Volume 49, Issue 6 - June 2014


Connecting...The Pieces
Between Architects and Glaziers
by Nick St. Denis

The importance of the architect-glazier relationship can be summed up in one word: communication. Both sides have a job to do, and both sides recognize that. But poor communication, particularly early on in the process, can have an ill effect on so many factors down the line, from cost, to code compliance, to poor lighting, to unworkable dimensions—or worse.

We talked to several professionals in the glazing industry, as well as some architects, about their biggest concerns regarding the working relationship between glaziers and architects.

Early Communication
The increased stringency of building and energy codes, as well as the constantly increasing complexities of modern architectural design, ask a lot of the glazing industry. Therefore, it’s often helpful for glaziers to be involved in the design process very early in order to avoid costly, or at worst, unfixable, complications. “The bottom line is, you can run into a lot of problems if an architect designs a structure using a certain type of glass and a certain aesthetic look of the exterior of the building and then later puts out performance requirements that, because of design, are really a challenge,” says Jim Mitchell, president of Gamma North America in Toronto, Canada. Mitchell stressed the importance of doing all the proper calculations regarding the U-value of the glass in the design well in advance.

Ming Leung, general resource for exterior enclosures with the architectural firm Perkins Eastman in New York, says it’s helpful for contract glaziers and architects to meet early to build a “bridge between visual concepts and what it means,” adding that “the first time that I speak to a glazing contractor should not be at the project kick off meeting after the award of the contract.”

Awareness of Size Limitations
Size matters. “It varies by manufacturer, but I routinely see [glazing] sizes that no manufacturer can produce,” says Jimmy Evans, senior estimator for Juba Aluminum Products Co. in Concord, N.C. Evans adds that the lack of understanding the maximum unsupported spans of curtainwalls “is probably the most common issue I see in architectural drawings, where architects expect a small curtainwall system to span 20 to 30 feet.” Evans also stresses the importance of understanding the live load of the structure and its effect on the glazing system. In other words, he says, “the way slab deflection must be accounted for with expansion horizontal members in the curtainwall.”

Color and Performance
“Compliance with energy codes and glass colors is important, but understand that most high performance low-E and reflective coatings change colors throughout the day, with different seasons and weather conditions,” says John Juba, owner and CEO of Juba. “Visual mock-ups should be mandatory prior to a final decision on glass selections.”

Chris Wise of Austin, Texas-based Andersson-Wise Architects adds that one of his firm’s greatest challenges of late is the green coloration from the exterior of certain low-E coatings. “We recently went through a testing process with [a] manufacturer, which proved that the product was within industry tolerances, but it did not matter: The glass had an unexpected quality that was not what we intended. The manufacturer fell back on the small print: you should specify a full scale mockup. Big projects can soak up full-scale mock ups, but this can be an undue burden on smaller projects.”

Wise adds that the neutrality of low-E insulating glass units “should be an aesthetic goal” but that he understands the increase in performance expectations in the codes can hamper those efforts.

David Powell of Hastings Architectural Associates adds, “For us, the most difficult part of the process is understanding what the final appearance will be for each sample being considered. 12-by-12 samples don’t really convey what the glass will actually look like in its final installation.

“Glass changes appearance dramatically depending on solar orientation, for example, a south façade vs. north, as well as interior lighting and paint colors of the space it is enclosing, color of blinds or other window treatments on the interior side of glass. Real world applications in the built environment are invaluable when selecting glass.”

Consider Glass Breakage
“The most important thing to understand about all glass is that it will break,” says Juba. “I know of no glass manufacturer in the industry, no coater nor fabricator that will offer a warranty for breakage … Architects should discuss the breakage issue with glass fabricators and insulators prior to writing the specifications and listing approved manufacturers.”

TSI Exterior Wall Systems Inc. marketing manager Matt Gallagher says his company stresses the importance of making sure architects’ glass specifications reflect heat soaking. “It eliminates impurities in the glass and lowers the possibility of spontaneous breakage,” he says.

Coughing It Up
Lastly, you get what you pay for, and that concept is not necessarily lost on the glazing industry. “Spend the money on better curtainwall systems,” says Gallagher. “It saves time in the field. The performance is better, usually the handling of the product is better (along with the engineering of a unitized curtainwall), and most importantly, the long-term durability is better.”

Nick St. Denis is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. He can be reached at nstdenis@glass.com.

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