Volume 46, Issue 7 - August 2011

feature

 

When Glass Pros Gather
Glass Performance Days Draws Glass Executives Focused on Innovation, Transformation and the Power of Design
by Megan Headley



More than 830 glass industry visitors flocked to Tampere, Finland, for insight into the latest trends in the glass industry during the 12th biennial Glass Performance Days (GPD).

Many of the 200-plus presentations highlighted new technologies or ways of fabricating glass. Others promoted specific companies or products or reviewed projects that, in a few cases, were still on the drawing board during the previous event in 2009. Presentations covered a wide range of topics, from the technical talks on solar materials and technology, to case studies in the architectural challenges and solutions track, and to the broad viewpoints of the presentations on changing local and global markets.

Overall, attendees seemed pleased overall with the broad range of topics and the tips and tidbits they took home to apply to their own business practices. First-time attendees remarked frequently on the exemplary organization of the event, which was sponsored by Glaston Corp., and the broad range of topics addressed.

Eyes on Innovation
The increasing pressure for glass companies to innovate was a recurring theme heard by attendees during GPD. In the first workshop on the future of the architectural glass industry Hubert Kopf of Guardian Industries noted, “The life cycles of products are getting shorter, and that puts pressure on innovation.”

These changes are happening rapidly, Kopf said, driven in part by technology improvements and legislation changes. As the costs of development increase, and competition grows so that no longer do a few manufacturers dominate the market, the “innovator will take the biggest advantage much more than in the past.”

Emphasizing this focus on innovation, the workshop broke into three groups that were invited to brainstorm on trends seen in three areas: environmental and legal trends; technology trends; and global, customer and market trends. Some common themes emerged on each list, including the expected growth of intelligent glass in the material’s new role as an energy saving (or generating) product and the education of public and end-users (as well as the full distribution chain) on sustainable practices and the use of glass.

The rapid pace of change seen by the glass industry—in particular in connection to today’s energy environment—was again revisited in the keynote addresses. Bruce Oreck, U.S. ambassador to Finland, commented on the transformative change the energy industry is undergoing. Oreck focused on “transformation, not change. Change is nibbling around the edges; transformation is something altogether new.”

Oreck, who heads the League of Green Embassies, encouraged his glass industry audience to keep in mind that transformation requires that they “stop trying to invent the present ... rather, what we believe is possible determines what we design.” Oreck proceeded to discuss a transformation that the U.S. government is taking to make efficient its more than 600,000 buildings across the world.

“As we manage our light differently, we’ll design our buildings differently,” he said, before presenting case studies of building upgrades where window film was added and window systems were upgraded. He noted that the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is updating its 100-year-old building, with new windows, among other things, with the goal of achieving LEED Platinum status.

Russ Ebeid, president of Guardian Glass, noted that his company has embraced that premise in that it no longer regards itself as a glass company, but as an energy company, in his address, “No Time for the Timid” (see July 2011 USGlass, page 38).

James O’Callaghan of Eckersley O’Callaghan Structural Design, suggested a different track in his presentation on “Innovations in Glass Design and Fabrication.” In describing the technical hurdles overcome to produce 14-meter-tall lites of glass for the Apple store in Sydney and other projects, O’Callaghan commented, “The float line process is now technology of over 50 years old and sometimes it seems the fabrication industry has moved on little since.” O’Callaghan challenged his audience to invest in research and development, in new equipment and to learn new techniques to move beyond the “relatively limited product ranges that have historically existed.” One way to push the boundaries, he suggested, was closer collaboration between fabricators and the design community.

Emphasis on Architecture
The power of design was a focus of this year’s event. For the first time, event organizers, in cooperation with the City of Tampere, Finnpark and Tampere University of Technology, held an architecture competition as a creative way to promote the role of glass and give back to the local community. Four firms were invited to design a pavilion around a parking garage in the heart of town that would involve extensive application of glass using the newest technological solutions. Ultimately, ALA Architects in Helsinki won the job for their sculptural “Magnolia” design, which will envelope both the parking garage entrance and a tree for which the project is named. In two years time the GPD committee will be announcing the winner of a student contest (they are alternating student and professional competitions) and the downtown area will have a permanent reminder of the beauty and lasting performance of glass.

Event organizers were quick to point out that more than 51 percent of attendees come to the event with a focus on architecture and construction (the remaining attendees came with backgrounds in the field of solar, automotive and appliance glass), and the theme of design was invoked time and again, whether in reference to working more closely with designers to considering aesthetics in new products.

As Oreck commented in his address, “What we believe is possible determines what we design.” Those possibilities discussed during the conference ranged from ever improved thermal efficiency through better coated or insulating glass (IG), including triples and vacuum IG, to the widespread adoption of efficient PV systems.

Oreck added, “As we manage our light differently we’ll design our buildings differently.”

In his presentation “Phenomenal Light: Enriching the Public Realm,” James Carpenter of James Carpenter Design Associates touched on just that in one case study. He described a glass building added to a campus in Israel. Neither IG nor coatings played a role in protecting the interior from the heat; rather, the building was designed so that its neighbors provided a sunshade of sorts.
Is Glass Green?
With the simple question, “Is Glass Green?” Mic Patterson of Enclos Corp. noted that the problem with discussing sustainability starts at the beginning, with the ill-defined term that is often interchanged with the equally vague “green.” “We’re not going to make progress until we can come to a consensus [defining sustainability],” he said. From there, Patterson answered his opening question with a no—at least when it comes to many older existing structures.

