Edward Whipp, preconstruction director at English Architectural Glazing, explains how his firm has coped with the high demand caused by a shortage of cladding specialists.

Curtain walling and cladding contractor English Architectural Glazing (EAG) was founded in 2000, following 15 years in a different incarnation. The Suffolk-based company now has 140 employees and recorded turnover of £17.5m last year. Its turnover this year is expected to hit £21m. As well as fitting products on site, it fabricates the aluminium components and collaborates with architects to design and manufacture systems. Edward Whipp, EAG’s preconstruction director and co-owner, explains the logistical challenges.

Over the past four or five years, we’ve become more and more involved in total envelope cladding, as main contractors have changed methods of procurement. There’s a lot of work because so many companies have gone into receivership – in the past couple of years there’s been £125m more work than the British cladding industry could take on.

We manufacture the vast bulk of the cladding and curtain-walling units we send to site and we fabricate all the aluminium components – aluminium is common to all our jobs. We buy in other components, such as timber, glass, copper and zinc. Our designs, based on architects’ preliminary drawings, are developed in-house. We have a 16-strong design team.

At the next stage, an EAG-employed site manager oversees all cladding and curtain-walling installation and takes responsibility for health and safety. We focus on in-house manufacture. For the physical installation we hire a subcontractor, with up to 50 workers, but an EAG quality manager will always inspect the site work at various “hold points”.

How we win work and when we get involved differs. On some projects, we in the preconstruction team work with the architect at the earliest stage. With main contractors such as Galliford Try, we often work early on, securing people capacity and supply lines.

We’re always involved at the main contract tender stage, but we also frequently advise main contractors at the early stage of two-stage contracts. Advice might focus on cost plan verifications and issues such as city-centre deliveries.

This early help doesn’t guarantee our involvement, so we might compete against two or three other subcontractors. At this stage, contractors, who realise that cheapest bids don’t necessarily lead to the best work, will make recommendations or make the decision themselves. And the client will go into huge detail. It’s all about apportionment of risk.

The level of specification also varies. It can be detailed but often is quite loose, meaning we can help develop the overall design, typically over a 12-week period. Either way, the design always needs modification for engineering load considerations.

We’ve been involved in a number of high-profile jobs recently, such as aluminium curtain walling for Wimbledon’s Centre Court and the glass-based curtain walling of the Jennie Lee Building at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Our largest job was for the redevelopment of High Wycombe town centre. The total project value was £260m, with £9m going to us. One of our most technically challenging jobs was for the £28m Westminster academy. Our contract was for £2.6m and we worked with 17,000m2 of glass, 2,400m2 of terracotta tiles and 1,000m2 of soffit cladding.

The single piece of advice I’d give? Secure your supply chain. It’s absolutely paramount.

The world according to …

Edward Whipp, preconstruction manager, EAG

I swear by …
Doing what we say on the tin. That’s the EAG motto.

My dream specification is …
One that has been developed by the architect in partnership with the specialist contractor.

My specification nightmare is …
One that we can’t influence.

The best recent innovation is …
Off-site prefabrication and unitised construction.

On-site masonry and brickwork is past its sell-by date because …
It is labour intensive and relatively slow compared to off-site panellised systems.

The next big thing will be …
Unitised curtain-walling and off-site pre-assembly. Percentage-wise, it’s scratching the surface but it can help quality and site safety, particularly
when working at height.

The worst piece of red tape is …
Bespoke forms of subcontract and contractors’ amendments to standard forms.