Volume 50, Issue 4 - April 2015




It starts out innocent enough. After all, they just asked a little question. It was harmless. What could possibly go wrong?

Picture it. There you are, seated across from an architect, wild with ideas and excitement about the plans before you. Glass will go here and glass will go there … you’re mesmerized with the anticipation of all the work you’ll be doing … dollar signs are churning through your mind. You’ve somehow managed to key out a secret text message to your boss to let him know “we did it!” but before you can hit send, it happens: The question.

“But can you do this?” the architect asks.

This stops you. He’s asked for something else, something unheard of. Something you’ve never done … maybe no one’s done it. Glass cannot DO that, you think to yourself.

But often enough, somehow you find a way.

Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation. Maybe you can attest that many of the developments common in today’s architectural glazing market evolved as a result of someone simply asking for it, whether a high-performance product or an uber-modern façade.

The architectural glass industry is different today compared to 10 years ago, and will continue to change.

Where are we headed and what should we expect? Here’s a look at ten trends likely to enter the mainstream over the next decade.

1. Turning to the Sun

Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems in Sacramento, Calif., designs, manufactures and installs aluminum and glass curtainwalls. The company also developed a pre-wired, UL-approved Net Zero Envelope System that combines building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) and electrochromic glass. Nick Bagatelos, president, says over the past three years his company has worked with vision BIPV products from a company called Solaria in Silicon Valley. This solution allows for different levels of visible light transmission, concentrated solar generation and a cost-effective product, according to Bagatelos. 

“The key to achieving a high-performance building is using an exterior envelope that can integrate a multitude of new high-efficiency building materials,” he says.

According to Bagatelos, interest in these systems is increasing, coming “from developers in California that want to differentiate their speculative office building from the one next door. They see a dramatic advantage in leasing higher-performing buildings …”

He adds, “I believe this trend will redefine the Class A office building in the U.S. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards proved that value can be attributed to a sustainable design. The new standard will be buildings that use LED lights, tunable solar heat gain coefficients, changeable visible light transmittance, and have energy generation that drive a standard office building to net zero energy.”

2. Between the Lites

Vacuum insulating glazing (VIG) could accelerate over the next five to ten years, according to David Stark, president and chief technical officer of EverSealed Windows Inc. in Evergreen, Colo.

“It is a super-disruptive technology,” he says of the highly insulating glass. “It’s not evolutionary, it’s revolutionary.”
In VIG window units, the air between the two lites of glass is removed, creating a vacuum and eliminating any heat exchange between the glass. According to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), dual-pane VIG windows with the right low-E coating can exhibit U-factors of 0.20 or less while maintaining high solar heat gain coefficients.

The glass industry has used the technology for about 20 years, but manufacturing has never been cost-effective, Stark says.

“A big problem for its implementation is going to be the cost of the equipment to produce it,” he says. “The reason is, if you’re in the business of making IGs, whether for residential or for commercial, you have a huge investment in making traditional gas-filled IGs. And to start making VIG, the back of your line has to be all-new equipment, and it’s not inexpensive equipment. And so, the IG makers who supply to the residential and commercial window companies have reasons to hope that VIG takes longer rather than a shorter period of time to finally hit a reasonable production cost. ”

These potentially game-changing products have other issues, as USGlass reported in October 2014 (see Is Vacuum Glazing Truly Viable? on page 34 of that issue). For example, they can’t withstand drastic temperature changes, can’t incorporate tempered glass in a cost-effective way and don’t come in large sizes.

“There’s just physical limitations,” Stark says.

However, that could be changing. For example, China’s Landglass Technology Co. Ltd. is working on a system to produce tempered VIG units.

Stark is confident that the technology, which AAMA says could produce “windows … capable of thermal insulating properties that are about the same as those of a brick and plaster wall,” will eventually be embraced by the public and the industry — once the price is right.

“You will see VIG in residential windows if companies can get the cost low enough where consumers will buy it,” Stark says. “And they’re working on it, and I’m sure they’ll get there.”

—Trey Barrineau

3. Express Yourself

Façades are becoming increasingly dynamic, and this includes functioning as a medium of expression. Projects around the world are integrating LED lighting systems with the glass, creating a façade offering an artistic expression or graphic communication.

In March, Traxon Technologies, a company in the solid state lighting and control systems industry, partnered with Galaxy Glass & Stone of Fairfield, N.J., to offer MediaGlas, a line of monolithic and laminated architectural glass products designed specifically for use with its LED lighting and controls.

The new development is available through Galaxy Glass & Stone exclusively and can be used in a variety of backlit LED applications, such as medium-resolution image displays and precisely color-controlled, light-emitting surfaces.

MediaGlas is comprised of light-modifying elements that diffuse, disperse and reflect, while offering both aesthetic and functional purposes. The combination of light and glass creates infinite appearances and forms, and enables communication with text and graphic imagery in architectural applications.

According to Eugene M. Negrin, president and CEO of Galaxy Glass & Stone, media façade technology is continuing to evolve.

