesome examples abound, ranging from ancient Egyptian and Greek temples to towering Art Deco skyscrapers. The best of these integrated art so thoroughly that it would be inseparable from the overall architectural expression.

The use of art to enrich architecture followed a strange trajectory with the ascendancy of Modernism during the early decades of the 20th century. Modernist idealogues demonized ornamentation of any sort, branding it as superfluous and even immoral.(1) They effectively purged applied art and ornament as integral elements from their work. They would eventually be abetted in this cause by the full complicity of the fine art world’s avant garde, an elite caste who valued the autonomy of their work above all else and shared an indifference to site-specific installations. The not surprising outcome would be generations of visually impoverished buildings.   

The canon of Modernism was so strong that this bias against the ornamentation of architecture still largely prevails today. Of course, there was artistry in the naked arrangement and rhythm of building components and the exactitude and precision of the machine-like detailing of much Modern architecture. Likewise, skilled Modernists often utilized the inherent character of the materials they used (such as wood, stone, and concrete) to decorative effect. The problem was many people simply failed to embrace the asceticism of Modern architecture. The buildings did not speak a language they understood.   

Among other things prompted by the predictable backlash to the severity of Modernism was the inception of the GSA’s Art in Architecture Program in 1963, as well as numerous “percent for art” programs at the state and municipal levels (including here in Oregon and Eugene). The goals of these programs included funding the acquisition of works of art to enhance new or renovated buildings. Typically, the “percent for art” programs commissioned artist-designed elements intended to humanize and particularize Modern architecture (which by then had become the dominant idiom for this nation’s civic and institutional buildings).

Initially, the results of these programs would mostly fail to ameliorate the schism between art and architecture. Selection committees (sometimes dominated by art cognoscenti rather than laypersons) tended to favor proposals for stand-alone pieces by fine artists they knew and admired. Derisive critics would label many of these installations as “plop art” because they could have been located anywhere. These works were not specific to the architecture or the place of which they were a part.   

Some noteworthy recent projects—including the Morphosis-designed Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse here in Eugene—perpetuate the separation of commissioned art from architecture. In the case of our federal courthouse, the art pieces (which are excellent in their own right and feature regionally inspired motifs) are not incomplete without their setting, and vice-versa. I do not consider them to be integral to the design of the building.

Art glass by John Rose at the Eugene Public Library (2002)

Over the years, the tendency to distinguish art from the architecture it is meant to embellish has diminished somewhat. Even so, most projects fail to achieve a level of integration that was commonplace before the advent of Modern architecture. A case in point is my own experience with the choosing of artists during the design of the Eugene Public Library. Our team purposefully attempted to match opportunities for integrating art with the many candidates who submitted proposals for consideration by the art selection committee. We were only partially successful in this regard; overall though the combined result is an enrichment of the experience of being at the Library, and I’m happy for that.

Perhaps the best means of expressing what I believe defines integrated art is to invoke Richard Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (translated as total work of art, ideal work of art, universal artwork, synthesis of the arts, comprehensive artwork, or all-embracing art form). In architectural terms then, a building that embodies Gesamtkunstwerk may be one that makes use of many art forms to achieve its aesthetic effect.

I also would characterize integrated art as being site-specific, holistic, and serving in both spatial and symbolic roles. It is not extraneous. It is art conceived for, dependent upon, and inseparable from its context. It is not autonomous and is not meant to be understood without the architecture of which it is a part. It is most decidedly not “plop art.”

Integrated art serves as ornament as much as it does art in the strictest sense. Though art purists might disagree, I believe ornament that contributes meaning is art, especially if it humanizes and particularizes the architecture. It is art if it engages us and draws us into a building’s spatial narrative. Like art, ornament can represent things and actions that do not necessarily originate in utility. On the other hand, the ornament I appreciate most is intrinsic to the building’s function and materials. In my opinion, the most effective ornament serves as a force that unifies the many elements that we assemble to create architecture.

