Let There Be Light
With Full Glass Usage, Schools Can Still Be Safe and Secure
By Ellen Rogers
They might as well have said, “Windows; who needs them?” In 1964 the Manual of Regulations and Recommendations for School Building Planning and Construction from the Idaho State Department of Education, Boise, noted that “The increased use of artificial lighting and forced ventilation has made the use of windows less important. The construction of buildings with no windows has proven satisfactory in many cases.”
In 1999, the Heschong Mahone Group Inc. said otherwise in its report, “Daylighting in Schools,” which was completed for Pacific Gas and Electric. The study examined school districts in three states. In Seattle, Wash., and Fort Collins, Colo., where end-of-year test scores were used as the outcome variable, students in classrooms with the most daylighting were found to have 7 to 18 percent higher scores than those with the least. In San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where the study was able to examine the improvement between fall and spring test scores, the study found that students with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests in one year than in those with the least.
Yet the shootings last December in Newtown, Conn., reminded the world that glass, more often than not, is perceived as the weakest leak. As the Sandy Hook shooter reportedly shot his way into the school through glass in the entrance, questions and concerns sprang forth across the nation over the use of glass in schools. Should its use be limited? Should it be removed completely, returning schools to the windowless brick boxes of the past?
The question of glass usage in educational facilities is one that must be balanced carefully. While in its simplest form glass may be more vulnerable to breakage, intrusion and security violations than other materials, such as brick and concrete, the benefits weighing in its support are strong. There are options, design tactics and products that can be incorporated into school projects that will strengthen the building envelope and increase its level of safety. Tragedies of the past--nationwide and international--have brought increasingly stringent requirements for the design and construction of government projects; South Florida, once destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, today has the strongest building code in the nation. Glass continues to be a significant material in these projects. Schools do not have to be an exception.
And the Bricks Came Down
New construction school designs have seen a tremendous evolution.
“As they say, ‘back in the day’ educational facilities were typically brick buildings with single or double hung windows,” says Donnie Hunter, manager, architectural promotion with Kawneer Co. Inc. “Over the years we have seen a change to fewer operable windows in walls that resembled military or institutional, prison-type buildings. Today, educational facilities are going back to using windows for ventilation and to provide additional sources of natural light.”
Mike Turner, vice president of marketing for YKK AP America, says many school designs have taken on a modern aesthetic thanks to the variety of window products available.
“Especially at the high school level, those designs are incorporating products such as curtainwall in staircase areas as well as across the main facade in greeting areas as a way to provide daylight into those spaces,” says Turner.
And as studies such as that of the Heschong Mahone Group have shown, natural light provides an abundance of benefits.
“Studies indicate that there have been performance increases where more direct daylighting is used,” Hunter says.
Architect Christopher Ward of CWArchitects based in Pasadena, Calif., agrees. “Glass allows light in and makes for a more cheerful space and many studies have been done that show daylight or even the perception of daylight … improves performance in classrooms.” Improvements also include better attendance and participation, as well as an overall improved attitude among students, Ward says.
But no matter how strong the test scores and how happy the children, when the question concerns life safety and security, life safety and security wins. Glass, however, is not the enemy. Along with strategic design plans, it can provide a solution.
As an example, in addition to designing a significant number of school projects—in which glass is a major component—Ward’s firm also does a lot of work within the orthodox Jewish community.
“That community is very concerned about security and safety but they are not excluding glass,” says Ward. “For example, they want it placed high [within the façade] so you may not be able to see through it [from the street]. They like having the light.
“As architects, we are concerned about the safety of our clients and they are all concerned about not wanting [the project] to look like a prison and because of that, glass is the perfect solution because glass can be made safe,” says Ward.
Safety glass, however, is not new in schools. In fact, federal law (CPSC 16 CFR 1201), requires its use. According to Mila Kennet of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Resilient Systems Division, while laminated and tempered glass types are both considered safety glass, they behave very differently with different performance expectations.
“Laminated glass holds the glass particles together and monolithic tempered glass breaks into thousands of small particles,” she says. “Laminated glass, therefore, provides more debris control than monolithic heat-strengthened glass.”
She continues, “Aside from aesthetics, the building envelope has a huge impact on a variety of building functions, and these also include security. A fundamental protective measure is to use anti-shatter materials, such as laminated glass, and wet glaze the glass within the frame (structural silicone) to develop the capacity of the laminate and prevent bite pull-out in response to extraordinary loads.
“Polycarbonate materials are inherently tough and they provide lightweight protection to ballistics and forced entry. Even anti-shatter films can be made to effectively minimize debris for existing window systems. Because the building envelope is so complex, because some of the desirable performance attributes may conflict with each other, school boards/jurisdictions may not be technically able to understand all the design issues. Nevertheless, a technical architect teamed with a blast or security consultant can put together an informative presentation. In the end, each project will be unique and will depend on the building specifics.”
