Architect's Quality Control Ensures Successful, High-Performance Projects

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Architect HeadshotFor some architects, once a project has been specified and the construction teams are on-site, the job is mostly over. But for Jed Ballew, project architect with Kinslow, Keith & Todd in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there is still work to do. The Custom Insights team had a chance to speak with him about the importance of on-site follow-ups and his tips for getting the most out of every installation.

What is your role at Kinslow, Keith & Todd?
I am a project architect, so I work on jobs from the ground up. However, for the past 4 years, I have been heavily involved with construction administration on some of our larger jobs. My role is one of quality management and assurance from materials to craftsmanship. I really enjoy it.

What are some of the tiled projects that your firm has recently completed? 
We design a wide variety of projects in the Tulsa metropolitan area, with a focus on education - especially early childhood education centers. At the Educare 2 and Educare 3 centers, interior floors included large format porcelain tiles throughout the public spaces and a wood-look luxury vinyl tile in the classrooms. The goal with interior finish choices was to create a home-like atmosphere.

The SemGroup Laboratory Building, an historic modern building designed by Bruce Graham of SOM, offered some unique tiling challenges. At some locations, new concrete was placed to fill voids; an existing concrete slab could be next to a new green concrete slab where both areas were going to be covered with large-format porcelain tile. This situation called for an uncoupling system to accommodate the new tile floor over the varied subfloor conditions. That project also included an entry element with exterior large format wall tile.

Because summer temperatures were over 100 degrees during construction, I consulted with our local technical rep and changed the original tile setting material to something that would work in the extreme heat.

Tell us about your work on the historic Mayo Building.

Coordinating the Mayo Building project was complex - the building is a historic landmark, and the goal was to restore the building so that it would be included in the National Register of Historic Places. We worked closely with the owner and federal and state preservationists in matching new and existing finishes. Historic lobby and corridor spaces included mosaic tile and terrazzo that were closely matched. Modern apartment units which make up the bulk of the Mayo Building interior spaces included large format porcelain tile on floors and walls. Additionally, the Downtown Tulsa YMCA is an anchor tenant and their space has various tiled areas which include a very large hot tub and men’s and women’s locker rooms. The interior designers had a lot of fun with those spaces.

Architect Interview 2
Image courtesy Kinslow, Keith & Todd

Are there any new materials that you are excited about using in the future?
The new trend of large-format tile is one that I like. However, the installation of large format tile has presented new challenges. We’ve seen that the industry continues to decrease the size of tile that is defined as “large format” and requires a medium bed mortar for those installations. Our firm usually specifies an anti-fracture membrane to bridge over control joints in the concrete floor slab which is critical with large-format floor tile if you want to end up with a durable finished product. The clean look and fewer grout joints make these installations very popular with the end-user.

Have you had some tile installation problems over the years, and how were they solved?

We have had several projects which included balconies or terraces over occupied spaces. Those situations are always tricky and I rely heavily on the research and guidance of industry experts.

We’ve had some issues with the “lick-and-stick” type of exterior applications which may include thin stone veneers, manufactured stone or porcelain tile. With those systems, you have to be extremely diligent to prevent failures. Issues like efflorescence and discoloration will be front and center for everyone to see - not to mention falling tile or stone. The best way to prevent these issues is on the front end by specifying high-performance products and then working directly with the installers and product representatives. I visit sites to make sure they are using the right materials the right way.

What is the most important element behind the tile installation products you specify?
Durability and performance are both very important to provide value to the owner. Plus, for most projects, we specify a complete installation system from a single manufacturer. Doing this ensures that the products are designed to work together, with one company standing behind them. It gives us the best results and it’s a type of performance guarantee on top of the system warranty.

Ultimately, I rely on the technical expertise of companies like CUSTOM. Each new job is unique; receiving recommendations from product experts is the framework for good results. Plus, it's a great way to learn about new products and innovations.

Any words of advice to share?
As the architect, you need to be savvy and know what you are asking for. Continuing education is crucial. An architect is expected to know everything, but with all of the different products and materials out there, it's impossible - keep learning, and always rely on the industry experts to get the best results.

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