Interview with Thomas A. Schwartz
2014 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors
As president and senior principal at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., what challenges and opportunities do you see for your company as it prepares to close out its sixth decade of serving a broad client base?
SGH has been very fortunate to have had a decades-long unbroken string of growth and expansion of services and client base. As we look to the future, we focus on maintaining the culture, instilled in us by our founders, that has underpinned this prosperity. We focus on staying nimble in our markets to react to the inevitable, unpredictable changes ahead, and we focus on maintaining leadership in our technical service areas.
One of our challenges and opportunities is one with which many companies are contending — leadership transition. As a matter of fact, about the time your readers see this, I will be stepping down from my position as president of SGH, while staying on as senior principal, to make way for the next generation of leadership to assume the reins, just as Werner Gumpertz did 20 years ago when he stepped aside and I assumed the presidency of this firm. I am bullish on our future because I am confident that our extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff at all levels possess the tools and common vision to continue, and enhance, our success well into the future.
I see parallels between ASTM International and SGH in the value we place on quality work and in our long-range view of staff development and leadership ascension. I feel very fortunate to have served in leadership roles in these two great organizations.
The Chile Baha’i House of Worship, which is under construction in Santiago, is being built using a unique type of cast glass, which will enhance its beauty. Tom Schwartz discusses material evaluation being conducted at his firm, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, that will help ensure that the materials for this temple perform as intended once the building is completed.
You have been a member of the ASTM International board of directors for some time and have seen ASTM’s product offerings expand in response to the needs of its members and customers. Can you speak to some of those changes and talk about how you see ASTM continuing to develop over the course of the next five years?
ASTM has continually improved its member focus over the years. Its investment in technology has broadened its reach worldwide and has facilitated participation through electronic balloting and standards development, Web-enabled meetings and conferencing enhancements.
The creativity and dogged hard work of the external marketing and global cooperation staff at ASTM has opened up opportunities to spread the good work of ASTM in ways that I suspect the board of 20 years ago could not have imagined. Efforts such as the memorandum of understanding program, the opening of new offices in Europe and Canada in addition to longer-standing offices in China and Mexico, and the expansion of the use of ASTM standards outside the United States have heightened ASTM’s global relevance.
I expect in the next five years to see such opportunities continue to expand, though the challenges have risen with the worldwide impact of ASTM standards. The members, staff and board will have to maintain their vigilance and dedication to the lofty principles of ASTM International to continue to advance its goals.
Developed by ASTM Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, ASTM test method E1105 is widely used to test water penetration around building components such as windows and curtain walls. Tom Schwartz shows the test being conducted at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger and discusses its use by the industry.
The use of voluntary consensus standards in government regulations has been a significant topic of discussion recently. What are your thoughts on this issue?
ASTM publishes the work of its volunteer members. That work is the culmination of an open, broad-based consensus process that derives its strength from the union of public and private interests that come together to debate positions and reach rational compromise, in the spirit of advancing the greater good.
That continuing process is driven by the revenue derived from the sale of those standards, making the process self-sustaining and free of undue governmental, political or industry influence. This system is unmatched in the world of standards development for the quality and relevance of the standards it produces. This proven system is under attack on several fronts.
That attack stems from piracy and a fundamental challenge to the right of ownership of intellectual property. Piracy is and, unfortunately, will likely continue to be a blight on world economies. We cannot wish it away; we can only continue to work to diminish its impact and bring those responsible to justice. The latter challenge, however, is one that we can, and should, defeat. ASTM International is at the forefront of that effort.
The challenge to the ownership of intellectual property comes from those who argue that copyrighted materials should be available on the Internet regardless of the wishes of the copyright owner. With respect to standards and codes, the argument is that, since they are referenced in laws and regulations by federal, state and municipal governments and agencies (but not created by them), they must be free. On the face of it, it’s an appealing hypothesis. But the appeal dissolves when one considers the ramifications of ignoring the rights of ownership of property — the original works on which ASTM and many similar organizations rely.
This challenge to the value of intellectual property harkens back to a similar event in U.S. history. In 1790, this young nation established the U.S. Patent Office. This early version of the Patent Office did not review patent applications for their uniqueness as it does today. The Patent Office was little more than a clearinghouse for ideas, and as such, the patents it issued had no intrinsic value.
