Winter  2006


Designing High-Performance Condos

    By Charles Cumpston

Stylishly attention getting or faithfully 
preserving the original look, glass is a key 
element in this 'hot' construction market.

The condo market is hot. Whether it’s converting old industrial buildings into urban spaces or constructing sparkling new glass sheathed high-rises in destination cities. A lot of exciting design is being done in this type of construction.

The glass and metal industry plays an important role in both types of construction through the qualities of the new high-performance products and with windows that allow older structures to retain their period look.

For those sleek, stylish new high-rise condo buildings, Garret Henson, director of sales-western region for Viracon, explains that building owners realize that the appearance of the façade can be a valuable asset in getting consumers to purchase units. “While location of the condo will always be the driving factor, with so many to choose from in urban areas, the façade needs to draw the consumer,” he says.

Good First Impression

He points out that high profile architects have also become part of this building boom. “As developers contract the services of a local or out-of-state high profile architect, they coincidentally change the mind set of the historical window wall appearance,” he explains. “More and more of these projects are utilizing curtainwall. Once that happened, by default, the architects also specified a value-added glass product.”

Henson points out hybrid low-E products have become very desirable in all climates for office buildings because of their ability to offer great view-in/view-out characteristics and solar performance. “These same architects who design office complexes and towers have utilized these products in urban condo towers for the very same reasons,” he states.

He also makes the point that high-performance glass products have become standard in many markets due to the requirements of local energy codes.

With larger condo developments, there seems to be more glass on the façade, Henson says. Another aspect he mentions is that many condo buildings have an equal percentage of high volume (repeated glass dimensions) and low volume (custom glass dimensions) window openings. “A lot of developments utilize small vent windows in each condo unit,” he states.

“The manufacturing and handling of these small units needs to be discussed with the architect early in the schematics for cost implications,” Henson points out.

Mike Hill, architectural services manager, TRACO, concurs that the glass industry offers high-performance windows, doors and curtainwall products that allow the owner to benefit from thermally efficient systems while maintaining spectacular views.

Take the Test

He advises that the architect take into account not only the performance of the glass but also visible light transmission (the amount of daylight), glass color and reflectivity both indoor and out. “They must also ensure that the products being used are tested to current industry performance standards, including energy code requirements,” he states.

Ronald W. Jackson, president, Architectural Windows Inc., Washington, D.C., makes a similar point. He stresses the importance to the developers that the windows not leak. “Developers are very sensitive to the necessity of the system being very capable of performing as a system to ensure when the building is turned over to the homeowners association they not get sued for product failures and or leaks.”

He adds that the most important factor for the design professional is to be acutely aware that the window and door systems must meet the design criteria. “They need to pay careful attention to the installation details and the flashing interfacing details to be certain the system will perform.”

Much of the same reasoning for new high-rise construction applies to the conversion of aging manufacturing, office buildings and warehouse facilities no longer needed for commercial purposes, points out Raj Goyal, vice president, Graham Architectural Products.

“These buildings can often be acquired for residential renovation at reasonable cost,” he explains. “Young couples and empty nesters moving back into the city are attracted to these buildings with high ceilings and large windows, offering expansive views and generous daylighting.” He adds that developers can often apply for and receive historic renovation tax credits from the National Park Service (20 percent) and/or from state governments. “For example, Missouri offers qualifying developers a 25 percent historic renovation credit, on top of the federal credit,” he points out.

High-Performance Repros

For this type of project, a number of commercial window manufacturers, including Graham, offer architecturally accurate panning systems and applied muntins that faithfully emulate the details of the original windows, Goyal points out. “This often practical technique can save the developer money, when the manufacture of fully custom windows can be avoided. In the case of the Sporting News building in St. Louis, the original steel casement windows were replaced with thermally improved, commercial aluminum casement ones. The historically correct sightlines and wide applied muntins replicated the originals, helping the developer qualify for state and federal tax credits. Enhanced comfort and energy savings for building occupants were also significant benefits of the window retrofit project,” he adds.

Whether sleekly new to attract attention or designed to maintain the original look, glass is playing an important role in today’s booming condo construction market.


Architect's Guide to Glass & Metal
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