Volume 50, Issue 3 - March 2015

Behind the Facade
Innovative Projects Combine Precision and Vision

by Nick St. Denis

The past few months have seen the completion of some especially unique projects featuring innovative, one-of-a-kind facades. This month, USGlass magazine takes a deeper look into three recently completed projects that fit the bill.


Massive lites of glass weighing as much as 5,000 pounds apiece enclose a new wing of the Corning Museum of Glass. The simple-looking façade was, in fact, an intricate project that required careful calibration and challenging design work.

Boxed In
Museumís New Addition Turns Complex into Simple


From the outside, the 26,000-square-foot addition to the North Wing of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., looks simple. Yet the brand new structure is anything but.

The large, clean, milky white box—housing the museum’s new Contemporary Art and Design Wing—opened to the public this month. The exhibit is the world’s largest space dedicated to the display of contemporary art and design in glass, so it’s only fitting the exterior of the building is a glassy piece of art in itself.

“The idea was to take the white glass facade and to treat it metaphorically like a vitrine,” says architect Thomas Phifer, “so that it frames and honors the art inside.”

Heavy Lifting

In all, the entire façade utilizes approximately 20,000 square feet of glass and is comprised of 141 individual lites.
The largest lites of glass, located on the east facade, are 10 1⁄2 feet wide and 24 feet tall, weighing in at 5,000 pounds apiece. A special vacuum lifter—capable of lifting almost 8,000 pounds—had to be made to hoist in the lites.

“They were enormously large lites,” says Robert Gray, project manager of National Enclosure Company (NEC), which installed the structural glass system and assisted in the design and engineering. “… Too big to be made in the States.”

MBM Konstruktionen GmbH in Germany provided the engineering details and materials for the glass façade system, which incorporates a rainscreen portion and a vision portion. German-based Thiele Glas manufactured the 1-inch-thick, laminated, low-iron glass.

“We had to select a raw float glass supplier, order the raw float glass, get samples approved and then coordinate/confirm the geometry of the glass almost a year before it got installed to allow for all the steps required to get the product to the jobsite on time,” says Gray, who personally made five trips to Thiele Glas. “Due to the long lead times, we had to design the glass first, then make everything else fit to the glass design.”

Like No Other

“It is technically a structural glass rainscreen system,” says Gray. “The glass is deadloaded to the foundation and lites are stacked upon each other. The windloads are transferred to the back-up stud wall via aluminum windload hooks, [which are] structurally glazed to the back of the glass. This is all hidden in the final construction.”

Gray says the glass system is different than anything NEC has worked with and is unique to the glazing industry as a whole. “I don’t believe another facade like this exists in the U.S.,” he says.

“Some portions are rainscreen with a polar white interlayer, and the vision areas have a very small dot frit pattern on the number-two surface with a clear interlayer,” he says. “… The transition from rainscreen to vision glass occurred on the same lite of glass, making it very unique.”

He adds, “This was accomplished through great manufacturing of the glass, and developing the hidden waterproofing membrane, to make this transition.”

Gray says that because the glass was manufactured with a structural interlayer, it allowed the vertical mullions originally present at the vision glass vertical joints to be eliminated completely.

Overcoming Obstacles


“The biggest challenge was developing and coordinating the glass facade back-up stud wall system with the vision portions of the glass, making sure the hidden waterproofing tie-ins were in the correct position to vision glass to create the facade’s unique and nearly seamless look while providing proper function,” says Gray.

Another challenge for NEC was maintaining tight tolerances with glass of that size. “The glass joints were only a half-inch, which, for glass this size, is quite small,” he adds.

NEC was contracted for the job in the spring of 2013 and placed the last large lite of glass on October 14, 2014.
From the Inside

Natural daylighting is a prominent feature of the gallery, which utilizes diffusing roof skylights to provide a majority of the lighting required to view the glass art inside.

The majority of the windows and all of the skylights in the building are double glazed insulating glass units, which incorporate high-performance, low-E coatings.

Phifer says the project required a lot of calibration to control the daylight.

“What is remarkable about Corning Incorporated is their support for innovation, support for being inventive,” he says. “We did a lot of things that required careful research and calibration.”

Not So Simple

Phifer says the museum gives off a “contemporary” and “pure” ethos. “It represents an optimistic future.”

“For as simple as it looks—a big white box—it was extremely challenging to design and build,” says Gray. “There is so much going on behind the glass to create the final look that only those intimately involved can truly appreciate it.“

Adds Phifer, “It was a completely collaborative effort that required everyone working together from the very beginning. I’m absolutely thrilled with how it came out.”


A dramatic, curved façade stands guard at the entrance of a mixed-use facility in Beverly Hills.

