IGS Magazine’s Lewis Wilson sat down with Jean-Paul, Global Marketing Director for High-Performance Building at Dow. In this exclusive interview, JP gives readers unfiltered insight into one of the most distinguished companies in the industry. Touching on the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, key trends, and emerging technologies, JP delineates a blueprint for the past, present, and future of high-performance architecture.
Lewis: COVID-19 has, to say the least, been highly disruptive to the world and architecture industry as a whole in 2020. In your view, what effects has the pandemic had on the industry?
Jean-Paul: As a Strategist, I like to refer to Churchill in many ways. As said in one of his famous remarks – ‘you should never let a crisis go to waste’. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity is for companies and businesses to implement changes (improvements!) that in normal times would have never been possible. The leading companies will be those who turn the pandemic into positive changes and grow.
As our industry is traditionally quite conservative and perhaps slow moving compared to others, I believe that this is where the biggest opportunity lies. As we are forced to work from home, I anticipate that the digitalization of our industry will finally reach a higher level and offer productivity improvements in the way we do business as well as increase market outreach.
In terms of architectural trends, I believe that most of the trends will be sustained, especially with regard to the continued drive to lowering the environmental footprint of our built environment. I would underline two trends that will be accelerated, one is building modularity, whether this concerns office space that will need to cope with variation in the density of employees, or even at home where people will have to better organize their workspace and provide an opportunity to take teleconferences without a bed in the background! The other trend that I see accelerating is circularity. In some ways, the pandemic is probably alerting the consciousness of the public that buildings in the future will indeed need to be deconstructed and recycled, such as what is already being done in Japan.
Lewis: In such a competitive market, how does Dow maintain its top position in the industry and differentiate itself from the competition?
Jean-Paul: We try not to deviate from our “true north” and provide our customers and our employees with simple, realistic messages about our role in the industry and what our customers can expect from us. When hit by such disruption, you may decide to postpone or put on hold some planned investments or innovation, but not change the nature of your value proposition and your strategy. This is the reason why customers maintain their trust. A rigorous portfolio management and a few tough decisions, but always carried out with clear and candid communication to the market.
So, what is our “true north”? To deliver weatherproofing and bonding solutions to this architecture industry, with reliable products, backed-up by science and people that passionately care about what they do. Next year, we will celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the first 4-sided silicone structural glazing project, a building in Detroit that is still present and functioning well. Since then, we have helped architects and builders to dress the most beautiful and high performing façades on the most iconic buildings, reliably. And since being welcomed into the Dow family, 4 years ago, we are now constantly expanding our portfolio of products with non-silicone technologies whilst keeping our technical sales assistance in action. I can mention for example, the recent launch of a two-part polyurethane adhesive for balcony glass wall embedding applications which is a great one stop shopping solution.
Lewis: Over the past decade we have seen a heightened sense of urgency surrounding climate change and sustainability in architectural and façade design. How has/does Dow contribute to this more sustainable future?
Jean-Paul: Indeed, and that is welcome. I am particularly optimistic when I read the proposed European Green Deal, a lot will be about leapfrogging changes to make our industry really move toward low carbon and circularity.
Now at Dow, we have very ambitious targets on sustainability but let me mention one thing that many people ignore. While silicone is quite energy intensive to produce, the usage on facades is low when compared to the benefits it provides, for example, ensuring efficient weatherproofing and leak free systems for decades. Therefore, the carbon ratio between the emission to produce silicone and the savings it provides in the application is very very interesting, sometimes with a 1/20 to 1/60 favorable ratio. And that is not enough! We are currently working on our raw material sourcing to significantly decarbonize our silicone polymer, and we also recently made very serious progress in our ability to recycle our silicone elastomers. Yes, carbon neutrality and circular silicone is no longer out of reach!
Lewis: The high-performance building market is in constant flux with innovations that have transformed the construction industry over the past 50 years. What are the current emerging technologies and applications that are set to disrupt the status quo and revolutionize the way we can design and construct the buildings of tomorrow?
Jean-Paul: The need for increased transparency while offering privacy, will make dynamic glass systems a sustained trend. So is the need for increased safety and security. Active glass surfaces and even silicones that release biocide and are able to kill viral and bactericide species are things that are possible; similar technologies will also be probably implemented in wall and coating. On the security side, the data security issue brought by 5G and future connected objects will require adaptation of many products. In the electronic appliances and automotive industries, we already provide EMI shielding silicone that can shield electromagnetic interference. Those may be required in buildings too, to avoid unwelcome interference coming from the glass or the window sealing system.
Lewis: Could you give our readers a couple of examples of stand-out buildings in Europe where your high-performance building silicones have been used and the benefits they imparted on the projects?
