Field Notes Spring 2021July 29th, 2021 | Category: Architects' Guide to Glass and Metal
By Chuck Knickerbocker
As I write this, there’s a fresh coat of snow on the ground and it’s cold. By the time you read this, hopefully the trees are in full bud, and spring is in the air. So, it’s a great time to look at some of the trends that seem to be coursing their way through the glazing market. What’s interesting to note is how the glazing trades— everyone from subcontractors, fabricators and manufacturers—respond to them. A control point or baseline from one sector may dictate the response from another, and then back-and-forth until erected. For me, it’s fun to watch these trends develop. In some instances, we have to account for some of that in our framing offerings, so we’re one of the players, too.
The growing demand for larger lites of glass is a challenging trend. The design community wanted them first, then the primary float plants and insulating glass fabricators were able to bring them to market. Then, the glazing subs—who have probably had some of the biggest challenges—had to figure out a way to handle them, literally and figuratively.
No one should be surprised that these larger lites have a cost premium. For the most part, the building designers and owners have bought into that. The return for them is the aesthetic in the monumental walls in which these lites are placed. But the glazing subs see it differently. Yes, there are some who recognized the chance to broaden their product offering, and they have figured out the pricing as well as the logistics of providing larger lites.
But there are others who haven’t bought into larger lites. Having said that, they can sometimes propose the reduction in the sizes to meet their max size “comfort level,” which in turn can require more framing. The result is a cost that does not represent what’s in the construction documents. Or, the designers must pre-qualify in their specifications the subcontractors who have worked on and feel comfortable working on these types of projects. Just be careful that you know whether you are comparing apples to oranges when evaluating bids.
Another trend that’s out there is exciting, but also a bit scary. The American Institute of Steel Construction has started a task group to find a way to erect steel buildings in half the time it currently takes. One particular result that’s gaining some traction is known as “SpeedCore.” This concept cut the cost of the steel erection on a 58-story tower by 43%. It uses steel plates shop welded together to be the formwork for the core, and eliminates setting forms, setting
rebar, pouring the concrete and stripping the forms. Once the prefabricated core is set, the concrete is poured between those steel plates, and up to the next floor they go.
Think owners and general contractors are going to be interested in cutting the schedule by employing that? You bet. And how do you think that’s going to impact the glazing industry? We’ll have to find a way to set the building envelopes faster.
This will require some coordination among all parties. Will it be possible to get the building envelope anchors preset on the spandrel beams, allowing for necessary, negotiated range of tolerances? If it allows faster erection of the wall, why not go for it?
This will take the same care and effort that occurred when building envelopes, particularly curtainwalls and windows, moved from stick systems to unitized. There were changes: the curtainwall engineering and fabrication had to begin sooner and trades had to adjust to the changing field labor considerations. We’ll figure out how to respond to this if it catches on, too, but talk about a game changer!
There’s still the never-ending quest to tighten up the energy performance of building envelopes in everything from framing to glass. Closing off energy “leaks” between glass and adjacent construction is also getting a lot of attention. That will impact framing systems, as well as the design community, regarding how the adjacent constructions are aligned at interfaces.
The current battle for the wall has a lot of fronts. Please, feel free, lean into it with us. It’ll be work, but the results will be well worth the effort.
Chuck Knickerbocker is the curtainwall manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, along with specialty architectural glazing products. With more than 35 years of curtainwall experience, he has worked with numerous architects, building owners and subcontractors from development of schematic design through installation. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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