Volume 44, Issue 5 - May 2009

Feature

International Waters
This Project by the Sea Makes Its Mark
by Megan Headley

Perla at La Concha, a restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is described by the current owners as “a shining moment in the Tropical Modernism movement’s heyday in Puerto Rico.” Yet for seven years the shell-shaped restaurant sat empty. It wasn’t until 2006 that Marriott purchased the local landmark and made plans to refurbish it as a Renaissance hotel. In their effort to clean the property, the new owners removed the original plate glass from the shell, leaving room for Vista Systems, a Carolina, Puerto Rico-based glazing contractor, to return the pearl-like sparkle to this conch shell by the sea with new, code-compliant lites. 

Of course, there were more than a few “curves” thrown in to make this job unique—starting with that iconic design. In fact, “Design was one of the biggest challenges,” says Claudio Reck, president of Vista Systems.

For starters, the building owner approached Reck with a concept for a frameless design without any visual obstructions. Part of the need for clear sightlines is that the glass was intended to blend seamlessly into the reflecting pool that circles the restaurant’s base. “The glass is three or four inches off the ground, so the water is actually inside and outside,” Reck says. 

To achieve this seamless look, the subcontractor decided it would butt-glaze the system. While the how-to was quickly established, the carry-through took a little more time. Finding a fabricator that could meet the product requirements wasn’t simple. 

“It took me more than six months to find a temperer,” Reck says. Ultimately, Paragon Architectural products LLC in Scottsdale, Ariz., was brought onboard.

“Our scope included design and engineering of the glass system, as well as fabrication of the glass, SS spiders and associated steel, aluminum and components,” recalls Ian Patlin, managing partner of Paragon Architectural Products. 

The fabricator provided the project with ¾-inch clear tempered, heat-soaked glass, 15-mm fins and Quattro 316 stainless steel spider fittings. 

The difficulty of getting the materials to the site by the sea was eased by the fact that little of the hotel had been constructed, clearing the way for the SkyTrak® forklift to bring in the lites. 

“Because of the weight of the glass we had to spread out the crates in different areas. We couldn’t put them all in one place otherwise we might have caved in the roof over where the reflecting pool is,” Reck says. After all, the largest glass panels were close to 600 pounds. 

With everything working out so smoothly in delivery … the project quickly hit another snag. 

“We were faced with one surprise that we had to deal with once we got the glass,” Reck recalls. 

Patlin notes, “Due to the shape of the concrete and due to the condition of the concrete (which was exposed to salt water air for many years) each opening was unique. Each of the 12 openings were U-shaped and came to a center point or ‘V.’ The block dimension of each half of each U was about 9 by 12 feet.” 

What was sent to the fabricator then was a set of measurements of a straight line rather than the slight arc that existed at the top of the shell. “On certain curves the glass should have an arch inwards and on some it should have arched outwards,” Reck says. “Instead the glass was going in a straight line … That was a communication problem …” 

In the end, once the project was completed in January 2007, the challenges just affirmed the importance of communication among all parties, particularly between supplier and installer. 

“As in any fast track and/or tricky project the possibilities exist for a handful of typical issues to arise,” Patlin says. “The goal is to be proactive and identify these challenges early on. This project really was no different that any other project in that communication between the design/fabrication team and the glazing contractor was abundant. This is paramount. The key in any project is to be redundant and double-check. It goes back to the adage ‘measure twice and cut once.’”

Share your unique projects or glazing challenges by emailing Megan Headley at mheadley@glass.com

Megan Headley is an editor of USGlass magazine.

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