Volume 46, Issue 11 - December 2011

Architects Guide To Glass & Metal

When Great Minds Come Together
Collaborative Efforts Help Ensure Architectural Success
by Ellen Rogers

Gone are the days of tall glass-box architecture. Take a look at some of the newest glass construction projects around the world and you’ll see that architectural designs have become increasingly geometric. As designs become increasingly complex, calling on glass to do more and more from both structural and performance levels, it’s also making the relationship between the design professional and the glazing professional one of great importance.

Some say this relationship historically has been one of strife; no one listens to the other and other such complaints. However, those on the progressive side are embracing the qualities and benefits that each party can offer, recognizing that by working together and keeping the communication channels open, great architectural feats can be achieved.

Architectural Views
Kristin Hawkins is a senior associate with Pelli Clarke Pelli in New Haven, Conn. She says her firm works very closely with contract glaziers.

“We produce a set of drawings that describes basic information: geometry, elevations with mullion lines and details of mullion shapes. These drawings will be provided to a number of curtainwall contractors so that they can develop bids and tender drawings,” says Hawkins. “Tender drawings allow the contractor to show us their intentions and how closely they will be able to match our design. Once the contractor has been selected, we work closely with them to further develop and define the design. The contractor will then submit shop drawings for review by the architect and structural engineer. In addition, a visual mock-up will be constructed for aesthetic review and a performance mock-up for rigorous testing.”

Architects agree that getting involved with contract glaziers early on is critical.

“When working with glaziers we want to get them involved up front, particularly when we’re working on unique glazing or curtainwall designs or we want to work with glazing in a unique way, then we like to get with them and talk through the designs,” says Drew White, partner with Axis Architecture in Indianapolis. “Contract glaziers have access to glazing knowledge and information we may not know about.”

Atlanta-based Rule Joy Trammel + Rubio does a lot of build-to-suit projects.

“So when you’re working on a multi-phase master plan, it’s very important to have the contract glazier involved fairly early,” says Rob Rule, the firm’s lead designer. “We’ve worked with a few contract glaziers early on—even before the project has been awarded out. They’ve come in early in the process and given feedback on details, system limitations, etc., and that’s always been very helpful.”

Installer Input
Jeff Haber, managing partner with W&W Glass LLC in Nanuet, N.Y., says his company works closely with architects for both conventional glazing systems as well as point-supported systems.

“Most architects do not have the expertise to implement the details of the glazing into their designs and that is why they contact us,” says Haber. “Some part of every day is spent with architects and engineers educating and problem solving with them to find the most appropriate solution for their needs.

Other contract glazing companies, such as Enclos, headquartered in Eagan, Minn., agree that working closely with architects is critical. Mic Patterson, director of strategic development at Enclos’ Advanced Technology Studio in Los Angeles, says the company is actively involved with architects.

“There are a lot of levels at work and there are huge differences in project types … [we’ve seen] changes in the building skin driven by increasingly complex performance as well as increasingly complex geometric designs,” says Patterson.

Pushing Through
But nothing is perfect. One concern contract glaziers have voiced for decades is that architects have a tendency to create designs that in many cases appear unbuildable.

“We find that a collaborative effort is the best way to work through design and constructability issues,” says Hawkins.

White says he’s encountered similar experiences.

“I was traveling in Europe and I saw these unbelievable large spans of glass—unsupported glass—amazing the engineering and ingenuity there,” says White. “Perhaps in our culture we’re just more conservative by nature.”

Rule says it’s getting everyone involved early on that helps make for a successful project.

“When we want to stretch the boundaries, that’s when we bring someone in to help us understand the limitations of the glazing system,” Rule says.

And while having the contract glazier involved early on can be helpful to the architect, there can also be a downside for the contract glazier, as he may not actually end up with the job. So how do contract glaziers handle such a case?

“We bite our tongues and try and take a longer term view of the relationship with that firm,” says Haber. “There are so many things that can go wrong when you bid a job: other bidders not having the right scope on purpose or by accident, mistakes by you or your competitors, schedule issues, contract/payment terms, etc. You have to be dedicated to taking the high road, working with the designers who can help you get closer to the buyers and doing everything you can to put yourself in a position to be successful.”

Patterson says, in actuality, contract glaziers do not get involved with the design team on innovative projects often enough or early enough.

“But we all try,” he says. “And when we do manage to get involved early in a project it does not mean that we will necessarily get the job. The investment we make in these projects pre-sale is at risk and lost if we are not awarded the work. This is no uncommon experience. It is an investment we are being increasingly asked to make and, whether it is fair or not, it does get us involved earlier in the process.”

He continues, “Sometimes we are punished for our upfront involvement in a project. One of the frustrations common to contract glaziers is providing extensive upfront services on a project. In the process, the contractor typically develops a deep familiarity with the project, and knows where the problematic issues are. The contractor’s price at bid time reflects this knowledge. But there often seems to be a competing contractor willing to jump in at the last minute, and without any particular knowledge of the job, throw out a number. There also often seems to be a general contractor or owner willing to accept that low number. The result is usually predictable: compromised quality, late delivery, lawsuits. None of that helps the glazing contractor that provided the upfront work and lost the job.”

The Perfect Pair
Patterson says that while there is much about glass to understand, architects don’t have to be experts on every little detail.

“It’s not as important that architects understand the exact performance properties of glass, but rather how important those properties are—and when and where to access that information before doing the design work,” he says.
And though there may always be challenges, White says that just like contract glaziers, architects also feel strongly about glass.

“Glass is one of the most important materials we use. It’s as important to us as architects as it is to the glazier,” says White. “It’s a powerful material and we care about it, too.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass &?Metal magazine. She can be reached at erogers@glass.comor follow her on Twitter @AGGmagazine and like AGG magazine on Facebook to receive updates.

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