Volume 27, Issue 5- September/October 2013

Game Changers

Architectural Designs Around the World Drive New Façade Innovations
by Ellen Rogers

hen Hilla Rebay, the art advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim approached Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943 about designing what would become one of the world’s best-known art museums, she wanted something that would “stir the soul.” The architect’s design was challenged by his clients, city officials, the art world, and public opinion. Neither Guggenheim nor Wright was alive in 1959 when the structure opened in New York; today it is considered an architectural landmark. Was it ahead of its time? Perhaps. 

Architecture such as the Guggenheim, with its ziggurat, an upside down spiral façade, isn’t an aesthetic commonly built, even today, in the United States. Globally, however, architectural firms are embracing the use of glass and glazing materials and creating cutting-edge designs. While glass usage in applications around the world is not unlike that of the U.S.—homes and offices—the industry is seeing increasing design innovations, with Europe, China and the Middle East leading the charge.

Making a Statement

According to Stephen Weidner, vice president of sales and marketing and export sales with Pilkington North America, while glass may be used in the same type of structures country-to-country, there are differences in the way it’s used based on regional and unique cultural differences.

“Some regions like high reflectivity, whether for performance or aesthetics,” says Weidner. “If you look at the Middle East and China, they have cultural differences where they are interested in gold colors that signify power or prosperity.”

Bruce Milley is an architectural design manager for Guardian Industries, and has experience in North America, the Middle East, Africa and India, as well as the Asia/Pacific regions. He says the North American commercial market tends to mimic the European market, “and the same is true for monumental glass projects in the Middle East. As a result, we are seeing thicker glass, larger sizes, more neutrality in aesthetic appearance, more outdoor reflectivity, higher performance requirements, and consideration of triple glazed units.”

He says that while this trend is consistent with monumental projects in the Middle East, the challenge there is that the region requires a glass product with a lower amount of visible light transmission (VLT).

Dan Plotnick, architectural sales and marketing director - Asia Pacific, also with Guardian, adds, “What we're seeing as well in Singapore and Malaysia is their codes were based on European specifications. They were looking for high light transmittance and low solar heat gain coefficient and what they're realizing now is there is too much glare and VLT should be lowered. We see VLTs dropping as architects understand the implications.”

Going Up
One design trend taking shape far more globally than in the U.S. is the construction of what’s been called a super-tall building. Currently the world’s tallest structure is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai with its shimmering glass façade (see sidebar on page 17).

These structures, often sheathed in glass, are becoming common practices in some parts of the world. Weidner says the increase in the number of super-tall structures is, in part, due to the fact that in some countries urban density is much more prevalent compared to in the U.S., where laws allow for sprawl.

“In other places you have to build up rather than out,” he says.

But that’s not the only reason.

“Many overseas countries view these types of projects as a way to promote themselves and distinguish themselves architecturally,” says Milley. “Many of these iconic projects receive funding or preferred financing by the country themselves and it is essentially a public/private partnership. The opportunity for the developer is that the value of the land in the surrounding area increases dramatically and that can be very profitable.”

Plotnick agrees, “Cities outside the U.S., particularly in China, see these tall buildings as branding opportunities. What we see in places such as Singapore are high-specification products.”

“I think a lot goes back to prestige,” says Weidner. “Some of these countries move up the development chain wanting to show off their prosperity and show the world they’ve arrived, so to speak.”

“[These structures are] a way to attract high-profile tenants; a way to brand not only the city, but the project as well as the tenants,” says Plotnick.

As popular as they may be, these super-tall structures can also bring challenges.

“Glass is a transparent building product, it lets light in. It is also perceived as a high-tech/interesting building product in that it makes the structure look modern. These structures that are going up look modern, but must also manage the energy usage,” says Weidner. “Plus, the glass has to meet stringent loading requirements as you go higher and higher and you have to design that into the curtainwall, while still being both modern and efficient.”

Likewise, both Plotnick and Milley say they are seeing thicker glass used as the buildings tower to new heights, explaining that the increase in design windloads requires the glass to become thicker to ensure it provides both the windload resistance and an acceptable level of center deflection on the glass. An additional consideration for very high buildings is to have the outboard glass on the insulating units both heat-strengthened and laminated to ensure that no glass fallout is possible in the event of glass breakage.

You’ve Got Questions

With so much innovation in these designs, what, exactly, can glass and glazing provide to these architectural projects, and how can the glass industry help? These architectural wish lists, however, are not all that different compared to those for U.S. designs.

A lot of these designs are actually from U.S.-based architects doing projects around the world,” says Weidner, explaining they ask about efficiency, performance data, loading requirements, etc

“Across the board the trends are higher performance, bent glass, larger sizes, color neutrality, thicker glass, triple-glazed units, multiple coatings, fourth-surface low-E products, silkscreened frit,” says Milley.

