Facade Tectonics: Big glass, big opportunity, big problems

Patrick Flannery
August 08, 2018
By
Facade Tectonics held its first-ever Forum event in Vancouver on July 30, welcoming around 100 glass industry professionals to the glitzy new Marriot Parq downtown for a day of high-level discussion and education. The crammed schedule included six presentations by multiple presenters with ample time for questions after, attracting lots of input from the audience. Talk around the room during breaks suggested a great deal of satisfaction with the quality of the speakers and the content. The event was held in conjunction with the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance Summer Conference, which started the following day.

The day was led by Mic Patterson of Schuco-USA and Helen Sanders of Technoform. Sanders is the current president of the Facade Tectonics Institute and Patterson is a co-founder. Patterson's passion for the industry and the Institute's educational mission was evident as he introduced each session and injected his own questions and views into the discussions. Sanders opened the day by describing Facade Tectonics' mission as breaking down the information silos that the various parts of the industry live in.

In the Big Glass presentation, Lisa Rammig of Eckersley O'Callaghan took attendees through a look at how expectations around architectural glass are changing, noting that as recently as 2006 a five-by-10-foot glass panel was considered "oversized." She showed how a wall on the first all-glass Apple store required 106 panels to complete – a wall of the same size on the most recent required only five. The key to sucessfully installing these huge panels are the connections with advances in lamination making edge-to-edge joining possible without stressing the glass with point-supported hardware. She also showed how advances in cold bent glass are opening up new possibilites because bent glass can resist deflection and have structural benefits.

Local fabricator Roland Rossman of Garibaldi Glass showed the impact of larger glass orders on the production process, illustrating how bigger panels means bigger machinery throughout the shop and the difficulty introduced into every aspect right down to moving the glass around. Unrealistic lead time expectations are common, and Rossman wondered what the limits of insulating glass edge seals are going to prove to be as larger and larger IGUs are turned on their sides.

Next, Yvon Chiasson of Morrison Hershfield discussed quality control in fabricating and installing oversized panels. He noted that standards for insulating glass presently lag industry practice by a wide margin, with insulating glass normally tested in 14-by-20-inch sizes. The required strength of seal for big units is almost a complete unknown. Colour samples are typically 12-by-12 inches – does this scale up accurately? Coatings perform differently over larger glass areas. Edges are often exposed during shipping. What happens to edges when these four-ton panels are lifted onto buildings? How long was the seal given to cure? 

Finally, Jeff Heymann of Benson Industries talked about installation challenges. On a recent project Benson did, the average lite was 10-by-eight feet. Anything over 50 square feet used to be considered oversized and was charged a premium. Heymann described the difficulties with storing and executing just-in-time manufacturing with units this big. When it is necessary to use a tower crane to lift the unitized module, whole days can be lost on the jobsite due to wind. 

Heymann and the others observed that Apple has practically created a cottage industry dedicated only to addressing its demands for boundary-pushing big-glass architecture. Rammig described the Steve Jobs theatre, which consists of a round room of entirely glass exterior walls with no dividers or columns inside. The electrical services are run from the floor to the roof through the one-inch silicone joints between the glass panels. Heymann pointed to the 21-meter-high custom mast crane purpose-built for an Apple installation in Italy. It's as if Apple is the space program for architectural glass, spinning off inventions as engineers innovate to do what was previously impossible.

The next Facade Tectonics Forum is scheduled for Nov. 2 in New York. 

Facade Tectonics

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