A New View in Atlanta
Westin Peachtree Benefits from Glazing
Retrofit Following Tornado Devastation
Westin Peachtree Plaza’s 73-story cylindrical tower has been a recognized
landmark in Atlanta since it opened. Designed and developed in 1976 by
Atlanta architect John Portman & Associates Inc., Westin Peachtree
Plaza remains the tallest hotel in the Western hemisphere.
But since a 130-mile-per-hour tornado struck the city on March 14, 2008,
the icon has become familiar as the building with the patchwork windows.
For more than a year residents and visitors to the city were greeted with
a mix of glass and plywood painted black to resemble the color of the
“After the tornado, this Atlanta icon had become sort of an eyesore,”
says Robby Sauls, vice president of sales for Harmon Inc. Many issues
had delayed repairs, including sourcing a glazing material that would
match the original 1970s glass.
The property, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. in
White Plains, N.Y., hired architectural consultant Arnold & Associates
of Addison, Texas, to represent its repair and renovation interests, including
what would be the largest glazing retrofit to-date in the Western Hemisphere.
A New Set of Specs
The new glass needed to approximate the aesthetic of the original curtainwall,
but significantly improve the performance of the original ¼-inch
One of the primary concerns the glass needed to address was aesthetics.
The owners did not wish to drastically alter the appearance of the iconic
building. They did, however, want a clearer skin, something that would
offer ample two-way vision during the day but offer some level of privacy
The other issue that needed to be addressed was performance. Hotel ownership
wanted to take the reglazing opportunity to enhance the building’s energy
performance significantly—and bring the building up to current code. After
the tornado experience, they also wanted to improve the durability and
safety of the glass skin. A wind tunnel study showed that, in some locations,
the building’s glass was deflecting up to 1-inch during normal storms
and up to 2 inches during the tornado-force winds. The new glazing system
would need to be energy-efficient and have higher design pressure ratings.
For the guestrooms, elevator, mechanical and meeting rooms, the team selected
Viracon’s 1/2-inch laminated glass with a VLE-57 low-E coating on the
clear outboard glass ply and bronze tinted inboard glass ply. Ultimately,
the team settled on Viracon’s 1-inch insulating VE4-2M for the revolving
restaurant atop the hotel. Viracon and glazing contractor Harmon Inc.
worked closely with Arnold & Associates to create mock-ups of glazing
options prior to installation.
Repairing & Replacing
In 2009, Arnold & Associates contacted Harmon’s Atlanta office. Initially,
Harmon was invited to bid the 275,000-square-foot project to work directly
with the owner and architectural consultant.
During this early phase, Harmon gathered Sauls, Tim Ryals, Buddy Corn
and Danny Bostic, Jr., to lead the project. The team sought input from
the company that designed, engineered and fabricated Peachtree Plaza’s
original framing system: Bruce Wall Systems Corp. of Tucker, Ga.
As luck would have it, Bruce Wall Systems still had the original job files
and shop drawings from the late 1970s.
“The most obvious [benefits] were checking a few daylight openings for
glass size, versus trying to do an entire as-built glass take-off,” Sauls
says of that find. “They did have the elevations with daylight openings
and glass sizes all in the shop drawings, so that helped significantly.
But really what helped [was seeing] what changed over 30-plus years from
an actual as-built point of view: ‘this is the way it should have looked
back in the early ’70s and this is the way it looks today.’”
Harmon worked with Bruce Wall and Viracon to design some repair and replacement
pieces for the existing framing. Horizontal members needed to be replaced.
The vertical members, however, could be adjusted to accommodate the new
“We did do some anchor replacements, anchor repair work, where the anchor
was stressed all the way out to the end of the wind load slot,” Sauls
says. Primarily, he says, it was a matter of replacing glazing beads and
stops, along with new gaskets.
Bidding & Relationships
As the architectural consultants were approving the mock-up, Harmon learned
that the project also was being bid by general contractors. With respect
to these long-term relationships, Harmon’s leaders made the decision to
withdraw its direct bid.
“I think the owner and the architect had in their mind that this was a
glass project and there was some savings involved in working directly
with a curtainwall company rather than through a general contractor,”
Sauls says of the original arrangement. “But then the project was much
more than just replacing glass: there was carpet removal and protection
of the furnishings in each room and, really, the overall coordination
of moving materials through a building, closing down certain floors. It
was really a much bigger job than what we typically do.”
Skanska USA Building Inc.’s Atlanta office was awarded the $22.5 million
In retrospect, Sauls sees this as offering a double-benefit: “We were
able to support our customers and to focus on what we’re very good at—replacing
glass.” He continues, “Typically, crews work from the bottom up and have
a topping-off celebration. On the Westin, we worked from the Sun Dial’s
revolving restaurant at the top to the ground-floor and had a half-way-down
Among the things that Skanska coordinated was recycling. In keeping with
Starwood Hotel’s sustainability initiative, the Westin recycled more than
600 tons of the old system’s glass and aluminum through Strategic Materials
The hotel remained open throughout the renovation. Four to five floors
were closed at a time to allow the glaziers restricted access. At least
four 52- by 110-inch lites were in each of the 1,068 hotel rooms. The
goal was to complete each floor in a week. Minimizing disruption to guests
and staff, the glazing team relied on a temporary, exterior lift system
to assist with each 270-pound lite.
Harmon averaged 26 lites per day, completing a floor every three days.
Some days, there were more than 50 people onsite helping with the glass
“We were substantially complete with our portion in about 11 months,”
says Bostic, Harmon’s project manager. “This was in spite of loosing 29
days to weather throughout the project. Overall, we replaced 5,607 lites.”
While attendees of glass industry events might typically be the only people
to look forward to a stay at a hotel undergoing a glass replacement, the
hotel acknowledged the inconvenience to its guests and, in fact, embraced
“[The general contractor] really did a nice job of involving the guests
of the hotel in the process of the replacement,” Sauls says. “It was obvious
there was work going on, there were some areas where it was noisy, it
was somewhat inconvenient for the guests. So, rather than asking for forgiveness,
they really involved them in the process and set up a nice space in the
lobby where they talked about what happened, talked about how many lites
were broken, the process of taking the old out and putting the new in.
It was really a nice set-up Skanska put together.”
Throughout the construction process, the lobby sported signs with facts
about the glass replacement.
“They did a good job keeping the hotel guests and community informed of
the construction progress and safety,” Sauls recalls.
Renovated and refreshed, the new windows from Westin Peachtree Plaza offers
views of downtown Atlanta’s other notable buildings such as CNN, the Georgia
Dome and Georgia World Congress Center—for which Harmon also replaced
the glass following the tornado that damaged the Westin.
“This was a complex and challenging project. It was one of those projects
that, at the beginning, seemed nearly impossible to many people,” Sauls
says of the Westin. “Not only did we get it done, but we finished early.”
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