Volume 25, Issue 6 - November/December 2011


When Great Minds Come Together
Collaborative Efforts Help Ensure Architectural Success
by Ellen Rogers

Gone are the days of tall glass-box architecture. Take a look at some of the newest glass construction projects around the world and you’ll see that architectural designs have become increasingly geometric. As designs become increasingly complex, calling on glass to do more and more from both structural and performance levels, it’s also making the relationship between the design professional and the glazing professional one of great importance.

Some say this relationship historically has been one of strife; no one listens to the other and other such complaints. However, those on the progressive side are embracing the qualities and benefits that each party can offer, recognizing that by working together and keeping the communication channels open, great architectural feats can be achieved.

Architectural Views
Kristin Hawkins is a senior associate with Pelli Clarke Pelli in New Haven, Conn. Her firm has designed many high-profile projects worldwide, including the Red Building of the Pacific Design Center campus in West Hollywood, Calif. (see related article in the May-June 2011 issue.) Hawkins says her firm works very closely with contract glaziers, particularly on design-build projects, which they do often.

“We produce a set of drawings that describes basic information: geometry, elevations with mullion lines and details of mullion shapes. These drawings will be provided to a number of curtainwall contractors so that they can develop bids and tender drawings. Tender drawings allow the contractor to show us their intentions and how closely they will be able to match our design. Once the contractor has been selected, we work closely with them to further develop and define the design. The contractor will then submit shop drawings for review by the architect and structural engineer. In addition, a visual mock-up will be constructed for aesthetic review and a performance mock-up for rigorous testing.

“Using the Red Building as an example, it was important that the contractor be creative so that we could achieve the curved, sloping form and incorporate a multitude of glass shapes. We worked to balance regularizing the curtainwall so that it was cost effective while still achieving the aesthetic goals of our design.” She continues, “One of the challenges was to design the system so that we could incorporate pure triangles of glass at the sharp prows on the east and west sides of the building. Good curtainwall contractors, like the one we worked with on the Red Building, are as committed to meeting the design and technical challenges as the architects.”

Architects agree that getting involved with the contract glaziers early on is critical.

“When working with glaziers we want to get them involved up front, particularly when we’re working on unique glazing or curtainwall designs or we want to work with glazing in a unique way, then we like to get with them and talk through the designs,” says Drew White, partner with Axis Architecture in Indianapolis. “Contract glaziers have access to glazing knowledge and information we may not know about.”

For example, White says the work his firm does typically has a modern, clean aesthetic.

“The absence of trim is important to us. We’re looking for clever ways to hide the trim. The glaziers’ knowledge can help with that,” says White.

Atlanta-based Rule Joy Trammel + Rubio does a lot of build-to-suite projects.

“So when you’re working on a multi-phase master plan, it’s very important to have the contract glazier involved fairly early, especially when owners are looking at sustainable issues, as well as aesthetic issues such as consistency and coloration,” says Rob Rule, the firm’s lead designer. “It’s critical to have the glazing subs involved early, as it helps bring all of those details together.”

He adds, “We’ve worked with a few contract glaziers early on—even before the project has been awarded out. They’ve come in early in the process and given feedback on details, system limitations, etc., and that’s always been very helpful.”

Installer Input
Jeff Haber, managing partner with W&W Glass LLC in Nanuet, N.Y., says his company works closely with architects for both conventional glazing systems as well as point-supported systems.

“Most architects do not have the expertise to implement the details of the glazing into their designs and that is why they contact us,” says Haber. “Some part of every day is spent with architects and engineers educating and problem solving with them to find the most appropriate solution for their needs. This relates to both, aesthetic, structural and mechanical solutions.”

Other contract glazing companies, such as Enclos, headquartered in Eagan, Minn., agree that working closely with architects is critical. Mic Patterson, director of strategic development at Enclos’ Advanced Technology Studio in Los Angeles, says the company is actively involved with architects as there have been a lot of significant changes in the industry. “A reshaping of the industry,” he says.

“There are a lot of levels at work and there are huge differences in project types … [we’ve seen] changes in the building skin driven by increasingly complex performance demands—acoustical, energy, comfort aspects—as well as increasingly complex geometric designs,” says Patterson. “We are seeing a step-change in the technological demands on the building skin.”

“The trick is letting us help as early as possible by joining the design team at the beginning so we both meet our objectives.”
—Jeff Haber, W&W Glass

Pushing Through
But nothing is perfect. One concern contract glaziers have voiced for decades is that architects have a tendency to create designs that in many cases appear unbuildable. And when speaking of designs, architects say that the relationship can, at times, render such a push-pull process.

“We find that a collaborative effort is the best way to work through design and constructability issues,” says Hawkins.

White also says he’s encountered similar experiences, particularly when it comes to designs that may appear unbuildable.

