The Glass Industry’s
Successes, Failures, Surprises and More
Defining Moments from the Last 50 Years
by Megan Headley
Whether you’ve lived it or relived it through stories from co-workers, mentors or the family who brought you into this business, you can’t deny that the last 50 years have been full of breakthroughs, break-out-in-sweat challenges and plain old glass breakage.
From innovations that changed everything to those that promised to, from shocking business moves to eyebrow-raising scandals, and from the buildings we love to those we wish would disappear, we’ve got the juiciest moments from the last 50 years.
That Changed the Industry
1. Low-E Glass.
Low-E was developed in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until the energy crisis of the 1970s that interest truly took off in this invisible, heat-reflective coating. By the 1980s, glass experts were calling this “the hottest news in windows,” and it was being incorporated into nearly every type of product. The market took off and hasn’t looked back since.
Low-E glass, which started out most commonly used in residential windows, provided a way for homeowners to help improve energy costs.
2. Impact-Resistant Products.
In many ways, tough interlayers transformed the way designers and others look at glass—not as a fragile, brittle material but as a strong building component that can keep people and property safe without locking them in a fortress. With the development of laminated glass technology over the last few decades, architects have learned they can have all of the beauty of decorative glass as well as solar control properties while bringing great daylight, and great views, into the most secure buildings.
CGI provided impact-rated products for Long Beach City Hall in Long Beach, Miss.
3. Point-Supported Fittings.
Ask any glass-friendly architect—the only thing better than an all-glass building is an all-glass building with little visible framing. In the 1960s, Pilkington devised a way of getting rid of the metal mullions traditionally used to frame glass. Since then, the world has been crazy for the barely-there look of point-supported glass systems.
1800 Larimer in Denver features a low-iron structural glass fin wall supplied by W&W Glass. Harmon Inc. was the contract glazier.
4. Structural Silicone Glazing.
Less remains more for architects, at least when it comes to the metal framing around glass. Structural silicone joints have helped designers create a near-seamless façade, without sacrificing performance, since the 1960s.
The 535 Mission project in San Francisco features a four-sided SSG façade installed by Architectural Glass and Aluminum.
5. Warm-Edge Technology.
Low-E coatings proved that a product enhancement doesn’t have to be visible to be remarkable. When warm-edge spacers came onto the scene around 1990, they provided an alternative to traditional aluminum spacer systems and another possibility for improving insulating glass performance. Today, dozens of options abound as creative minds continue to push for better performance from every part of a window.
In addition to low-E, warm-edge spacers provide another means of improving a window’s energy performance.
Trends We’re Ready
to See Take Off
1. Retrofit-Ready Glazing.
In 2010, while new construction was nonexistent, everyone was talking about this trend, ready to take off. Today, few glazing contractors are truly taking advantage of the possibilities offered by this potentially lucrative market. As technology advances, old buildings will need to find ways to update their “old-fashioned” glazing—and glass companies could be preparing today to ease the path for future replacements. This is one trend we definitely expect to continue to take off.
2. Vacuum Glazing.
These highly insulating units have been on the market for decades, and hold the promise of the thermal protection needed to boost windows to wall-like status. That’s been the perception for 20 years from researchers seeking commercialization of disparate techniques for achieving this insulation.
VIG technologies with the right low-E coating can provide U-factors of 0.20 or less while still maintaining high solar heat gain coefficients.
Photo: EverSealed Windows Inc.
3. Dynamic Glass.
Since the 1960s, this product has promised to transform the reputation of glass, just as it transforms itself from opaque to transparent at the flick of a switch, or change in temperature, depending on the technology that you use. Major developments have been made in recent years to boost manufacturing, thereby lowering the price point. We’re now just waiting for the day when architects fully realize that automatic shading in the glass—in combination with a fully integrated façade—is an ideal way to aid in improving daylighting and control energy costs, among many other benefits.
1800 Larimer in Denver features a low-iron structural glass fin wall supplied by W&W Glass. Harmon Inc. was the contract glazier.
4. Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).
Glass companies have been experimenting with BIPV for decades, and these products have been successfully installed on a number of projects. They just aren’t the bread-and-butter offering that many installers have been waiting for … for years. While PV efficiency—and prices—continue to improve, most building owners still find that rooftop solar arrays provide a better return on investment than a building with a vertical window-turned-solar-panel that captures only a fraction of available daylight.
