Volume 27, Issue 4 - JulyAugust 2013

Lean On Me

Teamwork is What Made Construction of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission a Big Success

by Ellen Rogers

If an architectural specification came across your desk calling for more than a dozen unique curtainwall types what would you do? Gather up a team of strong players and work together to make the vision a reality. That was the case with the newly-constructed San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) headquarters. Designed as a joint venture by KMD Architects and Stevens Architects, the project has been dubbed a “poster child of sustainability” and was one made possible with a multitude of glass products in hundreds of shapes and sizes.

Completed in 2012, the 14-story tower spans 277,511 gross square feet and earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum rating. It features about 50,000 square feet of glazing fabricated by Hartung with PPG as the primary glass supplier. In addition to its energy performance, the project also had to be designed and built with seismic considerations in mind.

At first glance a project like this may seem intimidating for some, but Benson Industries in Portland, Ore., was up for the task. John Beaulieu, vice president of business development, says it all started when his company was invited to put together a proposal for the project.

“Once we saw the building [plans], the curtainwalls and specialty nature of the work we felt it was something we would eventually want to build,” he says.

Jeff Rosenburg, SFPUC project manager with Benson, adds, “Every project we do is a completely custom curtainwall,” he adds. “We went in with the architect and worked with them to design a system to match their aesthetic requirements, thermal requirements, etc.”

Fresh Start
“We start every project with a clean canvas and take what the architects want and make it buildable,” says Rosenburg, pointing out they built about 200 new dies specifically for this project. “Every job is 100-percent custom,” he says.

As a result, more than a dozen different curtainwall types were built and installed for the SFPUC. One unique detail of the project can be seen on the east elevation. Rosenburg explains this area features cold-formed units.

“As you build the frame in the shop the glass is built out of square and as you install it the units are intentionally warped and anchored to the building,” he says, noting this creates a curved glass detail, and that you have to anticipate the out-of-square component.

To help add in the design of such an intricate part of the job, 3-D modeling was essential.

“Everyone [on the project] provided a 3-D model to coordinate warping of the structure, etc.” says Rosenburg, who adds, “As building [designs] get more complex, [constructing them is becoming] more complex and so a lot is done now with 3-D modeling.

“The software is getting better and better and we’re able to use it more and more [to create these models] we can then share with others [on a project].”

Beaulieu agrees,“We’re seeing BIM requirements specified on almost every major project.”

Also adding to the project complexities, Benson was responsible for all components of the exterior envelope.

“What Webcor (the general contractor) likes to do on its projects is have one subcontractor responsible for everything on the enclosure of the building,” says Rosenburg. “And we were awarded everything on outside of the building … we even did the roll-up garage doors.” Other elements for which they were responsible included granite walls, sloping curtainwalls, exterior Venetian blinds, all of the interior roller shades on vertical walls, exterior sunshades and light shelves, among others.

“This building has just about every type of glazing you can imagine,” he adds.

Another unique feature is the wind tower on the north elevation, which also warps to create a ventricle effect.

The glass forms a wind foil so as the wind comes up it funnels into four vertical wind turbines and the glass is doing the work of funneling the air,” says Rosenburg.

Piece by Piece
The new SFPUC headquarters officially opened its doors in June 2012, though the project began about two years prior for Benson. It took about a year before the team moved into the field where they had a six-month timeframe for installation. Rosenburg says this wasn’t necessarily a tight schedule to complete a 14-story tower, but the difficulty was the complexity of the project.

With so many systems and so much glass, having a solid team on which to rely is critical. Hartung Industries was one of those important players.

According to Bob Morse, northwest sales manager with Hartung, his company got involved with this project since they are a PPG-certified fabricator and PPG glass was specified for the job, specifically Solarban 70 and Starphire.

“The architect held firm in staying with that,” says Morse. “So the main debate was coating after tempered and that was a concern because of roller wave distortion. We were able to achieve less than 5/1000th of inch in roller wave distortion and everyone was happy.”

“That was challenging because there is a portion of the front façade that leans at an angle as you are standing in front of it. When you look up at that angle, it will be really evident if you have roller wave or any type of distortion,” adds Kirk Johnson, Hartung COO.

Morse says Hartung’s scope was to supply roughly 50,000 square feet of vision Solarban 70 over ¼-inch Starphire. There was a portion that was also fritted and they supplied the glass for the wind tower, which features ½-inch tempered Starphire glass. Due to the uniqueness of the project with its many different shapes and sizes, Morse says the glazing for the wind tunnel was the only high-volume portion of the project.

Glazing is also used significantly on the interior and for that Morse says they worked with Progress Glass based in San Francisco.

As most everyone will agree, building and construction practices are changing rapidly, and becoming increasingly complex.

“When I started 30 years ago, buildings were square or rectangular high rises … and as software has improved architects are taking advantage of that and they are twisting and warping (the buildings) creating these free-form designs,” says Rosenburg. “As buildings get more complex geometrically, it takes more communication among the trades. Plus, thermal requirements have increased; everything has gotten more and more complex.”

Beaulieu agrees and says it is almost the norm now to have extensive collaboration. He says the glazing side of a project needs to be on board throughout this process—as do the others involved because buildings “are being designed for the environment in which they live and the environment dictates this collaboration taking place.”

Such coordination was also essential. In fact Morse of Hartung attributes the main cause of their success to the pre-planning.

“We had numerous meetings with the fabricators and project managers at Benson,” says Morse. “There was lots of project coordination and a lot involved and that paid off.”

Johnson explains that prior to shipping any glass a representative from Benson visited their facilities to inspect the glass and make sure it was acceptable.

And Rosenburg agrees that working with Hartung was a smooth process.

“It went well with them and they were there to back us up when we needed it,” he says.

All in all, fabrication took three to four months. Johnson says communication was also important because besides the significant volume of glass Hartung was producing, the company was also depending on its numerous branches working together. In fact some products traveled as far as 200 miles between facilities in Vancouver and Washington.

“…This project was a success for us in terms of our locations working closely together to provide a win for our customer,” says Johnson. “We are very good at doing tempered, laminated, insulating, Argon filling, ceramic frit … multiple processes at different locations. We’re good at having all of our players on the team working together.”

How does Hartung make this work among its facilities?

“Typically we have a gatekeeper. That person is the project manager who works with a key person at each location,” says Johnson. “We build a team for the project and one person is the head. We use technology such as, etc., to meet and discus the progress. It’s also a collaborative effort with the customer and we bring them in for regular meetings.” Johnson adds that they also limit the dialog on the project to those working on it so others are not getting involved.

Defining Details
In addition to the overall unique aesthetic the completed project features, those involved say there are also a number details that stand out. For Rosenburg this includes being involved with the exterior Venetian blinds, the interior roller shades and the overall lighting requirements of the building.

“We were very involved with all of that and how [light] interacts with interior offices space,” he says.

With no two projects being exactly the same, there is always something new to take away from a project. For Beaulieu, however, it’s hard for him to say just what that is with the SFPUC headquarters.

“It was a complicated custom curtainwall and … it’s difficult to point out what we learned as we’re involved with these on a daily basis,” he says. “However, as architects become more involved with complex, high-performance cladding, we all grow day-to-day. Look at the thermal requirements of the last 20 years and you see nothing is like what we were doing 45 years ago. It’s just the evolution of change.”

Johnson is also excited about the outcome and looking forward to taking on similar projects in the future.

“We like this work and we’re geared for it; this is our sweet spot and we like seeking this type of project,” he says, adding they are doing more on the front end to get involved in specifications.

“We see the value of being involved further upstream and we’re looking to grow there,” he says. AGG

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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