If author and designer Fernando Pagés-Ruiz had an elevator pitch for architectural polymers and their emulated styles, it would be this: “Think along the lines of the materials you are using to design your homes as opposed to thinking of one material and substituting another in your design. If you’re thinking wood and substituting an emulated wood style, you will have installation pitfalls and other structural challenges onsite. It’s best that you think of the material that the building is going to be finished with and start thinking about that material in your design.”
This is how Fernando begins his latest ADP webinar course, Architectural Polymers: Best Practices for Architectural Specifications. More than a class, this webinar feels like a Ted Talk as Fernando shares his wealth of expertise on:
Fernando starts with a brief history of building materials that demonstrates how quickly wood decomposes – giving way to stone – and how the demand for better performance, cost-efficiencies and sustainability would result in today’s architectural polymers. With lifetime warrantees, color retention warrantees, a shelf-life of up to 75 years and a range of 900 colors, architectural polymer manufacturing has evolved significantly in color, design, structure and durability.
Fernando asserts that architectural polymers are not limited to the “affordable vinyl siding.” There’s polypropylene shake, which is a different plastic but an excellent material used for higher-end home designs, along with cellular PVC, an incredibly durable material. Poly-Ash is another durable material that absorbs more paint, and you can cut miters in it and drill it like wood.
And then there’s vinyl siding, which architects tend to disregard. Fernando views this as a big mistake. “When the house is completed, and it’s done well, you don’t think vinyl, you react to the beauty of the building.”
To support his argument, he emphasizes vinyl siding’s advantages for adding style elements, like emulated wood trim (also known as “J-channel”). Vinyl siding has evolved to thicker J-channel with more dimensions in sill and vertical castings proportionate to the shape of the window. He states that the trim and other emulated styles have improved dramatically from functional to well-designed.
“On the east coast, people insist on vinyl siding for columns, ornamental brackets and other style elements because they don’t want to deal with wood (and fiber cement and other non-wood cladding producers don’t make them). Whether it’s beaded siding, Dutch lap, brick or other emulated styles, you can get a lot of detailing if you know what’s available.”
At the 22:05 mark of the course, Fernando demonstrates that vinyl siding is also the sustainable choice, citing a house he designed for (see red house on cover), which won best “green” house of the year. It was one of the early uses of insulated vinyl siding. “The project called for a minimum 75-year exterior, and the vinyl siding was the only siding I could find with a 75-year guarantee.”
Fernando steers his lively discussion towards the heart of his work, a multi-faceted guide called Architectural Polymers: Best Practices for Architectural Specifications. Covering every polymer from high-end PVC to various types of vinyl siding, this spec guide is divided into four sections: Profile Considerations, Trim, Ornaments and Workarounds. While he maintains that this book would look beautiful on any coffee table, it is first and foremost “a tool,” specifically in its interactive, easily downloadable PDF format. Full of high-quality CAD or DWG details and sketch-ups of the details with captions, users see little blue hyperlinks to download the desired CAD detail and then simply drop it into their drawings.
“You’ll get completely rendered materials, so instead of taking hours to produce, you can just drop it in,” Fernando says. “When you have these details on your plans, no one can blame you for shoddy installation because you’ve given them everything.”
He refers to Architectural Polymers as a very special kind of book. In Part 4 – Workarounds, Fernando teaches you how to mitigate common negatives like J-channels, weird shadow lines, stacked seams, overlapped joints – all elements that can sometimes make architects cringe.
Fernando’s course is as entertaining as it is highly informative. And there is detail in his details. From covering the width of elevation to eliminate seams to using insulated siding to supplement a thin layer like an R5 sheathing, to showing closeups of beaded panels and how handsome they look when the stagger of panels comes together, he enjoys sharing what he calls the fabulous building science of these modern materials. And his teaching style should inspire young designers, especially when it comes to thinking of architectural polymers as the latest development in a building heritage deeply rooted in emulated styles.
“We don’t have original facades of the Tuscan order,” he argues. “The wood rotted. The stone that replaced it was used to reflect a wood look.”