The LEED-certified Verdesian apartment building in New York went green by using photovoltaic cells that provide 5 percent of the building’s electric load.
Photo Courtesy of EFCO Corp.
5. Tornado-Resistant Glazing.
2011 was the year of the most destructive and deadly tornado season to ever impact the nation. At the time, experts hurriedly explored the viability of creating safe rooms out of normal-use spaces in schools, hospitals and other community shelters by hardening the windows. But we’re still a long way from having tornado-resistant glazing installed in every potential storm target.
Companies like Survivalite are developing tornado-glazing products for applications that are used for projects such as FEMA shelters.
Most Iconic Glass Buildings of the
Last 50 Years
1. Philip Johnson designed the glass-clad Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., in 1981. The building now known as Christ Cathedral is undergoing renovations.
2. The “crown jewel” of Pittsburgh, PPG Place, uses nearly one million square feet of clear reflective glass. Upon opening in 1983, the building was hailed by critics as a “towering success.”
3. Dynamic Glass.
I.M. Pei’s iconic entrance to Paris’ Louvre, the Louvre Pyramid, opened in 1989, taking architecture’s most classic design and reinvigorating it with the modern look of glass and steel.
4. Glass isn’t generally thought of as a graceful material, but it provided the form for a gently swaying “Ginger” for The Dancing House in Prague. The homage to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire is a whimsical modern touch in the historic heart of the city.
5. 30 St. Mary Axe—better known even before its opening in 2003 as the Gherkin—in London is clad in diamond-shaped lites that swirl around the circular building. Notably, the only curved piece of glass in the tubular building is the “lens” at the building’s top.
6. The Apple Store on Fifth Ave in New York, opened in 2006, has truly become its own tourist destination. The distinctive 32-foot glass cube set off a trend for bigger glass and a conversation about transparency.
7. While there have been plenty of notable glass floors, in 2009 the Skydeck at Willis Towers in Chicago invited visitors to stare down at the world from the top of the then tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
8. The world’s tallest building since 2010, at 2,723 feet, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai wasn’t afraid to use reflective glazing in Dubai’s extreme heat. Close to 26,000 glass panels clad the building in a curtainwall equivalent to 25 “American” football fields.
9. As a cultural landmark, few buildings can compare to One World Trade Center in New York, opened in 2014. That this building was unafraid to use glass from top to bottom makes a bold statement.
10. The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing—aka the Egg, as it’s often called due to its ovoid shape—rises from the water around it, seeming to sweep aside a titanium “curtain” to reveal shimmering glass. The effect is most dramatic from inside the Underwater Corridor, looking up into the man-made lake.
Projects or Products That Gave Glass a Bad Name
1. The 60-story John Hancock Tower is a Boston landmark, but almost from the beginning city residents were talking about the glass. At least 65 of the tower’s 10,344 windows failed and fell to the street below while still under construction in January 1973. By April, the tower was known as “the Plywood Palace” since the windows were covered with more plywood than glass.
2. The CNA Building on Chicago’s South Wabash Avenue gave glass a bad name in a particularly tragic turn when a 2-foot-square, 1⁄2-inch-thick lite of glass dropped 29 floors in October 1999, hitting and instantly killing 37-year-old Ana Flores, who had been walking with her toddler. An industry source familiar with the CNA building later told USGlass the tragic situation could have been averted.
3. The 2009 grand opening of the Vdara Hotel & Spa at CityCenter in Las Vegas was much ballyhooed, although guests soon had another name for the hotel: the Death Ray. The curved shape of the largely glass hotel was pinpointed as a cause of the intense sunlight reflected at the pool area, where guests complained of burning that went beyond suntans to “burning hair.” Causing similar results in London, heated sun reflections from the then yet-to-be-completed, 38-story glass tower at 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the “Walkie Talkie” building, melted part of a Jaguar sedan parked on a nearby street. The tower was also blamed for several fires in the area.
4. In August 2009, NBC Nightly News profiled the nearly all-glass Standard Hotel in New York, with a focus on the glass. It wasn’t exactly the review the glass industry would have liked, since the glass was blamed for the bad behavior of its exhibitionist guests, lured to the hotel by those vast, clear windows. Management promised to remind guests that windows are, after all, transparent.
5. A rash of spontaneous glass breakage incidents on condo balconies in 2011 caused heightened concern regarding the use of tempered glass in these applications.
