75 Years of Constant Adaptation and Progress

Rich Walker
February 28, 2012
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Codes & Standards

What do the Golden Gate Bridge, Spam, Elmer Fudd and the American Architectural Manufacturers Association have in common? All are celebrating 75th anniversaries this year.

I’m not so sure about any special observances planned for Spam or Elmer Fudd, but I hear the Golden Gate’s milestone will feature a festival in late May. And, AAMA appropriately is celebrating its 75th Annual Conference this week in Naples, Fla.

Organized in 1936 as the Non-Ferrous Window Institute by a group of bronze and aluminum window manufacturers, the fledgling AAMA became official at its first annual meeting in 1937. After World War II, it was reorganized as the American Window Manufacturers Association (AWMA).

In 1947, AWMA released the first standard for minimum performance of windows. Though revolutionary in its time, this first Guide Specification for Aluminum Windows was quite limited in scope from today’s perspective. It applied only to double hung aluminum windows and defined just two classes of windows. The selection of structural test pressures was left to the manufacturer, but had to be reported. Testing for water infiltration was not required, and no maximum infiltration rate was stipulated.

Fast forward to 1962. AWMA merged with the Sliding Glass Door and Window Institute (SGD/WI) to become the Architectural Aluminum Manufacturers Association and launched the AAMA certification program, bringing the credibility of independent third-party testing and production line inspection to window and door quality assurance.

The ensuing timeline of additions and enhancements traces a broadening spectrum of materials, an increasingly sophisticated approach to design and an evolving understanding of the factors influencing window performance, as well as steadily improving performance requirements.

At the time of AAMA’s founding, plastics hadn’t gotten much past those iconic black dial phones made of “bakelite” – a heavy thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin. However, by the 1980s, vinyl was making inroads, and in 1983 AAMA expanded its charter to encompass materials other than aluminum. The following year, the name changed to its final iteration–the American Architectural Manufacturers Association.

Reflecting that charter, AAMA proceeded to pioneer the concept of performance-based standards, a key development that bypasses framing material comparisons and eliminates prescriptions for composition and thickness. Performance-based standards provided a uniform basis for comparing performance attributes of different products and various materials.

In 1988, the heretofore separate standards for aluminum and vinyl windows and doors were combined into the venerable AAMA 101. Then, in 1997, culminating five decades of technological advancement and standards development, AAMA and the (then) National Wood Window and Door Association developed a combined window standard. AAMA/NWWDA 101/I.S.2-97 was soon recognized as a material neutral landmark and a true industry consensus for the rating of windows and doors in the U.S.

But we couldn’t stop there. By 2002, that landmark standard had gone international as the Canadian Standards Association joined in for the first North American Fenestration Standard. The fourth edition of that code-mandated document was approved in 2011. The materials addressed now include framing made of ABS, fiberglass, cellulosic composites and wood, as well as vinyl, steel and aluminum for use in four performance classes and 36 operator types and mulled assemblies.

Meanwhile, the determinants of “performance” have both expanded and become more stringent. Now, in addition to resistance to wind loading, water penetration and air infiltration for an ever-wider and better-defined variety of end-use situations, the marketplace and advances in material technology have added thermal performance, solar properties, hurricane impact and blast loading, environmental life cycle considerations and other criteria to the mix.

Since that first standard for aluminum windows debuted in 1947, ongoing work by members of AAMA and its predecessor organizations in developing performance standards for windows, doors and skylights traces the increasing depth, breadth, array of features and technological complexity of fenestration products. It has not been easy to keep up with this pace of change, but gratifying to be a part of the industry leaders who have both driven and kept up with the changing technological and performance landscape of the industry.

Speaking of technological change, in the context referenced above, “Spam” is canned lunchmeat, not junk email. That, too, indicates the pace of change.


Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.