Volume 44, Issue 10 - October 2009



Something New, Blue
Glass is a Key Design Feature of the New Spa at Miami’s Fontainebleau
by Ellen Rogers

Curvy, flamboyant, new-baroque and modern are just a few words that have been used to describe the design style of the late architect Morris Lapidus, well known for his work on Miami’s Fontainebleau hotel. In its prime, the 55-year-old Fontainebleau was considered “the” place to be.

In early 2005, the hotel’s new ownership embarked on a project to revitalize and restore the property. Included in the plans was the addition of a world-class spa—a freestanding building constructed of soothing, blue glass.

While the renovation was complete in late 2008, the design and planning stages actually began in 2005. Rick Lee, a principal with HKS Architects Inc. in Dallas, was brought on to head up the architectural team and was involved in designing what would become the new Lapis Spa. He says that in meeting with the owners early on to discuss their vision for the spa, he learned that they truly wanted it to be very different from the rest of the property.

“Because it is a historic property we were very cognizant and sensitive to designing with respect to the original architecture, but since the spa building was a new component the owners felt we could do something new and contemporary,” says Lee. “Given that [architect Morris Lapidus] was considered very progressive for the time period we tried to think of what he might do with a brand new facility if he were alive today. The owner presented us with a concept image of a jewel box and asked that we explore draping the exterior with water. In essence, the owners wanted a glass box with water on the roof and all surfaces of the exterior walls.”

Having water flow all over the building may have been intriguing, but it posed a number of challenges. Instead, a water theme was still carried out throughout the project.

“We ultimately selected a blue glass that reflected the owner’s desire—something that from the interior looking out wasn’t going to convey a dominant blue tint and from the exterior looking back at it offered a deep, rich, blue that subtly reflected its environment,” Lee says.

Lee adds, “What is interesting, if you look at the building from certain angles you can see the historic Château tower in the background reflecting off the spa building. While the spa building sits in its own contemporary context it still reflects the historic significance of the Chateau.”

The spa features 1 5/16-inch, insulating, impact-laminated glass from Viracon constructed with a Vanceva Storm interlayer. The framing system was a YKK AP YHC 300 SSG curtainwall that Boca Raton, Fla.-based Accurate Glass Works, the project contract glazier, customized for the project.

Unique Details
Because the spa building wasn’t a typical box construction project, customization was key. Design criteria called for the glass to cant outward 10 degrees while maintaining the horizontal mullions on the interior and the custom horizontal covers on the exterior in the same plane as the straight vertical wall.

In order to make the design work Accurate Glass Works modified the specified YKK system to fit the requirements. Rob Parker, president of Accurate Glass Works, says they had worked with YKK on numerous projects in the past and his company was comfortable taking on this job, which would require additional testing and design work. The Accurate team, in fact, produced 15 custom dies for the project.

“I think the architect had a vision for what the spa was going to be and I don’t think you’ll see many other buildings that look like it,” says Tim O’Connor, project manager with Accurate. O’Connor explains that the spans for the spa building’s design were a bit different than what YKK had in its existing Miami-Dade Notice of Acceptance (NOA) product approvals.

“We worked with our engineer to make the necessary modifications and brought that sample to Hurricane Test Lab; it was a full-size sample and we passed on the first test,” says O’Connor.

Hurricane Ready
In addition to the challenges posed by the unique aesthetics, the project also had to be hurricane-code compliant. When working with hurricane glazing systems there are a number of considerations to take into account from both a design as well as installation perspective.

For Lee, who says he had not worked on a hurricane-glazing project before, one difference he discovered is related to the limitations of the glass panel sizes.

“Because we wanted a horizontal appearance, we went with a butt-joint glazing system and expressed the horizontal mullions; we learned there was a limitation on the overall panel size so we detailed the exterior elevations accordingly,” he says.

“Because code requirements dictated overall panel sizes, to achieve specific height spans we were limited to specific widths. We worked within those parameters to come up with an overall look that was visually appealing.”

Designing to meet hurricane requirements can sometimes mean making changes and adjustments to ensure the project will meet the codes. For example, Lee says they had originally wanted the outside corners to be butt-joined to create a glass box with horizontal mullions that wrapped and held it together. However, after testing they learned that given the outside corner and both walls canting outward, the glass would not be able to handle small hurricane impact tests at the corners and needed to be held with a vertical mullion.

Though Lee was new to hurricane glazing, the Accurate Glass Works team was well versed since glazing in South Florida is either impact-rated or must have shutters. Still, Parker says there are some differences from conventional glazing that have to be taken into account. “The systems are relatively similar in design with the exception that, in an impact system, the glass has to be structurally attached to the framing system with a structural silicone so if it is impacted it does not fall out of the frame,” he explains.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal.

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