A useful function of ornament is to provide coherence to the forms of our buildings and the spaces they shape by employing an ordered hierarchy of scales. Additionally, ornament serves to unify disparate surfaces through the use of repeating patterns. Ornament performs this function whether it conveys meaning or otherwise fulfills a semantic function.

Today’s adherents of Modernism might still throw up in their mouths a little at the very concept of ornament or the co-opting of fine art for decorative effect. I thoroughly understand Modern architecture and its philosophical underpinnings, and I am a big fan when its practitioners execute their work in an especially sophisticated and well-considered fashion. I just don’t think the integration of art should have to be an “either/or” situation.  We can stylishly (and we are talking about a matter of “style” here) meld art and Modern architecture.

In the spirit of Gesamtkunstwerk, architects should welcome genuine collaborations with artists in the creation of total works of art. I for one would enthusiastically accept every opportunity to integrate their work and input. One day perhaps, we’ll ask why it was even necessary to mandate art-in-architecture programs to begin with, or why simply purchasing art without regard for the architecture it is intended to enrich was the default condition. The promise of truly integrating art in our buildings is simply too AWESOME to not embrace.

(1)  In his famous 1910 essay Ornament and Crime, Austrian architect Adolf Loos proclaimed "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects." 

Next Architecture is Awesome: #6 Space

Thursday, June 5, 2014

R.I.P. - Ray Dodson, AIA

Ray Dodson, AIA (1945-2014)

Ray Dodson, AIA passed away on May 13 at the age of 69 after a lengthy struggle with brain cancer. Prior to retiring, Ray was a principal at PIVOT Architecture. I never really got to know Ray on a personal level, but I do know his loss is greatly mourned by his coworkers at PIVOT, as well as by many others in Eugene and beyond.

There will be a gathering of Ray’s friends and family this coming Saturday, June 7 beginning at 4:00 PM at the Obsidians Lodge (across the street from Ray and his wife Kyra’s house). They’re characterizing the get-together as a “Birthday Memorial” and potluck, with memorial messages beginning at 4:30. If you would like to read, sing, say something during the Birthday Memorial Messages, please let Bonny Tibbitts know so that she can write the program and provide any necessary support such as a microphone. Bonny’s contact information is as follows:

Bonny Tibbitts

Please bring a side dish, salad or dessert for the potluck. Beverages and main dishes (vegetarian and vegan options available) will be provided.

Instead of condolences or flowers, Kyra asks that you please feel free to make a gift to the earth in Ray’s honor, such as creating a compost pile, helping friends in their gardens, joining a community garden, planting a tree… There will be a guest book at the celebration for you to sign and/or share your ideas and gifts to the earth. If you would like to make a donation to brain cancer research, there will be information at the celebration.

No dogs, please.

Here’s a link to a map locating the Obsidians Lodge for those of you who aren’t familiar with its whereabouts:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Paint Technology: Chemistry & Performance

There’s more to paint than meets the eye. Of course, what we see of paint is of paramount importance; after all, its appearance and ability to protect surfaces are why paint has been used on buildings since antiquity. Equally important though is much of what we can’t immediately perceive: paint’s chemistry and performance.

For its May meeting, CSI’s Willamette Valley Chapter was privileged to feature a talk by Randy Tessman, CSI, CDT of Benjamin Moore & Co. on the history, composition, characteristics, and future of paint technology. With more than forty years of experience under his belt, Randy is widely regarded as a go-to resource in these parts for architects and specification writers when it comes to all things having to do with paint in building applications.

Despite having more than three decades of professional experience myself, my basic knowledge about paint and architectural coatings was woefully lacking. That’s why I found Randy’s presentation so worthwhile. He provided us with a comprehensive, informative, and at times entertaining primer (pardon the pun) on a topic of great importance to the construction industry. Without a doubt, it was the best synopsis about paint I’ve ever enjoyed.  

