Sharing our experiences from Germany and UK
Through the years, we have participated in many fairs in Denmark and abroad. The past year we have exhibited in both Germany, the UK, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Sometimes we bring home current projects, other times we bring home valuable market knowledge, which we try to utilise in our daily work at Hi-Con. Showcasing our solutions at events in different European countries is for sure a big part of spreading the word about Hi-Con and gaining knowledge about new potential markets. Therefore, we would like to share some of our experiences with you, starting with two of the latest events: ARCHITECT@WORK in Düsseldorf and London.
ARCHITECT@WORK in Düsseldorf
Hi-Con has exhibited twice at Architect@Work events in Germany, first in Berlin in November 2016 and then again in Düsseldorf in December 2017,
On both occasions, there was a lot of interest regarding both balconies, staircases and facades. Especially architects and interior designers were enthusiastic concerning the possibilities offered to create dynamic and slim designs, and the willingness to actually think innovatively to realize their visions. Engineers marveled at the low cover layers and minimalistic dimensions at areas with concentrated forces.
Tommy B. Hansen showing Hi-Con balconies to the German visitors at A@W in Düsseldorf
A lot of time was spent discussing approvals with both architects and engineers though, since in Germany, a local approval from a responsible engineer in the municipality – a prüf Ingenieur - is required to erect a project. This despite Hi-Cons track record with more than 70,000 tons of structural elements produced both inside and outside the EuroCode zone over the past 20 years and our recently acquired ETA as mentioned later in this blogpost by Bendt and reported in World leaders in UHPC. Some concern was therefore expressed on how to incorporate the approval procedures into the project planning, how to handle the cost of the process, etc.
Julie N. Thomsen talking to visitors interested in slender solutions in high performance concrete.
This system of double approval – firstly conforming to the EuroCode (in this case the ETA), and then secondly by requiring a municipality specific approval – is of course a safeguard that only proven solutions are used, but also an effective way of slowing down innovation and implementation of new methods and solutions, to the great frustration of many architects.
We have since been working on several potential pilot projects in Germany, with different approaches on how to handle the approval procedures in each case, planning to use both Hi-Cons own contacts in Germany, and the contacts of the people involved in the projects. I will report on the results of these efforts in a later blog, once we have completed the first pilot project.
ARCHITECT@WORK in London
In January, Hi-Con exhibited at the Architect@Work event in Olympia, London – for the second year in a row. While the event is very well organized and attracts a lot of architects we will probably have to consider whether this is the best venue for us in the UK in future exhibitions.
Project Development Manager, Michael Uhrenholt trying his best to sell our next project in the UK
We are the only exhibitor that presents our type of solutions – balconies, staircases and facades – and while this means that we are a bit unique in this format, it is not necessarily an advantage. Attendees go from seeing the other items on display – tiles, heating installations, balustrades – and are perhaps a bit surprised by what we have to offer. A lot of people thought that we were presenting GRC – glassfibre reinforced concrete – and we had to tell them the difference, as we were showing structural applications.
On the other hand – we did generate a lot of interest, but it was more a general interest in the slender elements, the high durability and the quality of the surfaces than an interest connected to specific projects. I was at the exhibition for the first time with Michael Uhrenholt, and while he has more experience in this than I do, I had expected (or I had hoped for) people to show up with current projects, where we were the missing ingredient they needed to complete their project – whether it was a staircase, balconies or façade elements. While we had a few leads for projects that were currently being designed it is of course possible that we will also see some of our more general discussions lead to future projects.
We had of course expected UK architects at the show, but I was a bit surprised by the number of international architects that also showed up – from Portugal, USA and the Middle East. The Danish Embassy also dropped by and discussed how to facilitate our projects in London.
Staircase at Hotel La Tour in Birmingham, UK and Sydney Stringer staircase in Coventry, UK.
We have already had a number of staircase projects in the UK and are currently finishing a helical staircase in the new stadium for Tottenham, but it has been difficult for us to realize balcony or façade projects in the UK. We have been involved in several balcony projects that failed pretty late in the process – and in one project the balconies had been approved by the owner, the architect, the engineer and the building authorities only to be vetoed by the insurance company because the balconies did not comply with the European codes. Hopefully – as we explained several times at the exhibition - this should be a lot easier in the future, as we achieved an ETA last summer.
This ETA – a European Technical Assessment – is equivalent to a very specific standard – in this case for balconies produced in UHPC – for a product that is not covered by the existing European standards. 34 European agencies have been involved in the ETA process and in the UK this includes the BBA and BRE (in Germany the ETA is assessed by DIBt (Deutsche Institut für Bautechnik) which will certainly help Tommy in his discussions with German authorities as mentioned in his blog entry).
Maybe my expectations were a bit too high as a rookie in this type of presentation – and maybe I need a bit more patience like Michael who is actually selling most of our projects outside Denmark – but I had hoped for more. Our first projects in the UK were carried out more than 10 years ago and we have not – in my opinion - been very successful in building on this. There is a lot of interest, but over the years we have carried out less than 10 projects in the UK, which is a bit surprising to me as
I see a lot of projects being carried out that would really benefit from using our products. This is of course our own fault as we have not been able to convince architects in the UK to use our products, but it is also a reflection of how conservative the authorities in the UK can be and how architects and engineers react to this by refraining from trying to introduce new products. I hope that this will change with our new ETA – I certainly look forward to seeing how things develop over the next 10 years.
Thanks for reading – we are going to share more experiences with you along the way. For now, you can visit our website for more information about Hi-Con or you can visit our WordPress blog to leave a comment. Maybe you have some experiences from different events that you would like to share with us? :-)