Many respected academics and intellectuals at the time opposed the proposal to create this right to profit from patents, arguing that ideas and inventions should be free for all to utilize and benefit from without regard to who developed the idea or invention. Like the “laws should be free” argument, the notion of ideas being free was appealing on its surface. After the Patent Office’s establishment, Alexander Hamilton argued that it should be charged with the critical review of patent applications, and issue patents — and the right to profit from those unique patents — only to those whose ideas were original. Hamilton realized that we, as a nation, had a substantial interest in developing new ideas and inventions, and that to incent such behavior, those new concepts had to have value.
Hamilton’s argument ultimately prevailed. In 1836, Congress began requiring critical review and “certification” of all submissions to the Patent Office as to their uniqueness. In so doing, they substantially advanced the concept of intellectual property rights.
Founded on the value of original work, this then-rural, agricultural country went on to lead the world through the industrial revolution and in the development of technological advancements that continue to this day.
About 20 years after the Patent Office started issuing valuable patents, Abraham Lincoln, then a young lawyer in Illinois, reflected on the benefits derived from this decision when he remarked that the “fuel of interest” stokes the “fire of genius.” That is a perspective we should not lose in modern thinking.
The challenges to the continued public-private partnership are ongoing, despite the recognition by many of the substantial benefits conveyed by the current system. For readers who have an interest, I would point them to the reports of the Administrative Conference of the United States and the National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Federal Register. Not even the Federal Register and other online government documents are universally free.
High quality, market relevant standards are one of the primary engines of worldwide economic prosperity. Standard test methods and practices cannot continue to achieve that goal unless they, like patents and other copyrighted works, have intrinsic value to spur continuous improvement and development. Value comes with a price tag. There is a cost to continually revising and creating new standards that deal with new and important technologies and issues. That cost is financed by the sale of existing standards. It is an effective and efficient circle, which if broken, may not long survive. Free is easy, but it is not always smart. And free is not always “free” — there is a substantial cost associated with the actual laws and regulations, created by legislatures, interpreted by courts and implemented by the executive, that incorporate the standards and codes. We call such costs taxes.
ASTM International is actively engaged in the fight to preserve the value of intellectual property and the long-established public-private partnership that has served this country — and indeed, many countries — so well for more than 100 years.
As the global economy evolves and Europe and the United States engage in trade negotiations, what are the key concerns ASTM should monitor?
In the last 20 years, ASTM International has transformed itself from a mostly domestic producer of standards (used globally as a result of the reach of U.S. industries) to a substantial provider of international standards, developed by its technical experts drawn from 150 countries, and created to solve worldwide challenges. For many years now, over half of ASTM International’s revenue from the sale of standards derives from purchases outside the United States. There have been, and continue to be, substantial challenges to ASTM’s place in the worldwide marketplace.
Within the last few years, European institutional policies have attempted to diminish the use of ASTM standards by proposing regulations that recognize only certain developers as producers of international standards — ASTM not among them. Now, with the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership under way, the issue of standards is once again at the forefront. Standards underpin free trade and robust commerce, providing a common trade language and protecting the suitability and safety of materials and processes. It is vital to the free marketplace that standards are selected based on their quality and market relevance, and not on bureaucratic decision-making. Once again, ASTM is at the forefront of this effort.
Your career with SGH has run side-by-side with your career as a member of several ASTM International committees related to building construction and engineering. How have you seen standards contribute to the safety and quality of the built environment?
All the standards that I have helped develop during my more than 30 years with ASTM have been focused on improving the reliability and durability of buildings, more specifically, building enclosures. My earliest involvement was with the window and door standards under Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings. Having experienced some of the structural performance problems that were missed by strength testing of curtain walls using only a single load applied to design limits, I co-wrote, with my colleagues at SGH, the first draft of what became the cyclic structural test for curtain walls known as E1233, Test Method for Structural Performance of Exterior Windows, Doors, Skylights and Curtain Walls by Cyclic Air Pressure Differential. This has helped broaden the relevance of structural testing and the reliability of our buildings.
Recognizing the all-too-prevalent problems with water penetration through or around fenestration products and wall claddings in general, I helped draft standard E1105, the water test standard for evaluating the field performance of windows, doors and curtain walls. My focus on eliminating water leakage through building walls led me to chair an ASTM symposium on “Water in Exterior Building Walls — Problems and Solutions,” in 1990, and serve as editor of the associated Special Technical Publication 1107.