I’ve borrowed and abridged much of the following from Randy’s presentation. Benjamin Moore is proud to offer this free online course for full HSW credit. For course details, accreditation information, and registration, visit aecdaily at the URL below:

What is Paint?
Fundamentally, paint is a mechanical mixture or dispersion of pigments and powders within a liquid binder, which once applied converts itself into a solid form and provides not only beauty, but protection. It is capable of converting itself into solid form and is used for protection, decoration, or a special functional purpose.

Humans have not changed the basic components of paint—pigment, resin, and solvent—since the beginning. The evolution of paint and changes in the paint industry has come through new resources, technological advancements, and a growing demand from society. Originally, people created paints using inorganic pigments extracted directly from the earth or organic pigments sourced from nature’s living organisms. They ground and mixed these pigments with a binding resin (such as animal fat or egg whites) and a delicate balance of added liquids to create a mixture they could transfer to a substrate. Like architecture, the paints and colors reflected the geography and lifestyles of indigenous societies.

Over the centuries, advancements in paint technology improved the performance of paints, increased their availability, and led to the development of the paint industry we know today. The vast number of options in today’s marketplace makes specifying the correct paints and coatings for a particular application a challenge. The best assurance of desired performance is knowledge. Think about it: our satisfaction is predicated on a sophisticated product that on average is a mere one or two-thousandths of an inch in thickness (the thickness of a hair shaft). There’s a lot going on in that thin layer of protective film and it behooves us to understand what makes it work.

The four basic components of paint have not changed, only their chemistry. These components are: 1) pigments; 2) binders/resins; 3) solvents; and 4) additives.

Pigments provide color and hiding. They also provide protection to the underlying substrate, control gloss and sheen, and contribute to particular performance attributes.

Primary pigments supply whiteness and color and are the main source of the hide characteristics of the paint film. Titanium dioxide is one of the primary pigments in all paints and is known for its ability to provide exceptional whiteness by scattering light and for its outstanding hiding power. TiO2 is derived from ilmenite, a titanium containing ore. Because of the complexity of its manufacturing process, TiO2 is one of the most expensive pigments. You can also find TiO2 as an ingredient in many modern products including toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paper, and plastics.

Color pigments, classified as organic or inorganic, are used either in powder form during the manufacturing process or are compounded into a liquid dispersion, becoming colorants which can be added anytime to base paints for custom colors. Today, the chemical composition of colorants is a topic of ongoing discussion relating to their contribution to VOCs and the effect of stricter environmental regulations.

Extender pigments supply many characteristics such as durability, sheen and gloss control, scrub resistance, and stain resistance. Use of the proper extender pigments assists in appropriate spacing of primary pigments, particularly in creating flat and satin finishes. Among the most common extender pigments are:

  • Clay, kaolin, or china clay (which provides good hiding characteristics)
  • Silica and silicates (which help with scrub and abrasion resistance)
  • Calcium carbonate, limestone, chalk (used as a general-purpose, low-cost pigment)
  • Talc (used as a general-purpose, soft pigment for both interior and exterior paints)

Extender pigments are essential to paint formulation and its properties. They’re also useful in controlling the cost of paint manufacturing.

Specialty pigments supply specific characteristics such as waterproofing (Portland cement), mildew control, and UV protection (zinc oxide). Manufacturers use specialty pigments in many industrial maintenance coatings to provide extended protection from environmental and chemical attack. 

Ever wonder why barns were painted red? Iron oxide pigment is easily accessible on a farm from equipment (iron oxide is rust); iron oxides help in controlling mold and mildew and therefore protect the wood substrate from damage. It has also been said that the red color keeps the barn warmer.

A binder can be called a resin, vehicle, or polymer. The purpose of a binder is to hold or bind the pigments together, promote adhesion to the substrate, and resist peeling, blistering, and cracking. Binders form the paint film and in so doing affect the amount of flexibility as well as application properties (flow and leveling, film build). Binders also help determine gloss, durability, scrub-ability, and resistance to chalking and fading.

