Volume 43, Issue 7 - July 2008

Glass for the Masses
Innovation Brings All-Glass Look to Southeast Condo Market
By Oliver Stepe

Glass high-rise condominiums are transforming the landscape of urban centers across the Southeast. 

The presence of these shining glass towers, bustling with activity, has added vibrancy to the commercial core of major southern cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla. Architects relish the chance to design residential buildings in a bold, modern style. Youthful buyers who want to live where the action is have overwhelmingly embraced this new wave of modernism. 

But before this exciting trend was made possible, developers had a dilemma to solve. The cost of curtainwall used in office buildings is prohibitive for condominiums marketed to young professionals, who often are first-time buyers. Windowwall presents a more affordable option, but still there was a piece missing. How do you fill the gaps between floors? There had to be a way to cover the exposed concrete slabs in a manner that created a seamless look, was watertight and would maintain its appearance over time.

Finding the right solution required the combined efforts of a developer, architect, glazing contractor and architectural product manufacturer.

And the Answer Is …
The answer was found in time for the project that launched the trend, Metropolis, a twin high-rise structure in Atlanta’s trendy Midtown neighborhood. Metropolis was developed at the turn of the millennium by Novare Group and Wood Partners. In consultation with Glass Systems, the architects and the developers, our company, YKK AP, which is based in Austell, Ga., was able to custom-design and manufacture a fenestration system for this project, enabling the all-glass look. 

“Glass is an essential component to our high-rise developments, giving the building its sleek exterior look while creating light-filled interior spaces that please our homeowners,” says James R. Borders, chief executive officer of Novare Group, a developer of cutting-edge, mixed-use high-rise communities in U.S. urban markets.

Novare and Wood started a wave with Metropolis and quickly followed up with projects such as Eclipse in the city’s fashionable Buckhead section. The bold new structures stood out as a radical departure from traditional residential high-rises. They sold out almost instantly.

Up to that point, the expected look of a residential high-rise was reminiscent of an old stone building with small windows overlooking a city park. In contrast, the new buildings combined affordability with an upbeat, contemporary appearance.

The Design Challenge
Architects Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart chose to design Metropolis with an all-glass look that was right on target for the young urban market. Because of the price of curtainwall, the original design called for windowwall, with exposed concrete slabs between floors. In redesign, a metal cover was sketched in, for a clean appearance, but there were no plans for how that could be accomplished.

Glass Systems Inc. in Lithonia, Ga., the glazing contractor for Metropolis, knew a separate metal panel would be troublesome; it would have to be integrated into the fenestration system in order to create a seamless appearance and to keep the interiors water tight. However, no such product existed. Realizing that product innovation would be essential to get the job done right, Glass Systems asked YKK AP if it would be possible to design a new product specifically for this building.

“They figured out how it could be extruded,” says Glass Systems president Luther Hudson. “The architect and the owner loved it. We put it on their first job, and it has worked great for them ever since.” 

Novare has since taken its signature style on the road to cities in the surrounding states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. Competitors followed with similar structures. 

A Clear Solution
The technique combines slab-to-slab windowwall with an aluminum slab edge cover. The slab edge cover slides into receptors to cover the exposed concrete slab, closing the exterior gap from floor to floor. The receptors are integrated into the windowwall system for a seamless appearance. 

The economic savings of the “slab-edge” windowwall system comes primarily from the ease and speed of installation, says YKK AP’s John McGill, operations manager for project business. Curtainwall often requires external installation, entailing scaffolding, lifts and cranes. The special windowwall system can be installed entirely from the interior of the building.

Competing manufacturers have followed suit by introducing comparable products.

Aluminum slab-edge covers have an advantage over other methods of covering the exposed slab, such as paint, because they do not require ongoing maintenance, McGill says. Other system benefits include moisture control and noise reduction. The metal panels are sealed into the fenestration system, keeping water out. And the floor-to-ceiling glass doesn’t “creak” and “pop” with temperature like an office-building exterior.

The technique has given architects a way to go floor-to-ceiling with glass in condominium towers, while reconciling cost, functionality and aesthetics. The innovation that launched this trend in condominium structures now has the potential to transform the designs of any number of projects including office buildings and other mixed-use structures.

Oliver Stepe is senior vice president of YKK AP America, which is headquartered in Austell, Ga.

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