The Wow Factor

Exo Delivers a Dynamic Living Experience

By Jordan Scott

When most people look through the window of their new apartment they’re looking through the glass to take in the view. But a high-rise residential project is hoping to draw tenants’ attention to the windows themselves. Dynamic glass, also known as smart glass, is included throughout the entire façade of Exo, a 16-story complex in Reston, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.

The Exo at Excelsior Parc was designed by R2L:Architects, based in Washington, D.C. According to principal Sacha Rosen, the firm has been interested in dynamic glazing for a while.

“We had used it in a couple of previous projects in a more limited scope,” he says. “In other projects it fit well because we were doing common areas with lots of glass that are typically susceptible to UV-degradation. We used to do sunshades and other mechanical devices to reduce the glare but, on the top of tall buildings and because of the wind and other factors, it can be harder to do things like sunshades, so dynamic glass was a great application.”

Rosen says that dynamic glazing manufacturer View Glass, based in Milpitas, Calif., had worked with R2L in the past and approached the firm with the desire to demonstrate smart glass’ capabilities for multifamily residential applications.

“It is a large multifamily project that had the whole building using smart windows,” says Jeff Platon, vice president of marketing at View Glass. “We had done parts of other building before.”

He explains that Greystar, the developer, became comfortable with the benefits provided by dynamic glazing through previous projects, which led them to sign on.

Exo sports nearly 81,000 square feet of glass, often floor-to-ceiling—that’s 3,929 total insulating glass units. The dynamic glazing is paired with Alucobond panels, which appear to change colors between blue and teal depending on the viewer’s angle. The totality of the dynamic glazing is powered by a solar array on the roof.

The glass tints automatically so that tenants can enjoy the view without the use of shades to block harsh sunlight. The dynamic glazing also can be controlled through a centralized system managed by the apartment complex or by each tenant through an app. Tenants have the ability to vary the light transmittance of any combination of glass lites in their apartment. Platon says one challenge the View Glass team faced was finding a way to allow residents of all 457 units to become authenticated and create accounts easily, keeping tenant turnover in mind.

“There were some learnings, in that respect, at that kind of volume…,” he says.

Dynamic glazing was included as a part of a modularized glazing system to make installation more efficient for glazing subcontractor Service Glass, based in Frederick, Md. Rosen says the installation of the glazing had its challenges.

“One of the challenges with dynamic glazing is integrating the glazing itself into the window systems and the building infrastructure. Each piece of glass has a pigtail of wires sticking through that. All of those wires have to be collected, terminated in logical ways and the whole building has to be wired to work,” he says. “Anytime you’re drilling holes in the exterior façade there’s lots of issues with weatherization and thermal performance. It’s a pretty technical process to work through and by simplifying the overall system it simplifies the process and makes it possible to really focus in on critical details.”

According to Platon, careful attention was paid to how the wiring was placed in the sockets so they were still accessible for any future maintenance needs.

Rosen says that there was a series of different glazing systems on the project, such as window wall, curtainwall, storefront and terrace doors, that presented another challenge for R2L.

“The big challenge was trying to solve the technical details for each one of those different applications that make the whole thing look integrated and have the details look the same between the different glazing types,” he says.

Rent prices are higher at Exo compared to some of the nearby apartments due in part to the dynamic glazing, according to Rosen. He says that while it may increase rental rates, it’s still unclear what the overall payback period for the project will be.

However, Rosen says, “People I’ve talked to think it’s really cool. I’m not sure if they see it as being the only cool factor or the thing that made them move there, but I think they get the sense that it’s part of a whole package of very contemporary, cool design. It makes the building very different from the rest of the competition.”

The Dynamic Future

With the continual blur between multifamily, hotel and office applications in co-working/co-living spaces, Rosen anticipates more incidental applications for dynamic glazing in the future. He believes that dynamic glazing is getting close to achieving a level of technological ability and a price point that could create increased specification by architects.

According to Platon, View Glass has more than 20 multifamily residential projects in the works across North America. He says that in the past, there weren’t enough case studies and data available for developers to feel that there was a reduced risk in using dynamic glazing despite the cost.

“The sheer volume of projects and the research studies we’ve developed … have captured the real value, whether it was health and wellness by reducing headaches, dizziness and drowsiness, or creating access to previously uninhabitable space next to the windows,” says Platon.

Having more accessible space leads to higher lease rates in commercial offices, according to Platon, in some cases 12-22% higher than comparable spaces.

“The overwhelming data got people feeling comfortable that the risk was low to none,” he says.

Jordan Scott is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal. She can be reached at jscott@glass.com

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