Volume 44, Issue 11 - November 2009


An Artist’s Use of Glass
The Art Gallery of Ontario Keeps Art “Open” through Extensive Use of Glass
by Megan Headley

The expanded Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto puts light on display, thanks to its use of glass throughout. A $260 million-plus Frank Gehry expansion enlarged the AGO by 97,000 square feet and increased art-viewing space by 47 percent. It also improved the views in and out, as glass was used extensively to connect the city to the activity of the gallery.

The transformation was not only lengthy, but challenging: despite the generous glazing, no standard units can be found on this highly custom project, as unique as the artwork it contains.

“It was a tough job,” says Mary Carol Witry, president of engineered products–Canada for Oldcastle Glass® based in Santa Monica, Calif. All of the curtainwall engineering, fabrication and assembly was done at the Oldcastle Glass facility in Toronto, while the installation work was done by glazing contractor Antamex International Inc., now Oldcastle Glass Engineered Products (see September 2006 USGlass page 22).

“Most of the custom curtainwall projects we work on involve a significant level of design expertise,” Witry explains. She adds, “We worked closely throughout the project with the contractor, the architect and the entire construction team to ensure that we accomplished both their aesthetic and performance needs.”

When working on a Gehry project, with its custom requirements, close coordination is a must.

“[The gallery] officially called it ‘the AGO Transformation’ because it’s a big old building that’s been there for 80 years and it got a facelift. That kind of reconstruction is slow and done in phases, and each area had its changes,” explains Ray Wakefield, commercial sales manager of Trulite Industries Ltd. In Mississauga, Ontario, a part of Arch Aluminum & Glass Co. Inc.


The Specs
Although the AGO combines glass with some unusual materials, the glass itself was rather straightforward. The gallery features Pilkington glass throughout, as well as Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Guardian Glass’ SunGuard SuperNeutral (SN) 68. Viracon of Owatonna, Minn., supplied approximately 14,000 square feet of its VE1-2M glass for use in the main feature wall. Trulite Industries fabricated nearly 70,000 square feet of glass for the project.

“Everything we supplied was factory-glazed,” Wakefield says. He adds, “Antamex is one of the pioneers in factory glazing—they’ve been doing it for more than 25 years—so everything was sent to their shop for factory glazing.”

Prior to installation, Oldcastle Glass tested the curtainwall assemblies for air, water, structural, inter-story differential movement, thermal cycling and condensation resistance at Construction Research Laboratory in Miami.

Among the unusual materials AGO viewers might come across is a wood laminate called glulam. A glass-and-wood façade spans 600 feet along Dundas Street and rises 70 feet above street level. “We supplied a curtainwall system that gets attached to the wood laminate,” Witry says. Structurlam in Penticton, British Columbia, supplied the Douglas fir glulam.

“What we thought would be the most challenging part of the project—the gallery façade—turned out to go very smoothly,” Witry adds of that section. She explains, “We were careful to make sure our systems had the right geometry to match up with the glulam structure and we spent a lot of our time testing and analyzing our designs both in the calculations and reviewing drawings. That part went very well.”

The concern stemmed less from the materials on the job than the new tools necessary to work on a Gehry project.

“All the trades were required to use 3D modeling using CATIA (computer aided three-dimensional interactive application) software to verify that all the systems worked together,” Witry explains. It was the first time that Oldcastle Glass had used this particular software on which Gehry Technologies’ Digital Project™ suite of 3D building information modeling (BIM) and management tools is based.


The Nitty Gritty
The sculpture gallery that extends 450 feet along the north side of the building enables visitors to see out onto the street and passersby to see into the gallery. The 37,000 square feet of vision glass that makes up the north façade is comprised of 5-foot wide by 10-foot tall insulating glass (IG) units. The exterior lite is 6-mm heat-strengthened SN 68, while the interior is 5-mm over 5-mm laminated heat-strengthened glass, with a 1.5-mm clear interlayer. The airspace is filled with a thermal warm-edge spacer and argon gas.

Wakefield points out that the façade “curves from the top to the bottom and then it curves from east to the west. The units are for the most part flat, and the curve is achieved by segmenting …”

According to Witry, triple glazing was used for the 16,000 square feet of vision glass at the gallery’s north façade gable ends. These units measure 5 feet wide by 14 feet tall. About 4,200 square feet of 5-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall laminated insulating glass units were used for the vision areas of the AGO north façade east and west “tares.”

“In addition to the curtainwall, we did about 600 lineal feet of stainless steel gutter at the facade, operable vents in the galleria façade and then the curved laminated glass at the feature stairs,” Witry says.

It was the curving north and south feature stairways that provided new challenges for Oldcastle Glass, the first of which was assembly. The stairs called for 4,000 square feet of curved glass, measuring 5 feet wide by 8 feet tall. The stairways are made up of 6-mm over 9.5-mm laminated heat-strengthened glass with a 1.5-mm clear interlayer, cold formed to achieve that curve.

Wakefield explains the process: “If you took a sealed unit and laid it flat on a table and put a 2-by-4 under one corner of it, you would be lifting that corner or bending the unit slightly—and that’s what was done in about 200 units on the façade.”

Although cold-forming was, at that time, out-of-the-ordinary for Oldcastle Glass, Witry says, it required only a little extra attention rather than totally new processes. “We have all of the required equipment in-house,” she says, adding, “we had to go through specific testing to make sure that the glass and the assembly of the unit would withstand the pressure we were putting on the glass by cold-forming it. It just required a little bit of extra testing.”

While the assembly turned out to be relatively simple, installation threw in another wrench.

“We had some challenges just working through site logistics on [some] areas, such as the feature stairs. There were many trades working in a very condensed area, making it very difficult to maneuver large units,” Witry says.


A New Gem
Although the project was being designed as early as November 2002, construction began in June 2005. Because the project was done in phases, Trulite and Oldcastle Glass each were providing products and services for three years. Finally, on November 14, 2008, the AGO opened its doors to the public.

“The unique nature of doing a Gehry project I don’t think is comparable to any other project,” Witry says. “It’s a great experience but it’s an engineering feat to make it happen. You need to really have exceptional design and engineering resources and a strong project team.”


Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.









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