Splendor in the Glass

July 1, 2004
Owners, Occupants, and Tenants Benefit From Curtainwall Exteriors
A curtainwall system’s look and performance affects a building’s occupants and an owner’s ability to attract and retain its tenants. Architects and contractors turn to manufacturers to deliver on these ever-increasing expectations for style and function.Aesthetic Appeal“Visual clarity continues to be of prime importance in glass selection,” observes Steve Fronek, vice president, Wausau, WI-based Wausau Window and Wall Systems. “Combined with more stringent energy codes, high-performance ‘neutral’ coatings are now a must for curtainwalls.” Such coatings, he explains are “neutral” in appearance, “imparting minimal color, tint, or reflectivity.”For sprawling corporate campuses or for a cluster of several similar-sized buildings, architects are choosing curtainwall to “mass” their designs. This can be achieved by either using various construction materials unified by a single curtainwall design, or by relying on various, distinctive curtainwall systems to break up an otherwise expansive structure.Fronek continues, “Offset glass planes also can add depth and shadow to an otherwise featureless expanse of curtainwall. Structural glazing can be combined with aluminum accent trim to achieve almost any desired effect. Enhancing this, architects are making the most of manufacturers’ capabilities to custom-color-match high-performance fluropolymer paint finishes.”Green Goals“Offering another opportunity for an aesthetic statement, sunshades incorporated directly into a curtainwall system are a popular ‘sustainable design’ feature that improves energy efficiency,” notes Fronek.Interest in sustainable considerations have re-emerged, and studies that show natural light helps create productive environments for working, healing, and learning. Protective PerformanceFurther benefiting the end-user, curtainwalls are being tested to provide added safety and security by withstanding such demanding conditions as hurricanes, earthquakes, and bomb blasts.Golden Valley, MN-based specialty glazing contractor Harmon Inc.’s Mike Thomas serves as general manager in Boynton Beach, FL, and shepherds the development of hurricane-resistant products. “Until the code changes of 1994, they applied just to our most southern area of the state. Now, the code covers the whole state, the coastline of Texas, and has spread up to the Carolinas.”He predicts: “Before long, it’ll be all the way up the coast to Maine and New York. Eventually, I believe these same standards will carry over to tornado alley.”Ideal InstallationDrawing from extensive knowledge and hands-on experience in matching performance considerations with architectural vision, specialty glazing contractors work closely with curtainwall manufacturers to assist the building team in providing the best system for the project. Involving the glazing contractor early in the design can translate into hours saved in the field, contributing to a faster construction schedule and earlier building openings.For existing buildings undergoing curtainwall renovations, a professional glazing contractor also is a key resource in establishing a removal and installation plan that minimizes tenant distribution, while accommodating the desired aesthetic, functional, and scheduling goals.Forward FocusExtending their current roles, curtainwall manufacturers and glazing contractors are collaborating with building owners and other team members to explore even faster installations; innovative, resilient designs; and functional, power-generating applications.Heather West is a Minneapolis-based writer and public relations consultant specializing in architectural building products and services.

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