The New Hot Spot  
City Growth Pushes  
Fire-Rated Glazing to the Exterior  
By Nick St. Denis  
ire-rated glazing has long been used on the The Rise of Cities  
interior of buildings to delay or prevent fire  
from spreading. A recent trend in the indus-  
“As population densities increase, it’s become  
more efficient to build upward and closer togeth-  
try, however, has been the implementation of er,” says Jeff Razwick, president of Technical Glass  
rated products on building exteriors.  
This has been driven by one key fac-  
tor—the growth of cities. As the population  
grows, so does the need for buildings to house  
and service it. Buildings get closer together in  
highly concentrated areas, which puts an increased  
emphasis on fire requirements in codes.  
Products (TGP) in Snoqualmie, Wash. “This has  
led to narrower property line setbacks which, in  
turn, has generated an increase in the number of  
buildings required to use fire-rated materials as an  
exterior separation by code.”  
Fire-rated materials such as gypsum and mason-  
ry can satisfy these requirements, but their opacity  
In an effort to maintain its place on the wall, the restricts the light transfer and visibility architects  
glass industry has continued to push itself in the  
fire-rated category. It has raised awareness among  
the architectural community about the capabilities  
of fire-resistive glazing, so glass doesn’t get replaced  
by other building products on the exterior.  
and building owners demand. Fire-rated glass  
emerged as a solution.  
“It allows design teams to provide transparency  
while meeting stringent fire and life safety crite-  
ria,” says Razwick.  
Daylighting and access to views is a major focus in  
modern design of educational facilities. These facilities  
very burdensome and can affect other parts of the  
building… with the [exterior glazing] being such a key  
A Case  
in Point  
also have stringent fire code requirements, making exte- piece to the project.”  
rior fire-rated glazing an ideal solution in their design.  
Bray Architects implemented three stories of  
fire-rated curtainwall glazing,  
Cost and complications in design implementation of  
fire-rated glazing can be further reduced by fully under-  
standing early on what’s required in the codes for a par-  
ticular project and what’s available in the marketplace.  
“In this project, we had a pretty good idea of the  
code requirements, based the overall design scheme  
and as far as the building layout was concerned,”  
says Stark. “We were able to catch the fire require-  
supplied by SaftiFirst, to the  
recently completed Kromery  
Middle School in Middleton,  
Wisc. Project architect Nathan  
Stark says the availability of  
fire-rated glazing for the exterior ments very soon, which obviously makes it much easi-  
allows architects to achieve the  
aesthetics and performance  
glass provides while still meet-  
ing certain requirements.  
er to discuss with the client than realizing you need to  
change to a fire-rated product at the 11th hour.”  
This also allows the architect to work with the  
glass supplier on getting a glass that matches the  
original design as closely as possible.  
It’s another tool in the tool-  
box… it can be an expensive  
tool to use, but when necessary,  
it definitely opens up options  
for us, which is really nice,” he  
“[For the Kromerly Project], we did end up going  
back and forth in terms of transparency, as there can  
be a slight difference in tint when it comes to fire-rat-  
ed,” says Stark. “But for the most part, it didn’t really  
says. “In my experience, switch- affect the design. We were able to accommodate the  
ing to another material can be change fairly easily.”  
Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal  
The Mossom Creek Salmon Hatchery near Vancouver, B.C., uses a fire-rated glass  
floor system from Vetrotech that doubles as a skylight.  
Tim Nass, vice president of national sales at  
Brisbane, Calif.-based Safti First, has seen the  
rapid evolution of fire-rated glazing from ordinary  
two-hour wall, and when  
we put our products in, it’s  
not an opening. It’s trans-  
interior applications to large expanses on the exte- parent, but it’s still a wall,  
rior of buildings.  
barrier or partition. That’s  
a hard thing to reconcile.”  
Manufacturers in  
When I started [with Safti First] in 2009,  
probably 80 percent of our business was loose  
monolithic lites of glass going to someone else for  
the industry are doing  
framing,” he says. “We then started to see demand everything they can to get  
for more systems applications than just sidelites,  
doorlites and transoms.”  
Demand for daylight transfer within spaces  
brought one- and two-hour interior fire-resistive  
products, and code stringency in densely populat-  
ed areas moved the needle for exterior solutions.  
this message across. For  
Fire-resistive curtainwall from Safti First helps the  
example, the regional sales San Jose Downtown Health Center meet fire and  
managers of Vetrotech Saint- seismic requirements.  
Gobain, based in Auburn,  
Wash., make AIA presentations and hold lunch-and-  
learns with architects.  
Now 60 percent of what we do is system-relat-  
“I think it’s pivotal on the front end to edu-  
cate architects about what they can include and  
specify in their projects as it relates to fire-rated  
glazing,” says Joe Traynor, engineering manager  
at Vetrotech. “… And really, being out in front  
with architects is the best way to show them we are  
there for them. It’s very important to be perceived  
as technical experts and to provide that service.”  
Vetrotech recently premiered a new AIA  
Continuing Education course that explores “how  
to push the design envelope with fire-rated glazing  
and framing systems.” Other companies in the  
industry are taking similar measures to ensure  
architects are fully up to speed.  
ed,” says Nass. “And of that, 45 percent is exteri-  
or—and of that, I’d say 50 percent has some kind  
of dual purpose. … It’s been a rapid evolution of  
fire-rated products, from fragmented loose lites of  
glass to large exterior systems. That’s why archi-  
tects are trying to play catch-up.”  