Plotnick says in Asia architects are looking for the 2-1 light to solar heat gain ratio, while in tropical climates VLTs are starting to drop, along with SHGCs.

“We see more European specifications with high VLT dropping, as well,” he says. “The trend is understanding glare and reducing that visible noise. From an aesthetic point, it's not desirable and from an occupant's point it's not comfortable; it defeats the purpose and intention of the design. You shut the blinds and turn on the lights reducing any potential savings in energy costs.”

He continues, “Within this, architects still want neutrality; they don't want tints.” He adds that neutral gray and neutral blue are popular, “but they must be neutral. You achieve this through high-performance double and triple silver coatings.”

Innovative Thinking
According to these industry experts, there are a number of reasons architectural projects globally tend to be a bit more cutting edge than what’s common in the U.S., with one reason falling back on the all-important dollar. Weidner, for example, says many companies in the U.S. are more reluctant to spend money soley to be architecturally innovative.

“Often, we get calls from these architects designing around the world and I think [their questions] circle back to how other cultures are willing to spend more [for innovative designs] while in the U.S. we are more focused on efficiencies and costs.”

Plotnick adds, “You see more interesting design [internationally] because the developer is able to create more exciting designs because of shorter payback periods-- the greater the showpiece, the higher the sale.”

What Next?
As far as future trends, expect to see continual evolution. Weidner, for example, says he is seeing facades moving from static, in that they are just keeping the elements out, into ones that are more dynamic.

“The glass is unique because you can see out of it but [it incorporates] lighting and displays, BIPV applications, etc.,” he says, noting that in the U.S. we are seeing this somewhat with electrochromics, but the facades internationally are much more dynamic in their capabilities.

Experts agree we can also expect more double-skinned facades, increasingly larger glass sizes and various other innovations.

As for what the future holds, and as the glass industry continues to innovate—often driven by architectural requests—whatever that direction, expect it be impressive.

Skyscrapers Inch Closer to the Heavens

Dubai has its famed Burj Khalifa, but the world’s tallest building is getting a lot of company these days with the business of building skyscrapers suddenly booming as the global economy recovers. China and the Middle East have been the source of most of these bold architectural statements that are shooting towers all around the world to dizzying new heights.

More than 600 buildings of at least 200 meters (656 feet) in height - or about 60 stories high – are either currently under construction or in the planning stages, according to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

There are currently just three buildings in the world – the Burj Khalifa, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and China’s Taipei 101 - that stand at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) tall, but there are plans for 10 more by 2020, including the $1.2 billion Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That building is scheduled to become the world’s first 1,000-meter (3,280 feet) tower upon its completion in 2019.

“The simplest way to explain is that urbanization is happening at an extremely rapid pace,” says Daniel Safarik, an editor with Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. “And we do think we’re going to see even more tall buildings in the near future.”

The trend hasn’t caught on nearly as much in the United States, where more restrictive building codes often exist to make sure time-honored local landmark views are never obscured by high-rise buildings. Nevertheless, Matt Tinder, a spokesperson for the American Institute of Architects, says his organization has also noticed the trend, citing a recent positive Architecture Billings Index that pointed toward an increase ahead in nonresidential construction spending.

“I would say that, if the economy is getting better as a whole,” he says, “I’m sure there are more skyscrapers being built.”

The Burj Khalifa currently ranks as the world’s tallest building at 828 meters (2,717 feet). Overall, three of the four tallest buildings completed in 2012 were located in Dubai, including the 413-meter (nearly 1,355 feet) Princess Tower that ranks as the world’s tallest residential building.

China has likewise seen an explosion of mega towers, including the recently completed Shanghai Tower, which ranks as the world’s second-tallest building at 2,073 feet. Four of the five tallest buildings currently under construction are in China, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat website.

Overall, China lists 249 buildings standing at least 656 feet in height, with another 239 such structures currently under construction. Of those already completed, 25 percent (62 buildings) can be found in Hong Kong. Another 18 percent (44 buildings) are located in Shanghai.

The boom in China is as much about bragging rights as it is necessity as space is at a premium in the populous communist country with so many of its citizens being forced to leave the rural areas for more opportunity in the cities.

Space becomes a premium, meaning it will be easier to build up rather than out. The expansion has not come without its share of problems, however, as intense air pollution has become an issue in the cities with so many people crowded in close proximity.

But the Chinese are hardly alone in their rush to build big. In 2009, Europe listed only 19 buildings of at least 200 meters in height. The continent will feature 44 such buildings by the end of 2014, with 13 of those being in Moscow. No other European city will boast more than five, says the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower in Chicago is currently America’s tallest building and ranks ninth in the world at 1,451 feet. New York City’s One World Trade Center surpasses it at 1,776 feet. The building was constructed on the site of the former World Trade Center towers destroyed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

—John Hollis


Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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