Glass for the Masses: How YKK AP Made an Urban Design Trend Possible

May 1, 2008
YKK AP's innovative fenestration products inspired developers to apply the all-glass look of a contemporary skyscraper to cutting-edge highrise condos across the Southeast

Glass highrise condominiums are transforming the landscape of urban centers across the Southeast. Head to the hotspots of any major Southern city, and notice the fresh look.

The presence of these shining glass towers, bustling with activity, has added a needed vibrancy to the commercial core of major Southern cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Orlando. Architects relish the chance to design residential buildings in a bold, modern style. Youthful buyers who want to live where the action is have overwhelmingly embraced this new wave of modernism.

This exciting trend may not have been possible without a product innovation by architectural products manufacturer YKK AP. Developers of multifamily buildings must control costs in order to achieve an entry price affordable to young, professional, first-time buyers.  Georgia-based YKK AP devised a system that makes the "curtain wall" look of a sleek office tower affordable for condos. The product was designed at the request of Atlanta-based glazing contractor Glass Systems Inc. and was used in the project that launched the trend, Atlanta's Metropolis, developed by Novare Group and Wood Partners.

"Glass is an essential component to our high-rise developments, giving the building its sleek exterior look while creating light-filled interior spaces that please our homeowners," said James R. Borders, president of Novare Group. "To accomplish this in an economical fashion that is actually a higher quality solution than curtain wall was the breakthrough innovation from YKK AP and Glass Systems."

First on the Block
Novare and Wood started a wave with Metropolis in trendy Midtown Atlanta and follow- up projects such as Eclipse in the city's fashionable Buckhead district at the turn of the millennium. The bold new structures stood out as a radical departure from traditional residential highrises. They sold out almost instantly.

Up to that point, the expected look of a residential highrise was reminiscent of an old stone building with small windows overlooking Manhattan's Central Park. In contrast, the new buildings combined affordability with an upbeat, contemporary appearance.

Novare and Wood rapidly repeated their hit formula with additional Atlanta highrises, changing the very look of the city. Novare since has taken the product on the road to cities in surrounding states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and beyond. Competitors followed with copycat structures.

Product Innovation Challenge
But before the first prototype could get off the ground, the developers had a dilemma to solve. Architects Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart designed Metropolis with an all-glass look that was right on target for the young urban market. But because the price of curtain wall is prohibitive for this market, the original design called for window wall, with exposed concrete slabs between floors. In redesign, a metal cover was sketched in, for a cleaner appearance, but there were no plans for how that could be accomplished.

Glass Systems Inc. the glazing contractor for Metropolis, knew a separate metal panel would be troublesome; it would have to be integrated into the fenestration system in order to create a seamless appearance and to keep the interiors water tight. However, no such product existed. Realizing that product innovation would be essential to get the job done right, Glass Systems came to YKK AP.

"YKK AP figured out how it could be extruded. They came up with the design, and we approved it," said Glass Systems President Luther Hudson. "The architect and the owner loved it. We put it on their first job, and it has worked great for them ever since."

Glass Systems has installed the "condo system" in approximately 25-30 towers since the "Metropolis" project in 2001, company Vice President Frank McCoy said.

"We have found a niche with this system and look forward to many successful projects in the future," McCoy said.

Product Innovation Solution
YKK AP's condo system combines slab-to-slab window wall with an aluminum slab edge cover. The slab edge cover slides into receptors to cover the exposed concrete slab, closing the exterior gap from floor to floor. The receptors are integrated into the window wall system for a seamless appearance. The result is an attractive 8-9" metal band between floors.

The economic savings of the slab edge system comes primarily from the ease and speed of installation, said John McGill, operations manager for YKK AP's Project Business Group. Curtain wall requires external installation that entails scaffolding, lifts and cranes. The slab edge system can be installed entirely from the interior of the building.

"When the contractor installs window wall without the slab edge component, he has to either leave the concrete slab exposed or find another way to fill the gaps between floors," McGill explained.  "For example, he can paint or panel the slab.  But those options require separate installation, independent of the fenestration system. And they also require ongoing maintenance," explained McGill.

Other system benefits include moisture control and noise reduction. The metal panels are sealed into the fenestration system, keeping water out. And the floor-to-ceiling glass doesn't "creak" and "pop" with temperature like an office building exterior.

A Bright Day for Natural Light
The slab edge system was an eye-opener for developers serving the condominium market, said YKK AP Senior Vice President Oliver Stepe.

"Before we popularized the slab edge technique, developers couldn't get the cutting-edge look that architects favor without breaking their budgets," Stepe said.  "So they ended up compromising the appearance they wanted to get the price point they needed."

Increasingly, architects are sketching floor-to-ceiling glass into multifamily designs, McGill observed, because a quality product at an affordable price now exists to bring their vision to life. YKK AP's innovation helped make fashionable living affordable for first-time buyers in urban centers throughout the Southeast.

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