Paint makers have used linseed, soy, tung, and other oils in their natural or modified form as binders for centuries. Today, they also widely use alkyds, epoxies, urethanes, and combinations of these, especially in specialized and high-performance paints/coatings.

Latex resin, a synthetic polymer, is a plastic-like material that is dispersed in water. The basic types include acrylic, vinyl acrylic, polyvinyl acetate, styrene acrylic, and others. The term latex comes from the synthetic products’ milky white resemblance to natural latex from the rubber tree, originally introduced to the market in the 1940's.

Each type of binder or resin has features and benefits which impact a paint system. These benefits may include better adhesion, flexibility, water-resistance, alkali-resistance, breathability, and resistance to yellowing.

Although common, alkyd (oil-based) systems are disappearing due to VOC (volatile organic compounds) regulations (they’re usually thinned with VOC-containing hydrocarbon solvent paint thinners). Alkyds produce harder films, develop excellent penetration, and exhibit desirable flow and leveling characteristics. Urethanes create hard and abrasion-resistant films. Epoxy esters are valued for their durability, hardness, and chemical resistance, while silicones provide excellent chemical and high heat resistance.

Solvents allow a thin coating for easy spreading and application; they evaporate as the coating dries. Solvents serve two principal purposes, which are indispensable for most types of paint: 1) to transfer the paint from the applicator to the substrate; and 2) to control the viscosity of the paint in order to increase its workability. Solvents also help in maintaining a wet edge. Their differing characteristics impact drying time and performance.

Thinners for alkyd/oil-based systems include mineral spirits, hi-flash naptha, and xylol. Thinners for latex/water-based systems include water, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol.

Note: Many solvents also contain VOCs. This is creating a demand for alternatives and new formulations that are more environmentally acceptable.

The introduction of additives improves paint quality, durability, and performance. Specific additives can improve water repellency, stability, viscosity, adhesion, flow and leveling, spatter resistance, mildew resistance, and stain resistance. The various types of additives include:

  • Driers (used to help some binders, especially alkyds, dry properly
  • Anti-skinning agents (used mainly in alkyd paints to chemically inhibit the drying process)
  • De-foamers (used primarily in latex paints to help reduce foaming or break bubbles when the paint is applied)
  • Coalescing agents (used to help latex form a film)
  • Biocides (used to keep mildew from growing on the surface  to which the paint is applied or as preservative to keep bacteria from growing in the can)
  • Thickeners and rheology modifiers (used to increase the viscosity of the paint and affect application properties)
  • Dispersants/surfactants (used like soap to help incompatible materials work together)
  • Anti-settling agents (used to keep binder and pigment from separating)

Putting It All Together: The Cake Analogy
Balancing and choosing the best quality of the four main components of paint (pigment, resin, solvents, and additives) creates the best quality of the coating. Just as with baking (which likewise is a science that uses specific proportions and ingredients) we know the better the ingredients we use the richer, more flavorful the end results will be.