6. Poor Martha Stewart: everyone seems to love to hate on the designer and media mogul. However, the glass industry had good reason to be miffed in 2006 when ConsumerAffairs.com received hundreds of complaints about exploding glass tabletops. The problem was traced to a line of Martha Stewart outdoor patio tables sold at Kmart. They were manufactured by JRA Furniture, a shell for a Taiwanese company that was bankrupted over the scandal. In the end, the controversy wasn’t all bad for the industry, as it resulted in an ASTM standard on glass used in furniture, and any effort to make products safer can be considered a coup.
1. Price-Fixing Drama.
Ever sit in a glass industry meeting and listen to the repetitive warnings against discussing prices? Ever wonder why? Rumors swirled for decades before more than 30 flat glass purchasers filed a lawsuit in 1998 accusing AFG Industries Inc., Ford Motor Co., Guardian Industries, Pilkington LOF and PPG Industries of fixing the price of glass between 1986 and 1995. By 2006, the companies had paid more than $100 million in settlements. Just when the scandal seemed over, the European Commission announced a decision in 2007 to fine AGC Flat Glass Europe, Guardian, Pilkington, and Saint-Gobain approximately USD $719.2 million for price-fixing on charges that in 2004 and 2005, company representatives met covertly at hotels and restaurants around Europe to conspire to increase prices for flat glass. The charges set off another frenzy of lawsuits in the U.S. in a scandal that threatened to never die down.
2. Fraud and Lies?
In 1993, Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. ousted president Ronald Skeddle and vice presidents Darryl Costin and Edward Bryant, later leveling charges of fraud, money laundering and filing false tax claims in a scandal that spanned nearly a decade. When the three execs were acquitted in 1997 on charges that they defrauded their employer of $14 million, the company, then Pilkington LOF, filed civil proceedings. Ugly rumors were rampant in the ensuing legal battles, including that Pilkington worked to keep hidden documents that could embarrass the company.
3. Dubious Best Interests?
For years, National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) meetings were the stage of tense arguments, occasional door slamming and sharp words. The cause? The group’s efforts in the mid-2000s to move into non-residential product and component certification by way of its Component Modeling Approach (CMA). This was the NFRC's push to create a component-based rating system that considers all components of a commercial glazing system. Among the many charges levelled at the group was an apparent disregard for input from the commercial glass industry. Other concerns included potentially imposing major hardships on manufacturers, as well as added responsibility and cost for the contract glazier. The CMA was ultimately fully implemented in 2010, but as of 2014, just 270 of the more than 50,000 commercial building products on the market held NFRC certification.
4. A Hazardous Exemption.
Although wired glass products have had a place as a fire-rated product, there are many individuals (and plaintiffs) who would say that place is not in our schools. In 1977, wired glass was given an exemption from meeting the Consumer Product Safety Commission impact safety standard 16 CFR 1201. Instead wired glass was required to comply with ANSI Z97.1 when used in doors, sidelites and other potentially hazardous locations. For more than 20 years that exemption stuck around. In 2002, Advocates for Safe Glass estimated that wired glass caused 90 percent of the 2,500 glass door injuries that CPSC surveillance data reported each year. After decades of battling through legislation and at code hearings, the exemption was finally repealed. In the 2003 International Building Code (IBC) traditional wired glass lost its exemption from meeting safety glazing standards when used in educational and athletic facilities.
5. Competition to Glass as a Material.
Glass will always have enemies among other products battling for the same space in a building. While concrete and other claddings might offer superior thermal insulation, glass offers a coveted connection to the outdoors—and is increasingly making that insulation argument obsolete. But in 1990, when the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers first began developing 90.1, an energy standard, the glass industry began a decades-long battle to have glass recognized as an energy-efficient performer—without unduly constraining designers to limited window spans. It’s a cyclical battle that returns each decade. In January 2015 the glass industry was successful in defeating the ASHRAE 189.1 proposal that would have reduced window-to-wall ratio by 30 percent.
6. China Infiltrates One World Trade Center.
In 2009, several North American companies were devastated to learn that after providing hundreds of man hours, hundreds of thousands of dollars and technical support to develop a unique prismatic glass for the podium of One World Trade Center, the contract ultimately was awarded to a Chinese manufacturer that had provided a lower bid. State officials were outraged as USGlass broke the news—and in 2011, plans for the unique glass were scrapped altogether.
