Don’t break the chain

Phil Savage of Pilkington United Kingdom explores the use of structural glazing in modern building design and explains why the ‘value chain’ is integral to successfully fulfilling an architect’s vision.

Structural glazing is a common feature of architectural projects across the world. From the Shard and the Gherkin in London, to the Louvre in Paris or the skyscrapers that pepper the skyline of international cities such as Tokyo and New York, it has become an integral aspect of any cityscape.

Many people take the engineering strength behind these designs for granted. Buildings that are flooded with light are now seen as commonplace, yet it is the designers and creators of these buildings that endeavour to understand the technol- ogy and mechanics that underpin them.

With a knowledge and understanding of the full value chain – from design to installation – architects can ensure their vision becomes a reality.

More than aesthetics

Over the past 10 years we have seen continued investment in research and development across the construction industry, with both the building products and construction techniques used in the built environment having evolved signifi- cantly.

This is particularly relevant for the developments in structural glazing. Here, a once-niche technology that was used only in some of the most cutting-edge projects has now become a material used in buildings across the world, from commercial office blocks and shopping centres to universities and museums.

As architects continue to push bound- aries and design light-filled spaces, the glass manufacturing industry has evolved to create and develop products that facili- tate this.

Nowadays, architects can specify frameless, fixed-point glass systems that are based on steel tension structures that hold the panes in place. This means systems forming otherwise unsupported walls of glass can be created to a great height and incorporated into a design. One project we have worked on recently which is a great example of this in action is a new high-rise court complex in Al Farwaniya, a suburb of Kuwait City.

Architecturally, the building is designed to reflect the strength and transparency of the Kuwait justice system and, appropri- ately, glazing plays a starring role. Here, the building’s key design feature is a 20- metre-wide sloping glass wall that rises above the main entrance of the building to a height of 70 metres.

This is made possible using toughened glass, which provides the strength of the structural glazing system. The addition of toughened laminated glass can also add further resistance against mechanical forces, such as high winds or blasts.

However it’s not just the aesthetics of a building that the glass manufacturing industry is contributing to – performance is also benefitting.

With advancements in glass-coating technology architects are now able to specify a range of high-performance products into their designs. From insulat- ing glass units (IGUs) that improve the energy performance of a building through solar control and low-e properties to those that can reduce noise pollution or provide enhanced security features. All of which can be incorporated into the structural glazing systems of a building.

The importance of installation

Once design and specification is complete, the final stage is installation. This is of paramount importance to the overall result and if structural glazing is installed incorrectly, not only will the building not look as it was intended, it will not perform to its full potential.

Structural glazing systems are designed to last decades, so it is vital that the instal- lation is carried out by a fully trained professional team.

The preferred route would be for the system manufacturer to work with an experienced installer network, accredited and supported by the manufacturer. This way, architects and specifiers have peace of mind that those working on the project not only have an in-depth knowledge of the exact systems they are working with, but they have also been trained in all elements of installation. This will include everything from on site safety to how structural glazing interacts with other products in the building facade.

It’s also worth remembering that as the complexity of the design increases, the pool of talent that can install it becomes smaller. As the size and thickness of a pane increases, it becomes increasingly challenging for those working onsite. To overcome this, manufacturers can help to identify the team an architect needs around them.

Beyond the confines of commercial building design

While structural glazing has often been the domain of commercial construction, it is now used in projects ranging from high- rise skyscrapers to domestic designs and everything in between.

Today, structural glazing is becoming increasingly popular in heritage building refurbishments, where its low-profile fittings mean it does not obstruct historical architectural features but is still able to give a new lease of life to a building. It can be used to seamlessly link old and new buildings, as well as helping to preserve older structures by providing an additional element of protection to the building envelope.

It is also widely specified across the retail sector, where it can provide uninter- rupted glass walls and improve the customer’s shopping experience, and in transport hubs where structural glazing is often used to create open, light and welcoming spaces for the public.

The benefits of structural glazing systems are clear, and by striking the right combination of design, manufacturer and installer, architects can maximise the true value of this building product and success- fully see their vision come to life.

Phil Savage is commercial contracts sales manager at Pilkington United Kingdom, part of the NSG Group