As to safety, a subcommittee I chaired developed ASTM E2270, Practice for Periodic Inspection of Building Facades for Unsafe Conditions, which has helped address a major problem in many of our aging cities where deteriorated building facade elements threaten public safety.
Have you seen any shifting trends in the way standards are written in this area?
Certainly the process of standards development has changed in major ways over the years, with the advent of more efficient and effective communication tools, but the substantial changes I have seen with respect to the content of the standards has more to do with the significant expansion in the breadth and diversity of the standards we produce. By way of example, the subcommittee that I chaired for 22 years, E06.55 on Performance of Building Enclosures, has published standards providing guidelines to designers when faced with the challenge of selecting new materials, standards on evaluating the safety of building facades, standards guiding the rational and reliable performance of building leakage investigations, and standards on the proper way to conduct commissioning of building enclosures.
ASTM International is in the early stages of creating the means for its technical committees to think beyond the “silos” of their very specific industry sectors to the larger systems in which their standards exist. Can you discuss your experience with systemic standards development?
When I was first working in ASTM Committee E06, I got interested in the work of Alan Yorkdale, who had formed a new subcommittee, E06.55 on Performance of Building Enclosures. While ASTM had many good standards that applied to specific elements of the building enclosure — windows, doors, exterior insulation finishing systems, masonry and so forth — it was quite clear to Alan and many of his colleagues that performance problems occur much more often at the interface between these enclosure elements than within them.
Alan formed Subcommittee E06.55 with the idea that we would look globally at all these elements, and even beyond that to issues of economics and sustainability. He was way ahead of his time with the breadth of his consideration; it was a very ambitious effort, almost too ambitious for the amount of resources we had. Unfortunately, Alan passed away within a few years of having formed the subcommittee.
In 1988, I helped reorganize the subcommittee and took over as chairman. The very first thing we did was hold the symposium on water leakage I mentioned earlier, and that event gave rise to everything that has come out of E06.55 since. It brought together people that had a common interest; they presented papers, they got to know one another and have since worked together for all these years producing important standards, sponsoring symposia and publishing peer-reviewed papers. The work of the subcommittee has advanced the industry in many substantial ways.
A few years ago, E06.55 drafted E2813, Practice for Building Enclosure Commissioning, which sets forth a process by which one rationally, and in a very sound and defensible way, can improve the performance of building enclosures through conceptualization, design development, construction and performance verification testing.
ASTM has been collaborating with the National Institute of Building Sciences in this endeavor. The ASTM group is now working on proficiency training for those engaged in building enclosure commissioning. This approach to improved building performance is charting new territory and substantially advancing our continuous quest to improve the performance and sustainability of our built environment. The development of this practice further demonstrates the responsiveness of the ASTM standards development process to the needs of the marketplace and to our collective need to move toward greater sustainability.
The advice I often give to members of the new Committee E60 on Sustainability, which is currently beginning to engage with large-scale issues across disciplines in much the way Subcommittee E06.55 did over 20 years ago, is to maintain the vision but bite off a do-able dose at the outset, get some things accomplished, build some momentum, show people that you can accomplish something, and incrementally approach your goal. [See the feature on the Built Environment Advisory Committee for more on this subject.]
Do you have anything else to add?
I am very much looking forward to leading the board in 2014 as we tackle the tough issues and challenges that face us and further the great work of ASTM International.
Werner Gumpertz, Tom Schwartz and SGH
Tom Schwartz with Werner Gumpertz in the library at SGH, where volumes of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards dating back to the 1940s are housed, along with codes and standards volumes of other organizations.
Werner Gumpertz has long been a mentor to Tom Schwartz and to many SGH employees. Having co-founded SGH in 1956 and guided it through its early growth as head of the building technology group, senior principal and director emeritus, Gumpertz, a renowned expert in roofing technology, still comes into the company’s offices daily and offers insight into the engineering challenges faced by his colleagues.