Around the Bend

Bent glass continues to be a creative and innovative application for facades in North America.
One such project is the 75,000-square-foot, four-story, mixed-use Wilshire & Robertson Medical Office in Beverly Hills, which boasts a dramatic, curved facade. Designed by Clinger Spina Architects, the building’s front facade utilizes Guardian’s SunGuard CrystalGray and SunGuard SuperNeutral 68. The customized bent glass was fabricated by Precision Glass Bending.
“The biggest challenge on this project was engineering the front curved elevation,” says Martin Stueve of Intrepid Glass, the contract glazier.
According to Stueve, the overall height of the front elevation was 69 feet, 10 inches, and it extended 11 feet, 6 inches past the top of the roof. A segmented curtainwall also extended 11 feet, 6 inches with the balance of the fourth floor running past the roof 88 inches.
Stueve adds that the most challenging part of the curved curtainwall was what he refers to as the “wings” portion, as “the last two lites of glass were technically free standing.”
The architects specified SunGuard AG 50 on CrystalGray for the remaining portions of the façade. That glass was fabricated by Trulite Glass and Aluminum Solutions.

Winning Formula
EF Education First Headquarters Puts Glazing, Engineering Teams to the Test


The subject of language is a major focal point for the educational company EF Education First. But during the building of the company’s new headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., the primary subject was geometry—and maybe a little chemistry, too.

That’s because the large façade of the new 10-story, 300,000-square-foot building features an elaborate glass and aluminum “waterfall” design at its center, which crawls approximately 150 feet down the building from the roof to the main lobby, where it ends approximately 200 feet in width.

“The geometry of the project is really what makes it so unique,” says Richard Mauro of Tower Glass, which installed the curtainwall. “There was a lot of effort put in up front from Midwest Curtainwalls, Newport Industrial Fabrication (NIF) and the design team. Those guys all working together really made my job a lot easier.”

Wilson Architects and design architect Gert Wingardh worked on the project, and Karas & Karas was involved in the completion of the curtainwall.


Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope© fabricated the glass, which was 1 9⁄16-inch laminated and insulating with Guardian Sunguard SN68 Low-E on the number four surface.


Getting Technical


“The custom aluminum framing was designed as a skylight system, with rafters and purlins creating 42 flat facets with intersecting ridge and valley lines at all different angles,” says Lisa Lococo Smith of Midwest Curtainwalls, which was responsible for the design, engineering, and manufacturing of the curtainwall system for the building, as well as the glass waterfall. “Most of the rafter and purlin intersections were compound miter cuts, and some were severely sharp points.

“The rafters were attached to the round architectural steel truss system (by NIF) using welded steel plates. Within the facets were 388 framed glass units, of which 130 were rectangle and the rest were trapezoids, triangles and other shapes.”

NIF was originally contracted to supply the space-frame steel supporting the waterfall atrium glass. NIF’s Ryan Gerry adds that “more than 300 curtainwall attachments were unique at each location and required precise fabrication and layout prior to field installation. NIF was able to accomplish this through substation 3D modeling, six axis transformations and 3D survey technology.”

At the beginning of the project, NIF’s scope of the work was quickly expanded to include fabrication and design assistance on curtainwall attachments, vestibule/canopy/gutter system work and building connections.

“NIF also self-performed a great deal of inter-disciplinary 3D modeling, ensuring the complex components across varying trades and contractors would integrate on site,” says Gerry.

Overcoming Obstacles

Gerry says space-frame constructability was a massive challenge for the project.

“At times, eight pipe members would intersect at a single node,” he says. “We were able to overcome this by incorporating a cast steel sphere at the center of the node, reducing the overlapping effects of the steel pipe.”

Gerry adds that systems integration was also often a stumbling point.

“Skanska’s BIM department was often helpful for general information, but NIF often had to construct a single consolidated model to integrate building-to-waterfall relationships, gutter systems, canopy superstructure/finishes and curtainwall attachments,” he says.


Execution of the elaborate glass and aluminum “waterfall” at the new EF Education First headquarters required strong collaboration of all parties.

Team Chemistry

“The collaborative environment made this project truly unique,” says Gerry. “NIF, Skanska, Tower, Midwest, SDE and Wilson Architects were able to work together to troubleshoot potential problems before they occurred on site.

“Skanska was also open to value-adding design modifications, making the iconic structure more constructible and reducing lead times. The collaboration between NIF and Midwest was a critical component to the success of the shop-installed curtainwall attachments.”

“This type of system has not been done before, and our team of engineers and designers did it,” says Smith.

“They spent countless hours–almost 8,000 hours for only 13,300 square feet of glazed framing–poring over structural drawings and calculations to find a solution to the complexity of the glass configurations.”

Adds Mauro, “The waterfall portion, square-foot-wise, was just a small part of the curtainwall. But it was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been involved with.”


the author

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

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