Staying Informed  
Fire-rated glazing is unique because while it is  
transparent, it isn’t considered an “opening” as far  
as building codes are concerned.  
“People talk about a two-hour window, but  
there’s really no such thing—it’s actually a wall,”  
says Nass. “Just because you can see through it, that  
doesn’t change what it actually is. The code will  
say there are no openings allowed in the one- or  
Razwick adds that manufacturers and suppli-  
continued on page 20  
Winter 2017  
The New Hot Spot  
continued from page 19  
ers play a key role in helping architects under-  
“With so many options in the market, the reali-  
ty is they simply don’t have the time to keep track  
of which ones meet codes and provide the neces-  
sary lot line protection,” he says. “Manufacturers  
and suppliers that work closely with the architect  
are also better equipped to make any product or  
design adjustments that get the system closer to  
the look the architect is after.”  
stand the differences between fire-resistive and  
fire-protective products, as well as which products  
are best suited for a particular job.  
Smooth Transitions  
A major element driving the development  
for fire-rated glazing products for the exterior is  
the need for seamless transitions and aesthetics.  
“Architects want the fire-rated portion to match  
the non-rated glass adjacent to it,” says Traynor.  
Razwick adds that as architects use more fire-rat-  
ed glazing, manufacturers want to make sure  
they’re able to achieve their desired design intent.  
The exterior helps set the tone for the entire  
building, and design professionals shouldn’t have  
to sacrifice looks for codes in such a highly visi-  
ble area,” he says. TGP developed a curtainwall  
product that uses a toggle retention system that  
The 929 Office Tower in Bellevue, Wash., uses Technical Glass Products’ fire-resistive  
assembly that includes a toggle retention system, which becomes hidden once installed.  
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becomes completely hidden once installed, which  
is demonstrated in LMN Architect’s recently com-  
pleted 929 Office Tower in Bellevue, Wash.  
Only select portions of the ground-floor exte-  
rior were required to provide fire protection by  
code,” says Razwick. “The monolithic aesthetic  
of [our system] helped make it possible to create  
smooth visual transitions at these junctions.”  
Sometimes, fire-rated glazing manufacturers are  
challenged with trying to help remediate a predic-  
ament created by an oversight or judgment by the  
project team after the project is well underway.  
Nass says he often fields calls in which a project  
team realized it has to meet certain fire require-  
ments in an area of the exterior where it initially  
specified a non-rated product.  
This is a situation where they were designing  
around non-rated suppliers,” says Nass. “And of  
course, with architects and glass, bigger is better,  
and with a few intermediates as possible. But  
when you test and list a fire-rated product, you’re  
bound by the restrictions and limitations of what  
you tested, while those same limitations don’t  
apply to non-rated products.”  
We are the first manufacturer to provide a complete structural system for your  
walkable skylight, glass deck and glass flooring projects. Our systems are  
self-supporting and are available in standard units, as well as custom sizes. We  
offer a variety of standard anti-slip walk on surfaces in addition to custom cast  
or organic textures. Glass Flooring Systems Inc. provides an extremely cost  
effective solution for a feature which is often value engineered out of a project.  
He adds that while manufacturers are often  
able to come up with a solution, “the design com-  
munity has to understand that there are limita-  
tions to those rated products. Our job is to make  
those limitations the least impactful as possible  
from an aesthetics standpoint.”  
Fully independent structural framing  
6063-T6 extruded aluminum construction  
Thermally broken frames Stepped design frame Standard & custom sizes  
Pre-engineered system Snap-on setting blocks Various tested anti-slip surfaces  
Integrated LED lighting (optional) U-Value tested Hurricane impact tested  
Air and water infiltration tested  
Meeting the Needs  
Walkable skylights  
Structural glass floor slabs  
Glass decks  
Stair treads  
With the increase in fire-rated glass on the exteri-  
or, applications are getting more and more unique.  
Vetrotech, for example, recently supplied 290  
Winner of the USGlass readerʼs choice award,  
Home of the patented  
-by-4-foot units for a walkable fire-rated glass  
floor at the Transbay Transit Center terminal in  
San Francisco. The glass, a load-bearing assembly  
and textured walking surface, had to meet seismic  
requirements in addition to a two-hour fire rating.  
most significant new glass flooring product”  
We had quite a few engineers working on that  
project to ensure it passed testing for an earth-  
quake or blast event,” says Traynor.  
Air and water performance is another key con-  
sideration for architects.  
While not all projects are this intricate, the  
fire-rated glazing industry continues to position  
itself to meet the wide-ranging needs of the archi-  
tectural community—even the most basic ones.  
Energy efficiency is a leading driver in modern  
design, and the building envelope plays a critical  
role. The fire-rated industry addresses this by  
implementing its products in insulating glass units  
and solar control applications, and incorporating  
thermal break technology when needed.  
“As a part of the exterior building envelope, it’s  
crucial for the fire-rated glazing system to stand up to  
fire, as well as the day-to-day elements,” says Razwick.  
“… The same factors that are considered with non-  
fire-rated aluminum curtainwall performance also  
carry over to best practices when it comes to fire-rat-  
ed system design.”  
Nick St. Denis is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass &  
Metal. He can be reached at  
Winter 2017  

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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