Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2004

Ready for Anything
Mississippi Federal Building Features Blast-Resistant Glazing
by Megan Headley
photos by Greg Carney

While still in the planning phase, the new Gulfport, Miss., federal courthouse, officially named the Judge Dan M. Russell, Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse, faced controversy over its original historic site location. The 220,600-square-foot building was completed in August 2003 and is prepared to face most any situation, in part a result of its blast-resistant glazing. 

Defying Imagination
Blast-resistant glazing has become a standard requirement in designing and upgrading federal buildings, despite the fact that, at one point, the idea of using such lightweight materials for blast protection “defied imagination” for the federal government, according to Dr. Robert Smilowitz, a principal with blast consultant Weidlinger Associates Inc. The $52 million project was part of the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Center for Courthouse Management program that created new federal buildings for nearly 200 overcrowded courthouses. 

Weidlinger Associates, based in New York, was the coordinator among the glass fabricator, contract glazier and materials in between, such as mullions and sealants. Using criteria provided by the GSA in document P100, The Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service, the consulting firm was responsible for calculating the pressure on the face of the building and deciding which elements were best suited to meet the federal requirements.

“It was a federal facility, so the threat [requirements were] provided to us,” said Smilowitz. “Working with the architect, we came up with a prototype that met the blast requirements,” continued Smilowitz. 

Product Selection
Once the consultant completed the analysis, it was necessary to pass the resultant calculations on to the manufacturers of the individual parts. Those companies were then required to come up with the details of how to apply the consultant’s guidelines to the project. For this project, glass fabricator Viracon’s insulating laminated glass was used with framing supplied by Pensacola, Fla.-based glazing subcontractor Pensacola Glass. 
Viracon supplied the building with approximately 37,000 square feet of Solarscreen low- E insulating laminated glass designed to mitigate the effects of a bomb-blast attack. 

“Laminated glass constructed with an enhanced interlayer, such as polyvinyl butyral (PVB), offers protection in the event of a blast by allowing broken glass fragments to adhere to the plastic interlayer rather than spraying building occupants,” said Sara Theiss, protective glazing specialist for Viracon. “In addition, Viracon worked with the architects, R. M. Kliment & Frances Harlsband Architects, to design the glass for specific thermal and solar energy performance by incorporating our Solarscreen low-E coating, custom silkscreen pattern and insulating glass, which helped to reduce energy costs on the building,” Theiss added. 

Against the Elements
More than blast-resistance and energy efficiency benefits had to be considered in manufacturing the glass, however. Because of the courthouse’s location within a half mile from the Gulf Coast, the architect also had to consider code requirements for hurricane-resistant glazing in addition to meeting the GSA criteria. According to Theiss there is a notable difference between the two types of requirements. 

“One actually will take precedence over the other,” said Theiss. “The hurricane requirements are often more 
stringent.”

She added that the inherent characteristics of the laminated glass used in the project offered additional safety benefits, including protection from hurricane force winds and debris. The first test of the hurricane-resistant glazing, Hurricane Ivan, came up through the Gulf on September 16, when Mississippi found itself in the path of the category 4 storm. 

“Everything was fine,” said Alex Smith, GSA representative. “In Gulfport we had sustained winds up to 45 miles per hour, gusts around 60, I think, and everything held up fine.” 

Looking Forward
At one point, said Smilowitz, “the federal government didn’t trust blast-resistant curtainwall … it defied imagination.” Today, however, it seems equally improbable that architects would return to building the concrete block-like, structures that for so long seemed to signify security when blast-resistant glazing systems are capable of protecting a building from attack. 

the author
Megan Headley is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine.


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