A New View
Product Advances Give Architects
New Opportunities with Moveable Glass Wall Systems
by Ellen Rogers
Flip your remote to any home improvement TV channel and
you’ll soon enough hear a certain catch phrase: outdoor living. It’s been
a trend for years. Consumers have certainly embraced the available resources
to enhance the outdoor area of their homes, and one way they are doing
this is by incorporating operable glass wall systems. While these products,
such as lift-and-slides and folding doors, were once deemed solely for
the high-end, this is changing, thanks in part to product innovations
and advances—giving architects even more possibilities and opportunities.
Moveable glass wall systems historically have been used most often in
high-end, luxury homes, as well as some high-rise condos and some commercial
“Most of the projects are the $3 million-plus custom homes, but we also
do high-rise condos,” says Cooper Buranen with Las Vegas-based Panda Windows
Lee Maughan, general manager of LaCantina Doors in Vista, Calif., says
historically his company’s customer base has been high-end clientele,
but they are starting to see that going more toward the mass market.
“But awareness is the first thing. Many still do not know what folding
doors are. As the awareness grows the products will become more competitive
and the prices will start to come down,” he says “I can see it veering
away from just the high-end customer, as we want to see [it possible]
for everyone to [have such a system]. It’s a fun product, a lifestyle
product … it opens spaces and changes lives.”
Educational facilities, though, are yet another place where architects
say they have been using these systems.
“We are school designers (K-12) and the current education model encourages
interaction between classrooms and the shared learning area,” says Yinsze
Lam, an architect with Seattle-based Integrus Architecture. “Operable
glass partitions provide the opportunity for visual and physical connection
between these spaces.”
Lam says there are also plenty of other reasons for using these products.
For example, glass walls allow architects to maximize the size of the
“As the awareness grows the products
will become more competitive and the prices will start to come down.”
general manager of LaCantina Doors
“A double swing patio door is limited by the width of the
door leaves and a sliding door has stacked width and sound transmission
limits,” says Lam. “Operable glass doors allow us to fully open up the
wall if desired. Also, it is coplanar when closed so it is not so limited
by the depth of the wall type, whereas sliding doors need multiple tracks
to achieve a large opening. Most of the folding glass doors have a much
better sill/threshold detail for sound blocking and thermal separation.”
Lam adds, “I have a pair of patio doors installed in my house addition
project and they are fantastic in terms of connecting my family room to
the deck beyond. Not only does it provide a visual connection, but also
a true physical connection. In the summer, my family room literally doubles
Michael Kollin, with Kollin Altomare Architects in Long Beach, Calif.,
adds, “The most important reason we use these types of products is to
create a visual large opening and remove physical barriers such as columns
and solid walls. Regular windows and patio doors only offer small scale
openings and fixed vision, and do not create that feeling of inside/outside
And these systems have likewise seen a lot of changes over the past few
decades. Not surprising, many of these changes tie into the increasingly
stringent demands for energy performance.
As Buranen points out, much of these technology/engineering advances are
in the door assembly/aluminum extrusions.
“We use thermally broken frames, which offer a good thermal barrier,”
Buranen says. “A lot has been done in the last few years and has helped
grow [the market] in colder climates.” He adds that there has also been
a tremendous amount of advancement on the glass side.
According to Matt Thomas, marketing manager for Nanawall in Mill Valley,
Calif., much of the growth around the product segment ties into performance
and creating a greater range of usage. This includes weather resistance,
energy, and durability. He says, in fact, these products can reach R-values
of triple-glazed products, even in the upper territories of Canada.
Derek Lukala, senior technical sales with Tiltco, in Newmarket, Ontario,
Canada, points out, “We’re seeing the consumers becoming more educated
and aware of the energy efficiency of windows. That’s pushing us to stay
up-to-date on glass technologies.”
Energy advances aside, potential customers in, let’s say, the upper Midwest
or the Northern territories of Canada, may still be leery of such a product.
After all, they may think that massive glass walls just aren’t conducive
to cold climates.
“In colder climates it is more difficult to ‘sell’ this opening because
of the climate. Typically, though, these would be used for the warmer
months in those climates and stay closed during the cold in my experience.”
However, thanks to technological advances, such as thermal breaks and
high-performance glass, these systems can and are being used in every
climate range, from the most temperate to the coldest.
LaCantina is a manufacturer of folding doors that started in Australia
about 15 years ago and in the United States for about eight years. Maughan
says they do much of their work in Southern California, and are starting
to expand into other regions.
“[You see these systems on] every corner in Australia. There are no geographic
constraints,” he says pointing out how common they are, even in typically
cold areas, such as Melbourne, Victoria, in the southern part of the country.
“I think we could see the same here one day.”
Into the Mainstream
But the high price tag that typically comes with these systems can be
a challenge when it comes to working with these systems.
“In renovation projects one needs to typically remove bearing walls or
posts and re-engineer large openings with new columns and headers, then
[comes] the added costs of a nice [system],” says Kollin.
While operable glass wall systems may never be sold at a price on par
with the traditional French doors, manufacturers say they are starting
to see a shift in the market. These products gradually are making their
way into more moderately priced homes—at least moderately priced compared
to the multi-million dollar homes in which they started.
Tiltco, for example, recently added a sliding door system that’s at a
mid-range price point. “It has movable panels, up to five on each slide,”
says Lukala. “So it’s an evolution of the operable wall system and gives
a mid-price point option.”
He explains,“Our focus was not to take away from the high end, but provide
another choice … [the new product] is coherent with our current product
line so we’re here to give the full package,” says Lukala. “We’re not
looking to re-define our product line [saw a need for a mid-range product]
… if you want to provide everything in house you have to have products
to meet all price ranges—no matter the budget.”
What’s in Store?
Manufacturers agree there are definitely future opportunities. And energy
awareness is leading much of what will go into new designs.
Maughan says he sees the market evolving more in terms of performance.
“Everything is performance based,” he says.
And Buranen says energy codes will continue to be important.
“Also, the development of thermally broken systems will have to continue
to [improve and develop new products]. It can be a huge challenge to reach
the numbers [codes will require], given the overall size of the systems,
[so as codes become more and more stringent] meeting those may be a challenge.”
Though the future may indeed hold both opportunities and challenges, architects
are excited for what the future may offer. Admitting that in the past
cost has been a deterrent for some of the more budget-conscious clients,
Lam expects that will change in the future.
“I’m sure [these systems] will become more cost effective in the future
if demand increases. A lot of low/mid income housings in Europe, Asia
and Australia use these as patio doors or room dividers. I see no reason
why this cannot happen in the United States and Canada.”
And Kollin agrees, “I am definitely seeing the price come down as more
and more manufacturers are providing large opening solutions, especially
in the residential market. In the commercial market the quality can’t
be compromised but finishes and hardware options are making these more
Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide
to Glass & Metal magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow her on Twitter @AGGmagazine and like AGG magazine on Facebook
to receive updates.
Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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