Jean-Paul: Sure, let me give you a few examples that exemplify the performance and versatility of our silicones. One project we are particularly proud of is the International Olympic Headquarters in Lausanne, designed by 3XN; the best rated LEED Platinum building so far, with a score of 94. The International Olympic Committee placed the bar very high concerning their approach to sustainability and I particularly liked the fact that their key focus of the building was the health and well-being of the building occupants. Another recent project that I like is the GOOGLE Headquarters in London (with BIG, EOC and Heatherwick Architects), where our silicones were used on a wood/aluminium structure, which demonstrates how versatile this technology can be. In Frankfurt, SEDAK realized the tallest (17 meters!) curved insulating glass for the Messe Turm, with our silicone designed to bond the huge curved lamination-bent insulating glass units. The Prime Tower in Zurich is another modern example of a very high thermally performing façade and we recently helped Merck and their liquid crystal window modules on the Oscar Niemeyer building in Leipzig.
And last but not least, let me mention two much older projects, one is the current European Parliament building in Brussels, one of my first projects in 1992 when I was a young technical service engineer in Dow Corning. 28 years have passed, and it is there and withstanding time and the age, much better than me. On the subject of durability, I would also like to mention the Ift building in Rosenheim, built 25 years ago with Dow silicone, in a four-sided system so without device to retain dead load. A part of the modules from this 25-year-old façade was deconstructed, samples were made and tested from the existing silicone/glass structure, according to the latest European standard. Results were fantastic, after 25 years in real life applications, our silicone is still over performing the accelerated test. This is another proof that silicones are not a weak point when we talk about glass structures. They are there to last, 50, 75 years, who knows?
Lewis: The holy grail of glass facades for many architects is 100% transparency, unfiltered clear views that blur the lines between the internal and external environments. Dow’s crystal-clear silicone sealant has made this vision a possibility. IGS asked architects and engineers their thoughts on the product and the response was overwhelmingly positive (here comes the BUT). But… there were also concerns as to its ease-of-installation and cost. Are there any plans in the works to develop the product further in response to these concerns?
Jean-Paul: Yes, this is our latest development. We have invented a resin that can offer the structural strength of our products while perfectly matching their refractive index, resulting in water clear and stable adhesives. And yes, as always, we cannot deny the barrier of entry that innovation typically brings such as the necessity to pay more to cover R&D costs as well as adopting modified production or application methods. Think about the need to switch from black to a crystal-clear adhesive. Dow is an innovative company, we are trying to minimize those barriers of entry by working closely with our customers, but we must accept that innovation will always come with some difficulties to overcome. In that context, our reputation to be science based, to stand behind our products and collaboratively work with our customers has proven to be efficient.
Lewis: DOW has had success all over the world, from Asia to Europe and the US, your products are visible (and sometimes invisible) in projects dotted around the globe. What do you attribute this global success and expansion to?
Jean-Paul: Our people; the colleagues that manufacture our products, our engineers that assist our customers and architects – in fact, everyone at Dow. We are passionate about what we do, responsible and engaged. What also differentiates Dow from others is our true globality. This does not mean that we seek one solution that fits all, to the contrary, in fact, that we have a globally consistent approach to doing business (what we call our project management services) that provides the same level of security but with local products when needed and taking account local specifications.
Lewis: There have been murmurs about the difficulty in recruiting and retaining young people into the construction industry. What does Dow do differently to encourage more young people, more women and more diverse ethnicities to come to work and stay with the company long term?
Jean-Paul: Dow is a 40-billion-dollar company with more than 35 000 employees. It has a strong company culture relating to material science and customer experience. Inspired by our current CEO, Jim Fitterling, we are also truly transforming Dow into a best-in-class inclusive company. This is really COOL and has proven to attract many young talents. Come to Dow, our size will give you plenty of opportunities and you will not be bored in our truly inclusive environment. That’s a pretty powerful value proposition, isn’t it?
Lewis: The main theme for the Glass Supper 2020 virtually speaking was about designing and building habitats for humans on the moon. At the moment, it’s just a trickle but it could become an avalanche. Is Dow looking towards providing materials that glue the glazing for buildings in outer space?
Jean-Paul: That is an interesting question. Do you know that the first man made material that touched the moon with a human back in 1969 was a Dow made silicone boot? The temperature differential on the moon between the sun exposed part of an astronaut and his back can be as high as 70 degrees, and silicone is the only material that permits flexibility at high and low temperatures. Yes, definitively, the refocus on the space exploration is a great opportunity for a company like Dow to develop new technologies. A bit like how Formula 1 technologies help progress innovation for standard cars, special habitat requirements will have numerous and immediate effects on what we do on planet Earth, such as the need to be fully circular and self-sufficient.
Lewis: What are your views on the acceleration of virtual events we have witnessed this year? Is virtual here to stay or is it just a forced temporary alternative that can never replace meeting clients face to face?
Jean-Paul: We believe hybrid will be the solution, a mix of both. We should definitely not forget the improvement in efficiency that digital has enabled, but we should absolutely re-engage in face-to-face interactions. It will be a good compromise, less human interaction but deeper and richer.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazines Winter 2020 Issue: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Author: Jean-Paul Hautekeer is Global Strategic Market Director for Dow High Performance Building Solutions
As the global head of marketing strategy for the teams that develop silicon(e) based solutions which increase energy efficiency, sustainability and design performance of buildings, Jean-Paul is responsible for market strategy development and implementation, innovation and marketing excellence for the global market.