So, what is important when building a paint or coating from the ground up and what is the information you need to know when specifying and comparing products? Variables such as the proportion of volume solids (VS), weight per gallon, pigment volume concentration (PVC), desired gloss and sheen, as well as the specific components used are keys to specifying the right product for a particular application. Here are definitions for some of this terminology:
  • Volume Solids (VS): VS is an expression of how much paint film remains after the thinner has evaporated. It is the relationship seen in wet film compared to dry film thickness (DFT). Pigment and non-volatile portions of the resin determine the percentage of volume solids.
  • Weight per Gallon: Weight is expressed as a ratio of a material’s weight (or mass) to the volume it takes up. Weight is represented in either pounds or grams on a Technical Data Sheet.
  • Pigment Volume Concentration (PVC): Volume of all pigment (TiO2 and extender) divided by the volume of all the total non-volatile portion of the paint (pigment and resin) expressed as a percentage. Gloss depends on pigment volume concentration. The higher the PVC and the less binder, the flatter the finish will be. Note how the pigment particles are completely below the latex surface in the gloss paint, but exposed to the surface in the matte finish. The pigment in the matte finish scatters light which reduces gloss, but this also makes the paint more vulnerable to abrasion, moisture and dirt. Pigment Volume + Binder/Resin Volume = % of Volume Solids
  • Gloss: Gloss is used to describe the relative amount and nature of mirror-like (specular) reflection. For paints, gloss is typically measured at a 60 degree angle of incidence for satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss finishes.
  • Sheen: Sheen is also used to describe the relative amount and nature of mirror-like (specular) reflection. For paints, sheen is typically, but not always, measured at an 85 degree angle of incidence. It is most useful when measuring lower gloss finishes such as eggshell or flat.
We classify and compare paints in a number of ways:
  • By binder type or chemical/generic name: latex, acrylic, vinyl, alkyd, lacquer, epoxy, urethane
  • By curing mechanism: coalescence (evaporation of water), oxidation, solvent evaporation, chemical cure, cross-linking, moisture cure
  • By function: primer, sealer, varnish
  • By thinner type: waterborne, solvent
  • By use: interior, exterior, floors, industrial, OEM 
We specify particular types of paint finishes on the basis of the durability and aesthetics we desire:
  • A flat finish is for general use on walls and ceilings and is well suited to low traffic areas. It has high pigment and low binder content, which provides a uniform non-reflecting surface appearance that hides surface imperfections. It is excellent for touch-ups.
  • An eggshell finish is for general use on flat areas of walls and ceilings. It has more resin and less pigment than flat paints, so it provides a more lustrous appearance and better stain resistance.
  • A pearl (or satin) finish is for general use on walls and trim. It has a low-luster pearlescent finish, which provides increased durability and easy stain release.
  • A semi-gloss finish is for use on woodwork, trim, doors, and walls in high traffic areas. It contains more binders, which creates a harder film. Semi-gloss finishes require less maintenance than finishes with lower gloss, are more stain resistant, and provide easy stain removal. Semi-gloss paints are frequently used in industrial and commercial applications because of their durability and ease of maintenance.
  • A gloss finish is for use in high traffic and high use areas. It is an easy-to-clean, impact-resistant finish which is best used on substrates with minor imperfections. Given its water-resistant characteristics, paint with a gloss finish is the best selection for use in areas where there is a need for frequent washing or in areas of high humidity.
  • Opacity in paint is generated by two mechanisms: light scattering (differences in refractive index between the formulation ingredients); and light absorption (absorption of specific colors). Most inert pigments have a very different refractive index than air; this is why they appear white as a dry powder. Light is highly refracted in the dry pigment, and the result is high opacity. A paint made with very little binder, like a whitewash, can have excellent hiding with no TiO2. Likewise, paints with a high porosity refract and bounce light around within the paint film, resulting in hiding. White and lighter colors have very little absorption and must rely on light scattering to achieve opacity. Titanium dioxide is used in white and light tints because it has a very high refractive index. This is not the case for darker colors, which depend on color pigments for their hue and opacity. TiO2 also needs a certain amount of extender pigments to avoid clumping and also for exterior applications; too much TiO2 in a recipe can cause paint to chalk. Darker colors absorb light. Think about the color black: it absorbs all the colors of light that strike it and the result is excellent hiding. Black paints have excellent opacity using no titanium dioxide. Similarly, colors other than black absorb specific wavelengths of light corresponding with the color we see. For example, yellow pigments absorb all of the colors of the rainbow except yellow, which is reflected out of the paint film. The same with reds and greens and combinations of color pigments. When the likelihood of a ray of light reaching the surface and coming back out of the paint film is low, we have good hiding.
Other criteria used for specifying a particular paint system include:
  • Cost: What’s the available budget?
  • The type of substrate involved: Is it wood, cement board, sheetrock, or wet concrete, etc.?
  • Surface preparation requirements:  Adhesion is critical to paint performance; some paints are better than others in certain situations.
  • Desired durability: Should the finished surface be resistant to chemical attack or moisture, washable, scrub-able, etc.?
  • Environmental conditions: High humidity, extreme sun, and excessive dampness can all drive our product choices.
  • Application restrictions: Is spraying an option? Is there room for rolling?
  • Ease of maintenance: Who will be responsible for general upkeep? Some coatings can only be applied by a professional.
  • Sustainability: Paint manufacturers are increasingly introducing products that are more environmentally responsible. Programs such as LEED®, CHPS, Green Globes, NAHB, MPI Green Performance™, GreenSure® and Green Seal are driving environmentally friendly specifications for paints and coatings, most notably to decrease the amount and sources of VOCs.
A paint coating system most often includes the following three components:

  • primer, which prepares and seals surfaces, promotes adhesion, enables easier color transition, optimizes quality characteristics (uniformity, touch-up, gloss/sheen, color, coverage, and specialty performance characteristics) and supports longevity of the coating.
  • An intermediate coat, which is the first coat of the finish coat or a barrier coat for the finish coat.
  • A finish coat, which is the final coat of finish.

The use of a three-part coating system is important because each part meets specific needs. They are critical to ensuring the product’s compatibility with the surface being coated, building the film thickness to maximize protection and performance, and extending the system’s longevity.

The specification of the right products and paint system along with appropriate preparation and application are keys to the performance and longevity of a paint/coating. What you choose to specify also depends on the type and complexity of the project, applicable industry standards, the availability of equivalent products, and whether the Owner demands a specific product from a particular manufacturer.

Simply put, a complete and precise paint specification is like a prize-winning cake recipe: the means to achieving a desired end result.  

Randy identified and dispelled a number of myths that are commonly repeated in the industry. One of them is the misconception that thicker paints are the best paints. The truth is thick paints may simply have a lot of cellulose in them. Cellulose thickeners were once the primary way water-based paints were thickened. However, while cellulose thickeners provide good sag-resistance, they also possess poor leveling characteristics. And while they also make paints easier to apply, this too often translates to poor film build (affecting hide). Today, in high-quality coatings, synthetic polymers do the job. Called “rheological modifiers,” they provide unique and marketable combinations of brush-ability, sag resistance, and low/leveling characteristics. So paint thickness is important but it is the right thickness, and not just “thickness,” that is the true measure of quality.

The upshot is the importance of educating yourself about paints and coatings before you select and specify them. Part of knowing is being able to ferret out the myths and untruths, as well as understanding enough to be able to ask the right questions of someone like Randy.

What’s in the Future?
Research continues to create new polymers and new resin systems for both improved performance and low emissions, as well as an array of additives like thickeners, dispersants, and coalescing agents which contain little or no VOCs.

Additionally, the paints and coatings industry is advancing some radical concepts. For example, imagine a paint that has the ability to change its color. It isn’t science fiction: companies are developing thermochromic paints that change color when heat is applied, and also photochromic paints and coatings, which when subjected to UV light, change colors much like the technology used in eyeglasses. There are also electrochromic paints that change color when you apply an electrical current. Envision changing the color of a wall with a flip of a switch. Finally, there are paint concepts based on structural color (think of colorful birds and butterflies) utilizing microscopic polymer technology based on magnetochromatic microspheres. This is mind-blowing stuff.

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If I had to cite one takeaway from Randy’s presentation about paint technology it’s that, like so much about the construction industry today, there is an increasingly broad and deep body of knowledge on the subject. Of course, our clients expect us to be in command of this information. The problem is we simply cannot know it all. That’s why we’re fortunate to be able to lean upon industry experts like Randy, who is more than happy to quickly answer our technical questions and assist us with our specifications. The same is true for all product representatives who regard education, rather than sales, as their primary objective. Be smart and take advantage of the free expertise they have to offer.

Want to reach Randy? Here’s his contact information:  

Randy E. Tessman, CSI, CDT
Benjamin Moore & Co.
Cell Number: 

Office Number: 1-800-642-5678 x2217