In the United States, the use of tempered glass is typically more common than laminated glass. That may be changing, however. Ron McCann, director of international sales with Owatonna, Minn.-based Viracon, says his company is seeing an increasing use of laminated glass in educational facilities.
“Schools have been incorporating laminated glass for vandalism more than anything else,” says McCann. “We’ve also seen its use grow for sound control [purposes].”
Jon Johnson, general manager of Trudeco/Trulite in Columbus, Ohio, believes there is a wide variety of products, such as laminated glass, that can meet virtually any type of threat—using the products in the appropriate setting, though, is what will help make a difference.
“If [the school] is in a higher crime/threat area, for example, architects could specify a more robust system,” he says. In a setting such as Sandy Hook, the entrance area was the only part affected. Johnson says in a case such as this, having a means to slow the intruder’s entry, such as laminated glass, would allow school officials more time to call local authorities.
“The nice part about these glass products is you can’t tell which ones are security products because they all look the same,” he says. “You could, for example, concentrate the security products around the entrance; you can be selective in where you put the products.”
Glass is also important for schools because it helps in surveillance. Kennett explains that in many instances having glass of the appropriate thickness can provide additional response time “and would help to provide more surveillance to see who is coming … each case is different and glass has to be designed at the level of protection intended [for each school].”
Ward agrees that implementing glass provides an observation area to see who may be coming in. Having the glass, though, will not prevent someone from entering the building, such as in the case of Sandy Hook. “All we can do is our best effort to try and prevent something from happening again [and glass] creates that space for observation,” says Ward. “I think we, as architects, like to think we can solve problems, but we can only address them. We can’t solve everything, but we can help people feel more comfortable in their environment. You have to give options to your clients.”
And in these designs, the primary intent is to ensure the safety and security of the occupants without having them feel restricted or afraid.
“For the main entrance you want it to be safe and secure, but not a fortress where people think they are going into a dangerous building,” says Meghan E. Beach, architectural manager, AGC Glass Co. North America.
Protective glazing products, such as security glass, however, come with a higher price tag than the more conventional tempered glass options. With economic conditions tight and school boards constantly strapped with budget constraints, laminated glass might not be an option for all. Carefully considered designs, however, can still allow for the incorporation of glass, providing natural light benefits.
Bernard Lax, president of Pulp Studios in Los Angeles, says, “I don’t think windowless schools are the answer, but properly placed windows such as only using transom windows facing to the outside of the school property might be beneficial, thus maintaining natural light without a line of sight.”
Likewise, Ward also suggests looking at the location of the glass itself.
“If there is a concern about natural light perception, place the glass at higher levels in the room, so you still see through to the sky. The location of the glass can be a veil to the public way,” says Ward. “You can have a textural front, that’s not necessarily fenestrated, and then you have the back or sides of the building open, but, of course, this depends on the building orientation.”
The Evelyn Grace Academy in London stands as such an example. Designed by London-based architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects, the school is located in an area with one of the highest crime rates in Europe.
“This meant a lot of the students attending the school come from backgrounds where they are exposed to gang culture or unstable family backgrounds and therefore are at risk,” says project architect Bidisha Sinha. “The school, in-turn, has a very strong agenda of giving the students an environment that feels safe for them and allows them to achieve their best potential without them feeling constantly policed. This means that all supervision needed to be discreet and passive.”
Sinha says this goal was achieved by creating an interior feature out of vision glazing that flanks all classroom doors, so that at any given point visual contact could be established within circulation spaces and teaching accommodations. Likewise, all corridors ending in staff rooms have glazed partitioning, thereby never allowing for a “dead end,” which could be an area for incidents.
“Externally, this same vision was extended by allowing most teaching accommodations and shared facilities, especially at the ground level, to have a large expanse of glazing thereby always maintaining a visual contact to the external play areas,” Sinha says. “It also enables students and the extended community to visually engage with the sporting and cultural activities happening within the school, providing a sense of motivation and camaraderie.”
Sinha says the entire ground floor of the school features tempered and laminated glass; the upper floors feature laminated glass for balustrades and full-height partitions.
Another design option could be the use of skylights.
“We create an indoor environment with large skylights, 20 to 30 feet [above the floor level] and that makes for an open space and an open feeling and has been our trade mark in the common areas,” says Ward.
Learn from Others
The tragedies of Sandy Hook Elementary School left wounds on this nation that have yet to heal. Sadly, they are not the first and will not be the last time a manmade event devastates the world. While questions swirl over the use of glass, it’s in anger and fear that rash decisions are often made, but there are lessons that can be learned from the past.
On April 19, 1995, 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6, were killed by a truck bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Today, the Oklahoma City Federal Building, designed by Chicago-based Ross Barney Architects, has been called a national symbol of strength and resilience. Since the bombing in 1995, the General Services Administration developed new security guidelines for federal buildings, many of which were introduced within the Oklahoma City Federal Building campus—which is light-filled, open and bright.
