From Olympics to Glass

If you’re like me you’ve probably been staying up late the past couple of weeks watching the Olympics. It’s not as though we all probably don’t already know who won what; after all the events took place live hours before and news reports have already made the announcements. Still, we watch. Hoping, perhaps, for different results; maybe the reports got it wrong, though not likely.

Like so many others, I am a huge fan of the Olympics. I love gymnastics, swimming, track and field. I am amazed by the power, poise, speed and grace Olympians display. It’s exciting to watch our country’s best athletes compete for the coveted prize—and heart-wrenching when they fail.

The same can be said of buildings.

Early in my career here our sister magazine USGlass featured an article titled “Why Bad Things Happen to Good Buildings.” The article talked about just that: “famous” cases of architectural failures and glass breakages, particularly noting Boston’s John Hancock tower “which was clad in more than an acre of plywood after its reflective glass began to fracture in 1972 and 1973.”

Over the past year there have been numerous new accounts of falling glass—glass falling from balconies. These cases included that of the W Hotel  in Austin last June. Since then we have seen numerous other accounts of falling balcony glass incidents, many of which have been in Canada. As a result, Ontario, for example, revised its building code in hopes of reducing the instances of balcony glass breakage in newly constructed buildings. The use of heat-strengthened laminated glass or heat-soaked tempered glass if balcony guards are inset from the edge of the balcony will be required under the new regulations. The current building code revisions were established by the Expert Advisory Panel on Glass Panels in Balcony Guards, which was made up of 25 members including engineering consultants, building code consultants, developers, contractors, professional designers, municipal building inspectors, insurance providers and members of codes and standards-writing bodies. The panel was created after the City of Toronto and the Residential Construction Council of Ontario called on the Ministry to “address the falling balcony glass panel problem” after a spate of incidents  that occurred last year and have continued this year.

So, why is all of this glass falling? Some say such failures might be related to nickel sulphide inclusions in the glass; others say the blame is due to poor quality, Chinese glass. At this time, there has been no firm resolution stating: “this is why all that glass fell.”

Personally speaking, I am no glass expert. But I can tell you this: right here in my own home—spontaneously—a glass lite in our fireplace doors shattered. We don’t know what caused the tempered glass to break. And that’s the thing: tempered glass does sometimes break—whether on a balcony, a tabletop or possibly a fireplace lite, such as mine.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this subject. If you’ve been involved with a glass balcony project, what do you think of this? Do such news reports veer you away from the design concept? Post your comments or email me at erogers@glass.com.

 


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