“I was traveling in Europe and I saw these unbelievable large spans of glass—unsupported glass—amazing the engineering and ingenuity there,” says White. “Perhaps in our culture we’re just more conservative by nature.”

But he adds, “We simply want to see the project built the way we’ve drawn it, and that makes the client happy. So collaboration happens a lot in the field where we want to make sure the glazing is installed the way it was designed.”

Rule says it’s getting everyone involved early on that helps make for a successful project.

“When we want to stretch the boundaries, that’s when we bring someone in to help us understand the limitations of the glazing system,” Rule says. “Collaboration can bring a project that’s smartly designed and at a good value.”

And while having the contract glazier involved early on in the design—even before the project is awarded—can be helpful to the architect, there can also be a downside for the contract glazier, as he may not actually end up with the job. So how do contract glaziers handle a case where, after providing so much work and attention up front, the job ultimately goes to another firm?

“We bite our tongues and try and take a longer term view of the relationship with that firm,” says Haber. “There are so many things that can go wrong when you bid a job: other bidders not having the right scope on purpose or by accident, mistakes by you or your competitors, schedule issues, contract/payment terms, etc. You have to be dedicated to taking the high road, working with the designers who can help you get closer to the buyers and doing everything you can to put yourself in a position to be successful. Over the long term it has worked very well for us.”

Patterson says, in actuality, contract glaziers do not get involved with the design team on innovative projects often enough or early enough.

“But we all try,” he says. “And when we do manage to get involved early in a project it does not mean that we will necessarily get the job. The investment we make in these projects pre-sale is at risk and lost if we are not awarded the work. This is no uncommon experience. It is an investment we are being increasingly asked to make and, whether it is fair or not, it does get us involved earlier in the process. It is the price we need to be prepared to ‘pay to play.’”

He continues, “Sometimes we are punished for our upfront involvement in a project. One of the frustrations common to contract glaziers is providing extensive upfront services on a project. In the process, the contractor typically develops a deep familiarity with the project, and knows where the problematic issues are. The contractor’s price at bid time reflects this knowledge. But there often seems to be a competing contractor willing to jump in at the last minute, and without any particular knowledge of the job, and throw out a number. There also often seems to be a general contractor or owner willing to accept that low number. The result is usually predictable: compromised quality, late delivery, lawsuits. None of that helps the glazing contractor that provided the upfront work and lost the job.”

Much to Know
Speaking from the contract glazier’s perspective, Haber says there is so much that the glazing professional can bring to a project—so long as they are involved early on.

“The glass professional is interested in building beautiful designs just as much as the architect is interested in designing them,”
Haber says. “The trick is letting us help as early as possible by joining the design team at the beginning so that we both meet our objectives.”

Haber, who says most of the work his company does follows a design-build style, adds, “Every glazing project has five key tenants that need to be addressed: budget, design intent, structural requirements, mechanical performance and schedule. The contract glazier is the one party who can bring clarity to the team relative to these tenants.”

Patterson has also seen a number of challenges, from both the architectural side as well as the contract glazing side.

“In some instances it’s as though there’s a lack of consideration for architects and vice versa. Architects, for example, don’t always invite our industry in early enough. If they are going to innovate they need key material suppliers involved early on. They need to call in those resources early in the process,” says Patterson. “On the other side, the architect’s job is getting tougher by the day as the performance enhancements and resulting variations of architectural glass continue their exponential [growth] curve of development. It was a much smaller universe five years ago. As an industry we [the glass professionals] need to work hard to help the design community assimilate these developments. The obligation on us is to maintain cutting-edge technical capabilities and expertise so that we can bring that to the architect.”

The Perfect Pair
There’s definitely a great relationship in the making between architects and contract glaziers—and for many players it’s already so. However, there are still those struggling to work together. Can the relationship be saved? According to Hawkins there are steps that the two groups can take to ensure success.

“Everyone on the team, from the design consultants to the contractors must believe that they have ownership of the project. That will result in a building that is well built and satisfies our design intentions,” she says.

Patterson adds that while there is much about glass to understand, architects don’t have to be experts on every little detail.

“It’s not as important that architects understand the exact performance properties of glass, but rather how important those properties are—and when and where to access that information before doing the design work,” he says. “It’s not that they need to know everything about glass, but that they integrate the expertise of the glass industry into their process.”

And Hawkins adds, “All architects should understand that if you want a building to be built the way you intended, the process needs to be a collaboration—you can push the envelope, but you must recognize when you’ve pushed enough.”

She continues, “Likewise, the best contractors are those who are willing to work creatively with a spirit of collaboration.”

Sure, there may always be concerns, challenges and disagreements, but White says that just like contract glaziers, architects also feel strongly about the use of glass.

“Glass is one of the most important materials we use. It’s as important to us as architects as it is to the glazier,” says White. “It’s a powerful material and we care about it, too.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal (AGG) magazine. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @AGGmagazine and like AGG magazine on Facebook to receive updates.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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