Company News Stories That Surprised Us All
1. Goodbye LOF.
Libbey-Owens-Ford was a major force within glass manufacturing until it was scooped up by Pilkington in April 1986. Although the group retained the LOF name, it vanished with the 2006 acquisition of Pilkington by NSG. Another surprising transaction took place in 2012 when Koch Industries purchased 44 percent interest in Guardian Industries.
2. Pilkington Goes Japanese.
It was Sir Alistair Pilkington who invented the float method of glass production, so it was with some surprise that the source of such illustrious history was acquired by Nippon Sheet Glass in 2006. In October 2001, Pilkington squelched rumors that competitor NSG was planning to take over the company when NSG had purchased additional Pilkington shareholdings. But by 2006 the deal was done, changing the manufacturing landscape.
3. United Glass Corp.
The creation of United Glass Corp. in 1999 from a consolidation roll-up of ten companies was intended to lead to a public organization that would offer every trade service to the construction industry. However, barely a year later the Thad Ziegler Company bought itself back and exited the roll-up. Others quickly followed: GlassWerks in 2002, Hartung Glass Industries Inc. (including Hartung Agalite Glass Co., Lami Glass of Canada and Northern California Glass Inc.) in 2004 and Louisville Plate Glass in 2009. Shortly after, Mid Ohio Tempering was closed, and the remainder of UGC was sold in April 2011 to Sun Capital Partners.
4. Taking the Glass Out of Pittsburgh Plate Glass.
PPG was founded in 1883 as a plate glass maker, so it was surprising to some to learn that by 2006 glass was taking a backseat to PPG’s other divisions. In 2005, the company’s glass division lost approximately $1 million, and soon the flat glass division was far surpassed in sales by the company’s other divisions, including coatings. In 2008 the company sold its auto glass business, and in 2012 it was battling rumors that its remaining glass assets would be sold.
5. Arch Becomes Vitro Becomes Trulite.
2010 seemed one for the record books as glass company after glass company fell victim to the harsh economic climate. The winners in this scenario proved to be the capital equity firms that found the glass industry to be easy pickings. Among the most eye-opening instances was the bankruptcy of family-owned fabricator Arch Aluminum & Glass Co., soon swallowed up by Sun Capital as the equity firm began its own series of acquisitions, leading to a shift toward consolidation of regional fabricators.
In a similar situation, Grey Mountain Partners quickly established its place in the glass industry through its Consolidated Glass Holdings (CGH) segment. Since 2011 CGH has acquired Columbia Commercial Building Products, Solar Seal, Dlubak and Global Security Glazing, among others.
6. Trainor Closes Its Doors.
In 2011, USGlass named Trainor Glass the largest contract glazier in the country. In 2012, the company abruptly closed its doors. While customers had suspected the national subcontractor might file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, an increasingly common practice during the construction slump, few expected the quick closure—on a Friday, Trainor was asking partners to confirm the value of purchase orders, and by that Monday, doors had closed at all nine locations.
Disasters That Changed the Glass Industry
1. Hurricane Andrew.
Perhaps more than any other natural disaster, Hurricane Andrew forever changed the way glass is viewed. When it passed over Florida in August 1992, Andrew became the most destructive hurricane ever, with more than $26 billion in damages.
Andrew was the first step toward codes that would require the installation of hurricane-resistant laminated glass. The glass market boomed as a result of the need for completely redesigned products. Laboratories capable of testing these products began to spring up. Miami-Dade County, Fla., became a familiar location as fabricators along the East and Gulf coasts began creating products for this vulnerable region. The number of laminators grew from two or three in the mid-1990s to more than eight.
2. Oklahoma City Bombings.
The 1995 terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City did for security glazing what Hurricane Andrew did for coastal states’ hurricane glazing options.
According to a 1998 report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, glass was the most frequently reported cause of injury for the 851 people injured or killed by the attacks; glass contributed to 38 percent of injuries. The next most frequent cause of injury— smoke and dust—accounted for only 15 percent of injuries. The report advised modifications, including the use of laminated glass, tempered glass and window films to prevent glass shards from becoming projectiles.
The attack expanded the conversation on the need for blast-resistant glazing, not just in high-profile buildings such as courthouses, but on their neighbors as well.
3. The Terrorist Attacks of 9/11.
The terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, drastically changed the world we live in, and the use of glass was no exception.
