An Artist’s Use of Glass
The Art Gallery of Ontario Keeps Art “Open” through
Extensive Use of Glass
by Megan Headley
The expanded Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto puts
light on display, thanks to its use of glass throughout. A $260 million-plus
Frank Gehry expansion enlarged the AGO by 97,000 square feet and increased
art-viewing space by 47 percent. It also improved the views in and
out, as glass was used extensively to connect the city to the activity
of the gallery.
The transformation was not only lengthy, but challenging: despite the
generous glazing, no standard units can be found on this highly custom
project, as unique as the artwork it contains.
“It was a tough job,” says Mary Carol Witry, president of engineered products–Canada
for Oldcastle Glass® based in Santa Monica, Calif. All of the curtainwall
engineering, fabrication and assembly was done at the Oldcastle Glass
facility in Toronto, while the installation work was done by glazing contractor
Antamex International Inc., now Oldcastle Glass Engineered Products (see
September 2006 USGlass page 22).
“Most of the custom curtainwall projects we work on involve a significant
level of design expertise,” Witry explains. She adds, “We worked closely
throughout the project with the contractor, the architect and the entire
construction team to ensure that we accomplished both their aesthetic
and performance needs.”
When working on a Gehry project, with its custom requirements, close coordination
is a must.
“[The gallery] officially called it ‘the AGO Transformation’ because it’s
a big old building that’s been there for 80 years and it got a facelift.
That kind of reconstruction is slow and done in phases, and each area
had its changes,” explains Ray Wakefield, commercial sales manager of
Trulite Industries Ltd. In Mississauga, Ontario, a part of Arch Aluminum
& Glass Co. Inc.
Although the AGO combines glass with some unusual materials, the glass
itself was rather straightforward. The gallery features Pilkington glass
throughout, as well as Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Guardian Glass’ SunGuard
SuperNeutral (SN) 68. Viracon of Owatonna, Minn., supplied approximately
14,000 square feet of its VE1-2M glass for use in the main feature wall. Trulite
Industries fabricated nearly 70,000 square feet of glass for the project.
“Everything we supplied was factory-glazed,” Wakefield says. He adds,
“Antamex is one of the pioneers in factory glazing—they’ve been doing
it for more than 25 years—so everything was sent to their shop for factory
Prior to installation, Oldcastle Glass tested the curtainwall assemblies
for air, water, structural, inter-story differential movement, thermal
cycling and condensation resistance at Construction Research Laboratory
Among the unusual materials AGO viewers might come across is a wood laminate
called glulam. A glass-and-wood façade spans 600 feet along Dundas
Street and rises 70 feet above street level. “We supplied a curtainwall
system that gets attached to the wood laminate,” Witry says. Structurlam
in Penticton, British Columbia, supplied the Douglas fir glulam.
“What we thought would be the most challenging part of the project—the
gallery façade—turned out to go very smoothly,” Witry adds of that
section. She explains, “We were careful to make sure our systems had the
right geometry to match up with the glulam structure and we spent a lot
of our time testing and analyzing our designs both in the calculations
and reviewing drawings. That part went very well.”
The concern stemmed less from the materials on the job than the new tools
necessary to work on a Gehry project.
“All the trades were required to use 3D modeling using CATIA (computer
aided three-dimensional interactive application) software to verify that
all the systems worked together,” Witry explains. It was the first time
that Oldcastle Glass had used this particular software on which Gehry
Technologies’ Digital Project™ suite of 3D building information modeling
(BIM) and management tools is based.
The Nitty Gritty
The sculpture gallery that extends 450 feet along the north side of the
building enables visitors to see out onto the street and passersby to
see into the gallery. The 37,000 square feet of vision glass that makes
up the north façade is comprised of 5-foot wide by 10-foot tall
insulating glass (IG) units. The exterior lite is 6-mm heat-strengthened
SN 68, while the interior is 5-mm over 5-mm laminated heat-strengthened
glass, with a 1.5-mm clear interlayer. The airspace is filled with a thermal
warm-edge spacer and argon gas.
Wakefield points out that the façade “curves from the top to the
bottom and then it curves from east to the west. The units are for the
most part flat, and the curve is achieved by segmenting …”
According to Witry, triple glazing was used for the 16,000 square feet
of vision glass at the gallery’s north façade gable ends. These
units measure 5 feet wide by 14 feet tall. About 4,200 square feet of
5-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall laminated insulating glass units were used
for the vision areas of the AGO north façade east and west “tares.”
“In addition to the curtainwall, we did about 600 lineal feet of stainless
steel gutter at the facade, operable vents in the galleria façade
and then the curved laminated glass at the feature stairs,” Witry says.
It was the curving north and south feature stairways that provided new
challenges for Oldcastle Glass, the first of which was assembly. The stairs
called for 4,000 square feet of curved glass, measuring 5 feet wide by
8 feet tall. The stairways are made up of 6-mm over 9.5-mm laminated heat-strengthened
glass with a 1.5-mm clear interlayer, cold formed to achieve that curve.
Wakefield explains the process: “If you took a sealed unit and laid it
flat on a table and put a 2-by-4 under one corner of it, you would be
lifting that corner or bending the unit slightly—and that’s what was done
in about 200 units on the façade.”
Although cold-forming was, at that time, out-of-the-ordinary for Oldcastle
Glass, Witry says, it required only a little extra attention rather than
totally new processes. “We have all of the required equipment in-house,”
she says, adding, “we had to go through specific testing to make sure
that the glass and the assembly of the unit would withstand the pressure
we were putting on the glass by cold-forming it. It just required a little
bit of extra testing.”
While the assembly turned out to be relatively simple, installation threw
in another wrench.
“We had some challenges just working through site logistics on [some]
areas, such as the feature stairs. There were many trades working in a
very condensed area, making it very difficult to maneuver large units,”
A New Gem
Although the project was being designed as early as November 2002, construction
began in June 2005. Because the project was done in phases, Trulite and
Oldcastle Glass each were providing products and services for three years.
Finally, on November 14, 2008, the AGO opened its doors to the public.
“The unique nature of doing a Gehry project I don’t think is comparable
to any other project,” Witry says. “It’s a great experience but it’s an
engineering feat to make it happen. You need to really have exceptional
design and engineering resources and a strong project team.”
Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.
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