“Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.” While the latter two may be true, Benjamin Franklin may consider taking back the first part of that statement if he could see the glazing used in the newly renovated Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia. The museum was reopened recently to the public following a two-year, $24 million project that saw updates to exhibits and enhancements to the architectural design of the building, including customized glazing solutions to allow visitors outdoor views from inside the museum.
Saint-Gobain subsidiary, Saint-Gobain Glass, provided the customized glass which was also used for an expansive glass window that will allow visitors inside the museum to view the iconic “Ghost Structure.”
The team that completed the renovation included architectural firm Quinn Evans Architects, glazing contractor APG International and contractor Keating.
Tasked with making the museum more inviting, Quinn Evans chose to enclose a space once sheltered by a canvas canopy within a uniquely designed glass curtainwall, fabricated by APG. It permitted the architects to create an entrance lobby and improve access to the underground museum. According to Saint-Gobain, the curtainwall recapitulates the Flemish bond pattern of the original design’s brick garden walls with glass “bricks” as large as eight feet in length. A custom ceramic frit pattern is applied to the outer glass surface using images derived from photos of the original hand-molded brick.
“APG International’s scope as Keating’s subcontractor (furnish and install) involved all of the glass elements of the façade—aluminum curtainwall, aluminum storefront, structural glass wall, glass doors—as well as the interior glass partitions, interior glass railings, mirrors and sliding glass door,” says Wayne Wang, APG project manager who oversaw the project.
“It was an international effort,” adds Wang. “We used engineering resources out of the UK and for the various elements, procured glass from six different sources—including Austria and three companies in Canada—to meet the project’s requirements. Aside from the physical logistical challenges of working in a tight site, matching the architect’s color specifications on their unique dot frit pattern for the main façade glass to simulate a brick effect was a challenge. We had to locate upstream vendors/suppliers to customize via multiple iterations to finally arrive at the color that Saint-Gobain ultimately used in the glass manufacture.”
“We searched for a special glass manufacturer that could bring our vision to life,” says Carl Elefante, FAIA, principal at Quinn Evans. “Saint-Gobain made it possible for us to experiment with the pattern, color, scale and application technique until we achieved a visual effect that provides the right balance between transparency and reflectivity.”
According to Saint-Gobain, the process of creating the custom glass began with photographing the original brick wall and developing physical mock-ups of the frit pattern during both the design and construction phases. In order to create pieces of glass that emulate the texture of brick, the glass manufacturer had to customize the glazing by moving the fritted layer, conventionally on the inner surface of glass, to the outer surface and heat-fusing the frit to ensure durability. By moving the frit to the outer surface it more effectively captures natural light as conditions fluctuate throughout the day. With glass located at both the outer and inner plane of the curtainwall framing, a “shadow box” effect is achieved, further intensifying the play of light.
Saint-Gobain also provided glass for the very large window designed to provide views of the Ghost House as visitors exit the exhibit. The view window is fabricated with two 8-foot by 16-foot pieces of low-iron laminated glass, each weighing approximately 1,200 pounds, that are joined by a single vertical sealant joint in the middle.
“The new glass designs for the Benjamin Franklin Museum give visitors a glimpse into the life of the influential diplomat and inventor from the start of their visit when they enter the museum until they exit, providing an overlook onto the space of where Franklin’s house once stood,” says John Crowe, president and CEO of Saint-Gobain in North America.