Hired by Gumpertz in 1973, Schwartz has many fond memories of their years working and traveling to job sites and ASTM meetings together, which he summarized for a biography of Gumpertz written by Babette Rittmeyer, to be published this year. Among his recollections are Gumpertz’s commitment to excellence in engineering and conciseness of expression, as well as his precision and wit on the witness stand, where he frequently was called on to lend his expert testimony in cases of roofing failure and other forensic engineering issues. Schwartz is an admirer of Gumpertz’s rejection of “corporate-speak” and his respect for straightforward communications, management and service to clients as exemplified in Gumpertz’s mantra, “Take care of the quality of our engineering work and the rest will take care of itself.” In February, Schwartz will step down as president of SGH while still serving as senior principal, making way for the next generation of leadership.
A Look at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Headquartered in Waltham, Mass., Simpson Gumpertz & Heger is an engineering firm that designs, investigates and rehabilitates structures and building enclosures. With clients around the globe in over 30 countries, SGH collaborates with architects, owners, contractors and materials manufacturers to find solutions for demanding projects involving buildings, transportation projects, nuclear facilities, science and defense facilities, and water and wastewater projects. Notable projects undertaken by SGH include:
John Hancock Tower Boston, Mass.
Shortly after the completion of construction, the 60-story, 790-foot (240 m) mirror-glass John Hancock Tower experienced failure of many of its 10,344 reflective glass panes. SGH evaluated the performance of the building and the stresses imposed on the glass. Post-breakage analysis of the glass fracture surfaces proved that the fractures were due to design flaws in the insulating glass units. All of the dual-pane insulating glass units were replaced with fully tempered monolithic glass.
Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, Seabrook, N.H.
When alkali-silica reaction was discovered in the concrete at the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requested that Seabrook Station investigate and evaluate the implications of ASR distress on the structural performance of existing, safety-critical structures. SGH conducted field and laboratory investigations and used the site data to analyze the structural performance of the ASR-affected concrete. Following the detailed assessment and evaluation, SGH assisted the utility in developing and implementing a procedure for long-term monitoring to determine the long-term impact of ASR expansion.
Multiple Mirror Telescope Mount Hopkins, Ariz.
SGH was the primary design consultant for the multiple mirror telescope’s optics support structure and the building that houses the telescope. With the advent of economical large spun-cast mirrors, the six-mirror MMT telescope was converted to a single aperture 6.5-meter diameter mirror. To carry out the conversion, SGH developed concepts, final designs, drawings and specifications for the new optics support structure.
Brooklyn Bridge Brooklyn, N.Y.
When the New York City Department of Transportation rehabilitated the Brooklyn Bridge for its centennial, SGH advised the contractor on procedures for this work, which was performed with the bridge in-service. SGH designed 16 catwalks suspended below the main suspension cables and consulted on structural challenges during truss member rehabilitation and on overlay placement problems.
Thomas A. Schwartz, P.E., is a senior principal and president of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., a national engineering firm that designs, investigates and rehabilitates structures and building enclosures, with five offices in the United States.
Following his graduation from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., with a B.S. in civil engineering, Schwartz started work as an engineer at SGH. During his early years with the firm, he earned his S.M. in material engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Schwartz held a number of positions at SGH, from engineer to senior staff engineer, and associate to principal, before assuming his current role. A registered professional engineer in 20 states and the District of Columbia, he focuses on building envelope systems, including curtain walls, glazing, roofing, waterproofing and masonry. He investigates and evaluates all types of glass and window systems, wall systems and roofing, and lectures and writes extensively about building enclosure technology.
In recognition of his professional capability and work, Schwartz received membership in the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi and was elected to membership in the scientific research society Sigma Xi. Schwartz received the 2006 ASTM International Walter C. Voss Award in honor of his leadership and more than 30 years of service to the building technology industry. He also earned the 1987 Engineering-News Record Award for Contribution to Engineering. Other accolades include the 1994 ASTM International Award of Merit and a Service Award from the ASTM board of directors in 2008.
Schwartz joined ASTM International in 1982, and currently serves on Committees E06 on Performance of Buildings as well as C14 on Glass and Glass Products and E58 on Forensic Engineering. He is past chairman of Subcommittee E06.55 on Performance of Building Enclosures. He served on the ASTM board of directors from 2006 to 2008 and from 2010 until the present.
In addition to his ASTM work, Schwartz has been a construction industry arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers. He was also the technical editor for Glass Digest for more than a decade.