“Some estimates indicate that 70 percent of existing building stock suffers from underperforming facades,” Patterson said. He added that of the approximately 80 percent of float glass used in buildings, already half of that is largely dedicated to retrofits.

While that presents a great sense of opportunity for the innovators able to reach the end-consumer to explain the big benefits of an energy-efficient upgrade, it also presents challenges in sustainability. First, Patterson pointed out that one of the many benefits of glass is that it is “infinitely recyclable,” as well as “up-cyclable,” such as when broken glass is returned to the furnace and added to the make-up of a more advanced product. Once processed, however, with coatings or perhaps an interlayer, there’s been little progress today in recycling those products. As window retrofits potentially continue to increase, more of those old windows are filling the 10,000 landfills in the United States and others around the world. However, Patterson did note that some glass manufacturers are collecting cullet from secondary fabricators.

Secondly, Patterson pointed to adaptability as a factor of sustainability. He noted that as predominantly glass buildings came in vogue decades ago, there was no thought to putting systems in place to easily swap out those monolithic lites for a more efficient insulating unit, for example. Now, with products such as building integrated photovoltaics garnering interest, but still struggling to reach the commercial cost-effectiveness that could bring them into the mainstream marketplace, the design industry is making the same mistakes of not retrofitting buildings with an eye toward future upgrades.

Patterson finished his presentation by noting that the many benefits that glass offers, from views to daylighting, make it an obviously sustainable product. But, he added, there could be more work done on using it in more sustainable ways. He suggested that relying on the development of increasingly sophisticated low-E coatings to achieve greater energy-efficiency could be something of a “crutch” for designers today. He suggested “a need to get back to the power of design” to improve upon the natural benefits of glass.



Mic Patterson of Enclos Corp. agreed that the areas where glass remains limited in its efficiency can be improved through efficient and/or alternative design. In his presentation, he offered an alternate view to last year’s appeal of ASHRAE 90.1 (see November 2010 USGlass, page 10) that would have reduced the amount of glass permissible in the envelope of commercial buildings using the prescriptive path by 25 percent. “I think this sends the wrong message,” Patterson commented. As he pointed out, ASHRAE didn’t say architects couldn’t design something with more glass, just that the standard prescriptive path would limit the use of potentially less energy-efficient glass to a smaller than previous area. “We are designers … If we want to use large expanses of glass we need to show we can do this efficiently,” he said.

Perhaps nothing is more efficient than building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), which still more solar players are looking to balance with pleasing design. Uwe Hering of Odersun presented an outlook on BIPV, noting that it’s about a functionality beyond the aesthetic that is important. However, even Hering focused on applications where BIPV “can be optically integrated so you don’t see it anymore.”

He noted that although a lot of architects are expressing interest in BIPV, the aesthetics remain among the problems. Hering also gave a list of points where architects and PV module manufacturers need to learn to compromise. According to Hering, architects want building approved components, project-specific dimensions, various integration options (mechanical and electrical), support during planning and solutions within budget. Meanwhile, PV module manufacturers are focused on increased efficiency, increases in productivity, limiting product variations, cost reductions and reductions of materials available to ultimately grow their market. Hering suggested module manufacturers need to extend their product line to meet some of these architectural demands.

For many, the some focus on transparency and providing a view is second to its benefits as a means of lighting a building.

Carpenter pointed out that as he designs he’s less interested in “the transparency of glass” than how it looks and “interacts with light.”

Antti Nousjoki of ALA Architects in Helsinki echoed much the same interest in his presentation “Beyond Transparency,” noting, “The glass is not interesting, it’s about the functionality it creates … not how [the buildings] look but how they perform.”

North American Glass Pros Network in Finland
Of the 39 countries represented at the 2011 Glass Performance Days (GPD) by more than 830 attendees, approximately 90 of those visitors came from the United States.

Event organizers provided plenty of time for attendees to get to know colleagues from far corners of the world. Long and frequent networking breaks between sessions gave attendees a chance to discuss the information they had just heard presented, or the previous evening’s activities. The first day of the event featured a CEO luncheon that allowed some of the senior management in attendance to discuss with like-minded professionals.

In addition to evening receptions held in the exhibit hall, GPD held a conference dinner at a local restaurant, bringing together all visitors for an evening of local food, entertainment and discussions late into the night. On the last evening of the event, attendees returned to the grounds of Tampere Hall to join friends new and old for a Carnival-themed celebration that lasted until sunset.

“As a first-time attendee to GPD, I was blown away with this event,” says Urmilla Jokhu-Sowell, technical director of the Glass Association of North America. “There were so many educational opportunities to chose from all day, and the networking in a place where the sun doesn’t set was just amazing. Sitting in on presentations discussing new
technologies and challenges on a global scale proved very
educational.”

Jokhu-Sowell was one of several presenters hailing from North America, and her talk focused on the activities going on there. She provided attendees with an update on resources, standards, codes and association activities. “It was an honor to present at GPD on behalf of GANA,” she says. “There were many attendees from around the globe who were very interested in what is going on in the United States.”

Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform North America, agreed that the presentations had a lot to offer. “Many presenters from around the world presented valuable information on their research projects,” he says. As one example, he recalls, “The report back from the small group discussions during ‘The Future of Architectural Glazing’ seminar identified important market and technology trends and had a spirited dialogue. The biggest takeaway for me was the depth of focus that the global glazing industry is bringing to cost-effective energy management, one of the biggest megatrends the world faces for the next 20 years.”


Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.





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