Volume 46, Issue 1 - January/February 2011


Home Sweet Curtainwall

Glass Curtainwall Works Its Way Into One Eye-Popping Home
by Katie Hodge

Occasionally a project comes along that is so unique that you can’t miss out on the opportunity to be a part of it. For Jeff Johnson, David Hardy and Mark Knutson the chance to work on a residential glass curtainwall piqued their interest.

Something Different
“When we first saw the plans we knew that this was something that was very different from anything that anyone in this valley has done—both in the type of construction and the aesthetics of it,” recalls David Hardy, co-owner of Sunridge Builders, a Las Vegas-based company known for its hillside, slope and extreme homes.

The plan was to build a house on the side of a cliff that was different from every other house. In order to accomplish this it became clear that the use of a curtainwall would be necessary.

“We got together with the architect and reviewed his design intent and, at that point, it was pretty clear that the only product we could use was a commercial curtainwall. That is very uncommon for a residential project,” says Jeff Johnson, owner of Henderson, Nev.-based Architectural Solutions, a company that serves as a manufacturer’s representative for EFCO Corp., Major Industries, ASI Monett and Tajima USA.

“When it came up I questioned why we were using a curtainwall on this job,” recalls Johnson. The architect, Lino Rossi of Goldman, Firth, Rossi Architects in Malibu, Calif., explained that, in addition to being a key design element, the structure was so large that a curtainwall would be necessary.

“Lino Rossi had his head around the whole thing from the very beginning. He pushed us in the right direction and we designed everything around his intent,” adds Johnson.

While the companies involved in the project had worked with curtainwall materials before, this project had a variety of hurdles to jump. The home’s unique location created some building issues that took longer than your average house.

“There were a lot of areas that were difficult to access. They carved into a rock cliff to get the slab for the house. It took them about a year of blasting and digging into the cliff to just get a slab poured,” says Knutson, field superintendent for Southwest Glazing in Las Vegas, the glazing contractor on the project.

The construction of the house moved slowly due to the unique location and the usage of unique materials.

“It was a challenge because each level had to be built independent of the other levels. Each had to be complete before the next level could be started so the construction time was longer than usual,” Hardy adds.

The high-performance vision glass used in the house was manufactured by Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries. It was incorporated into 1-inch units by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope in Santa Monica, Calif., and Southwest Glazing provided labor for the materials to be installed. All the colored glass was laminated by Pulp Studios in Los Angeles and EFCO Corp. in Monett, Mo., supplied all of the metal materials including the curtainwall, storefront, sliding glass doors, entrances and casement windows.

Installing the glass proved to be a significant challenge. Equipment capable of lifting and maneuvering thousands of pounds of glass was needed and the logistics of using this equipment on the side of a mountain was in the back of everyone’s minds.

“The equipment we had to use to install the curtainwall and the glass was an 80-foot boom. Typically you only see those on mid- to high-rise buildings here in Vegas,” says Johnson. “Everything going vertical is done with a crane on the building itself.”

However, thanks to a skilled team, the operating of heavy-duty machinery and the transportation of glass brought no problems.

“On the big front wall there are some insulating glass units that weighed about 600 pounds,” explains Knutson. “I anticipated a real big challenge there, but it turned out to be very smooth sailing setting these large units in the front of the house with a power cup and a forklift. Everything went smoother than I thought it would.”

With a project so unusual, the team had to troubleshoot as the building progressed.

“The owner and the architect kind of designed it as they went,” says Johnson. “For instance, the architect wanted a piece of glass that was too big.”

Rossi’s original drawings called for a 102 ½- by 108-inch lite of glass and the largest size of Solarban 60 available is 96 inches so the team changed the plans to incorporate an additional vertical mullion.

“There is no oven in the United States that could temper that piece of glass,” states Johnson. “Once we presented problems to them we worked backwards from what we could actually do to what they wanted to do.”

View Through the Curtain
As tricky as the installation was, long-term planning helped make it a success.

“The contract was given to Southwest Glazing in November/December of 2008,” recalls Knutson. “We started engineering at that point and we went round and round trying to figure out what to do and how we could do it. They had to steel load the verticals, which is typical, but not on a house. We didn’t start installing product until February of 2010. We spent a lot of time between drawings and materials being released. Product was installed for 60 days so they finished up in May.”

At the close of the residential curtainwall project all parties involved seem to think that the project is just the beginning of a trend of curtainwalls being installed in residential buildings.

“There is a chance you could see more,” Knutson speculates. “In Las Vegas there are a handful of people with a lot of money. In the community where the house was built they are all custom homes. I would say this is one of the larger, if not the largest curtainwall, in a house. I could see some possibilities. The folks that move into the community, when they see this house they are going to talk to their designer and say they want something like that.”

“I would probably anticipate something like this happening again just because that’s how this market is. Someone sees something and then they want it,” adds Johnson.

If given the opportunity, Hardy thinks his company would accept the challenge of working on another residential curtainwall similar to this project.

“Originally, we thought it was a huge expense and didn’t realize what impact it had until it was all completed. Now it is really exciting and something that we would do in the future,” says Hardy.

Johnson agrees. “I would definitely do a project like this again,” he says. “We are doing a couple of custom homes, but its all normal windows and storefronts. I am pretty confident that there is a good chance that I would be involved in another project like this.”

Katie Hodge is an assistant editor for USGlass.


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