“Aside from increased controllability of the LED source, the next step in this evolution is a higher level of integration of the dynamic LED displays with interior and exterior building surfaces,” he says. “For example, this could be the allowance of view, shading, daylighting and media in a single building skin or surface.”

4. Think Thin

Though still in its infancy today, super-thin glass—less than 1 millimeter thick—could likely play a significant role in the architectural glazing market in the next five to ten years. Currently, researchers and scientists in Europe are exploring how this technology will be used in the glass industry over the next decade.

Dirk Schulte, vice president of business development with APG International in Glassboro, N.J., points to the canopy display featured at glasstec 2014, which his company constructed with Corning’s Gorilla Glass that was laminated by SFL Technologies based in Austria.

“It’s an intention to think ahead and how the technology can be further implemented. The glass will be further developed … [there is a lot] that still needs to be investigated … There are a lot of unknowns right now. It’s a great product and has future potential in sophisticated, architectural markets. But it’s still in a very early stage, and needs consideration and further development.” (Editor’s note: See page 52 of the March 2015 issue of USGlass for a detailed look at the development and future uses for super thin glass.)

5. Big Just Got Bigger

Architects are calling for maximum transparency; fabricators are responding with increasingly larger spans of glass.

Two years ago at the American Institute of Architects National Convention in Denver, Seele displayed the world’s largest lite of laminated glass, spanning nearly 46 feet in length, standing more than 10 feet tall and weighing in at a little more than 7,700 pounds. While glass like this might not be showing up in a façade near you any time soon, the fact that the capability exists does present opportunities.

“Producing large-size glass lites is becoming cheaper and therefore more attractive for architects, owners and façade constructors,” says Ulrich Theisen, director/sales director for sedak, the fabrication arm of seele, based in Germany. He says high-level automation allows his company to manufacture oversize glass panels very cost-effectively and competitively compared to companies producing standard sizes.

“During the coming ten years, the demand for oversized glass will be increasing, especially in the architectural sector,” says Theisen. As far as size limits, he says his company’s products, whether they are processed, tempered, bent, laminated, printed, coated or processed into an insulating glass unit, are 10.5 feet by 49 feet.

“There might be a limit at a length of 59 feet,” he says, but adds, “If possible at all, it would be very difficult to transport longer panels.”

6. Don’t be a Square

Advances in computer technology, as well as fabrication techniques and capabilities, have transformed façades into increasingly complex structures. According to Attila Arian, president of Schüco USA, complex geometries require a closer collaboration between trades. “BIM, 3D modeling and parametric design will be tools that even medium-sized glazing contractors will have to master,” he says. “Complex geometries require more sophisticated design coordination. Fabrication and design processes will have to become interfaced and fully digital …we need to essentially go from the 3D model straight to fabrication.”

He continues, “People don’t want to live in and work out of square glass boxes anymore. The ‘architectural statement’ of commercial and residential buildings is becoming increasingly important to developers and owners as they are reacting to the demand structure of their tenants. Demand for free-form architecture, unusual and odd shapes is increasing at a very fast pace,” he says. “As a result, the curtainwall designers have to work with more complex geometries in the building envelope than ever before.”

This shift also means contract glaziers will need to adapt.

“Despite the increasing complexity in the design of building envelopes, budgets and schedules remain tight. The only way that glazing contractors can keep up with this vicious cycle is to go completely digital, e.g. apply 3D modeling, BIM and digital fabrication, and to precisely lay out the installation process,” says Arian. He adds that access for repair and maintenance, such as glass replacement and cleaning, becomes increasingly difficult if not incorporated into the design phase.

7. Get Smart

Over the past decade, the architectural industry’s interest in the use of dynamic glazing has grown. As these products gain market share, expect to see them continue to thrive. As Stephen Selkowitz from the Building Technology and Urban Systems Department within Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) explains, the term “smart glass” is sometimes divided into passive and active response. Passive includes photochromic and thermochromic (light and heat) technologies, which are driven directly by environmental conditions, while active products—electrochromic, liquid crystal, suspended particle displays—are triggered by electrical signals/power. 

“The latter are usually viewed as more complex and costly, but more versatile in their ability to respond to different conditions,” says Selkowitz. He says none are currently mainstream, but electrochromic and thermochromic now have a number of architectural installations in place and can be used in relatively large-scale façades (in the 5- by 10-foot range). 

Pricing, though, remains at a premium, and Selkowitz says there are some startups working on “next generation” coatings that promise lower costs.

One such company is Heliotrope Technologies, an LBNL partner that’s developing what it calls a low-cost, dynamic window coating. The technology is the licensee of the intellectual property developed at LBNL, co-invented by Heliotrope CTO Guillermo Garcia and CSO Delia Milliron.

Windows with the Heliotrope EC coatings can switch reversibly between three states: transparent, heat blocking, and heat and light blocking. A small voltage controls the optical state of the device; minimal power is consumed during switching and almost none is used to maintain either of the two solar blocking states. This, according to company information, yields great flexibility for system integration and low-cost installation.

8. Striving for Zero

The NetZero Energy Commercial Building Institute was created in August 2008 to meet the charge of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, an effort of the Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings program.