Following the attacks, the General Services Administration presented a report to Congress recommending action plans for building improvements, including the use of window film and anchoring systems. In the months following the report, the government identified 65 buildings as potential sites for glass-hardening systems, and budgeted $32 million for window upgrades in Washington, D.C., alone, noted Madico’s Jay Larkin in a 2002 USGlass report.
One of many questions on the minds of glass industry professionals in the aftermath of these attacks was whether glass skyscrapers would soon become an endangered group. As the new glass-clad One World Trade Center (and our list of projected 20 tallest towers in 2020, see page 70) reveals, glass is still inventing its role in our landmarks.
4. Joplin, Mo.
In the wake of the EF5 tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., in May 2011, photos of a windowless hospital served as a cautionary tale of building weakness—and as a beacon to the glass industry of a need that could be addressed. The tornado cost roughly $2.8 billion in damages and 158 lives. Since then, the glass industry and research bodies have begun exploring possibilities for making safe rooms out of everyday spaces, keeping glass in the equation for emergency facilities.
5. Hurricane Katrina.
While Hurricane Andrew changed the glass industry, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a major step toward discussing the need for impact-resistant glass in hurricane regions beyond Florida. Today, states around the Gulf—and now up the East Coast—have adopted some form of additional wind-borne debris protection.
Unexpected Design Influencers
1. The Green Movement.
Blame it on OPEC, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Green Building Council, or the Millennials, but going green is really no longer a choice. Energy efficiency is largely expected from commercial building products—and the standards are being set increasingly higher. The U.S. has seen enough energy crises over the last 50 years to recognize that reducing energy consumption must be a priority for every new building. If glass wants to maintain a place in tomorrow’s buildings, there’s no choice but to keep raising the bar on efficiency.
Apple is best known for its impact on technology, but when the tech giant began embracing all-glass buildings to showcase its products, it set out to change the face of architecture. The company holds numerous design patents for its memorable all-glass stores and shattered all expectations about what glass is capable of. We see lites spanning more than 40 feet; glass that serves as structural support, in seismic zones no less; and of course its love affair with glass staircases. And let’s not forget Apple’s use of glass within its products. As Corning toughened up its Gorilla Glass, rumors began to circulate that the ultra-thin glass could change architecture.
In many ways, the European design industry has always been light-years ahead of the U.S. Its tough energy policies and fearlessly visionary design practices have been influencing the look of U.S. projects and setting the bar increasingly higher for new products. Many of the technologies spotted in these pages got their start in European research centers, and one need only attend the biannual glasstec event in Germany to see that Europe is a trendsetter indeed.
In 2006, it was shocking for glass companies exhibiting at trade shows to see the increase in exhibitors from China—particularly as those exhibitors snapped photos of U.S. booths to provide new, cheaper versions of those products at the very next show. China was just beginning to emerge as a very real competitor to the U.S. glass industry, providing low-cost products that nearly wiped out the U.S. mirror manufacturing industry, and creating a scandal when sourced for the high-profile World Trade Center in New York. Nearly a decade later, designers and installers, recognizing improvements in quality, have begun embracing Chinese curtainwall products. In 2011, the International Trade Commission voted to impose antidumping and countervailing duty orders on Chinese aluminum extrusions; in 2012 the U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that this includes unitized Chinese curtainwall. While many U.S. companies still struggle against the competition, others are focusing on what the Chinese can’t provide: highly complex and unique products that require the quick turn-around only possible from a domestic supplier.
Building information modeling (BIM) technology is rapidly replacing CAD as the designer’s tool of choice. Because this 3-D tool allows designers to more easily prevent design conflicts among various components, architects are exploring new freedom to create incredibly complex structures where, like snowflakes, no two lites are alike. Further easing the process, new generations of modeling technology are allowing fabricators to create products and installers to manage product movement all based on the original design documents.
6. Wired Glass.
When wired glass was given an exemption from meeting the Consumer Product Safety Commission impact safety standard back in 1977, it was because the technology didn’t exist to safely meet use in doors, sidelites and other potentially hazardous locations. Some manufacturers saw this as a challenge. Today’s fire-rated glazing products offer protection and beauty in areas where transparency is an added bonus.
With wired glass no longer allowed in hazardous locations, many companies have stepped up to develop clear fire-rated solutions.
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