The program’s goal is to achieve marketable, net zero commercial buildings by 2025. While strides have been made, there is still a ways to go. One technology poised to help get the commercial market there is the design of integrated building façades. Smart glass/dynamic glass is an integral component, but can’t do it alone.

In their paper1 presented at GlassCon Global in 2014, Dr. Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development at Sage Electrochromics, and Pekka Hakkarainen, vice president at Lutron Electronics, noted that “dynamic integrated façades are the way of the future for high-performance building design. These designs depend on high-performance fenestration with low U-factor and dynamic solar control, together with a dynamic response for glare control and continuously dimmable electric lighting control. No other solution will get us to (near) net-zero energy buildings, nor provide the occupant well-being and comfort and design flexibility that architects and building owners desire.”

Stephen Selkowitz with LBNL points out, though, that a major hurdle for active systems is integrating the glazings into building automation systems that control lighting and HVAC to capture the full value. 

“We just started a project around this ‘integration’ theme, where the goal is a ‘plug and play’ system so that all sensors and controls can be seamlessly shared between the key building systems involved,” he says. Integration issues for smart glass are similar to automated shading that uses motorized shades or blinds—just the mechanism for control is different,” says Selkowitz. “While automated shading is still a rarity in the U.S., it is common in Europe.

We are also working with a new U.S. group, the Attachment Energy Rating Council, somewhat like the National Fenestration Rating Council, whose goals are to rate the properties of window shading and insulating systems.”

(see page 18 for related article.)

1 Sanders and Hakkarainen, Integrated façades:  How technology development and building codes are shaping the future, GlobalCon Global Proceedings, 2014

9. Building Blocks

In 2012, the Chinese firm Broad Sustainable Buildings (BSB), part of the Broad Group, built a 30-story tower, the T30 Tower Hotel, in just 15 days. It did so through the use of pre-fabricated construction materials. According to company information, “the most revolutionary element about BSB is its construction mode: a 3.9 by15.6 meter ‘main board’ including flooring and ceiling, embedded shafts of ventilation, water supply and drainage, electricity and lighting. All needed pillars, diagonal bracings, doors, windows, walls and even sanitary and kitchen wares for the room installation are placed on the main board for factory shipment…” Once on site, construction workers have little more to do than screw in bolts and paint. As the company notes in its technical briefing about the tower, “such a high-efficiency construction mode makes on-site installation only account for 7 percent of the total construction hours. Therefore, BSB can be 93 percent factory-made, whereas the current world’s highest is only 40 percent.”

According to builders, the tower also exceeds performance abilities of more traditional structures. It’s built with nine-magnitude earthquake resistance and is five times more energy efficient, according to the company. Glazing features include 15 cm glass curtainwall insulation as well as four-pane windows. It also features both automatic shutters within the curtainwall as well as automatic internal shading.

If construction is heading in this direction, it could also mean growth for unitized curtainwall. Oliver Stepe, senior vice president with YKK AP America Inc., says in the past few years there’s been an increased interest and demand not only for unitized curtainwall systems but also for pre-glazed framing systems in general.  

“The most common historic demand driver for these more complex systems has typically been the lack of logistical access to building façade sites for mid- to high-rise buildings in dense cities. The lack of on-site access and space demanded that the façade systems be panelized off-site to minimize on-site space requirements and reduce length of completion,” says Stepe. “More recently and moving forward, we expect to see unitized and pre-glazed-type façade systems become more mainstream.” This is due, he says, to broadening demand drivers such as pressure to reduce on-site construction cycles and prefab construction, as well as the subcontractor’s desire to shift more of the process to lower labor cost, controlled shop environments versus higher labor cost and variable field environments.

He adds, “A major challenge the industry will face is the knowledge gap that exists between being able to purchase such a product and being able to effectively execute a project with such products.

“Subcontractors often under-estimate the level of engineering, technical skills and preplanning necessary to complete projects with unitized systems.”

He’s also quick to point out we shouldn’t expect to see stick-built systems go by the wayside.

“Based not only on the technical challenges and knowledge gaps that exists with the products themselves, the cost-benefit curve for unitization varies greatly based on specific needs of building owners, project scale and architectural designs.”

10. Keyless Security

When it comes to the future of automated hardware for glass entrances, this can pretty much be summed up in one word: security (turn to page 28 for more on this). In this age of increasing security, many owners are tightening egress and ingress control in ways that at one point may have seemed futuristic. Biometrics, for example, refers to technologies that measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as DNA, fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns and hand measurements, for authentication purposes.

According to a recent Market and Markets report, technologies such as biometrics are one reason for growth in access control. The report suggests the market will reach $10.4 billion by 2020. It says the commercial application has the highest market share, which is expected to grow tremendously in the coming years.

But for those in the glass industry, this likely won’t have a major impact on your business. The majority of these high-tech systems are installed by security companies. Other than the possibility of needing a hole drilled in the door system, storefront installers and others working with glass entrances won’t likely be heavily involved with these systems. At least not yet.

the author

Ellen Rogers
is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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