“There are many facets to security when designing a facade and glass certainly becomes a component of providing a secure building. Since there are so many benefits associated with natural daylighting and providing a connection to the outdoors, eliminating glass in order to provide security is not typically a feasible or logical solution for most building applications,” says Alissa Schmidt, architectural design manager for Viracon, which supplied the glass for the Oklahoma City Federal Building. “Certainly, high security buildings such as government buildings, require the added protection, however the laminated glass component is not specific to any one building type. It can be incorporated into other buildings where the owner desires added protection.”
Stand-off distance, for example, is one government design element that schools might consider. Though used primarily in blast-design projects, stand-off distance describes the distance between the building and the potential location for an explosive detonation. However, this same design practice could be adapted for other means.
“I’ve noticed on some sites there is more activity going on with stand-off distances and how close vehicles can get to the front door,” says Turner. “So they are incorporating the placement of a barrier between traffic and the façade itself.”
Stuart Jeske, founder of JEI Structural Engineering in Kansas City, Mo., adds that government standards, Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) regulations as well as the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) Security Design Criteria, are voluntary to other industries that may wish to follow them,
“The discussion [surrounding future designs] needs to be around opening up the façade and increasing safety and not whether or not glass should be used,” says Jeske.
“Removing all glass is an over-reaction,” she says. “The design of embassy structures went through a similar pendulum swing when world events resulted in … standards that produced massive (and ugly) embassy buildings. This lasted for about ten years until the pendulum swung back to more attractive embassy designs.”
A mindset change in design evolution will take time—and certainly won’t be easy. Many schools will likely find they must wrestle with how they can stay within budgets while also improving safety. One of the biggest obstacles will be the higher cost of security glazing products.
“If the performance level [of laminated glass] is desired … it will be a matter of holding to the specification,” says Turner.
“The biggest issue is cost justification,” agrees McCann. “All of these [protective glazing] products come at a cost premium, so where is that tradeoff?” It’s a question yet to be answered.
Hunter adds, “Although there are systems that can be used to enhance occupant security today, they are more expensive than standard systems. Like impact and blast products, bullet-resistant windows/openings cost two to three times that of a non-bullet resistant system.” Hunter adds that providing locking mechanisms that meet the life safety codes for emergency egress combined with added security will also be an obstacle.
“I think that once school boards/districts get past the added cost, the extra peace of mind will allow glass and glazing to remain a part of school design.”
McCann also stresses the importance of thinking about protective glazing products as a system rather than component solutions.
“You have to have glass and framing working in unison,” he says.
Take Your Time
Whatever the future may hold for school construction, many agree a thorough understanding of the products available is critical.
“It’s getting the communities to understand that the threat is real. It’s like a fire extinguisher in your home; you have one, but you hope you never have to use it … the local communities have to decide to make that commitment to these products on some level, whether film or a laminate or a multi-product design,” says Johnson. “It needs to be taken seriously on the local level. Local school boards and communities have to take a hard look at their finances and decide what’s important. We entrust our kids to schools six to eight hours a day, so we would urge school boards, communities, etc. to do their due diligence in what can be done to protect them.”
“Not only as a glazing community, but as concerned parents and community leaders, [this is a] topic that needs to be [discussed] at the community level. Individually, we all can help make a change on a local level. To make the change nationwide, we need people to come together to figure out how we can … help prevent something like [Sandy Hook] from happening again.”
McCann also stresses community involvement.
“Get involved with school boards, participate in forum meetings … get involved with local AIA chapters to keep this in the forefront and keep it proactive rather than reactive.”
“My main concern is that without an understanding of the capabilities of glass, lawmakers and officials will try to enact or push through legislation with no knowledge of what can truly be accomplished with today’s glass and systems technology,” says Hunter.
Turner agrees that a strategic process will be necessary to work toward improving school safety.
“I think before there’s a rush to take glass out of schools people should evaluate the performance levels and what glass is capable of doing,” he says, likening the case to that of the push to decrease the window to wall ratio. “It’s proven that glass can also be used in ways to improve energy—if the correct products are used. The same goes for security in schools.”
He continues, “There are so many studies that show [light provides] learning advancement of students. So they [studies] show the modern architectural styles create a better learning environment. I would hate to give that up because in the end it would only hurt the kids and their level of learning. My hope would be to not rush to a quick decision, and evaluate the products and the level of protection that glazing can provide to improve security and safety.”
One starting point may be in the building codes (see related article on page 14). As Jeske explains, currently the decision over what type of glazing to use is handled individually, as there is not a uniform standard.
“I think we will see changes [within the codes],” he says. “Usually when things happen within the public eye it creates a demand for code change. And, I think part of that will focus on forced entry; some of the things that can be done there include more stringent structural sealants which make it more difficult to push the glass out. There are a lot of ways to increase security.”
No one knows today what schools will look like in ten years. Just as the aesthetics of government projects have encompassed changing facades, so, too, can schools. So unless a code or law mandates, the use of protective glazing, for example, schools can opt for as much—or as little—glass as they want. The industry’s efforts to educate everyone, from architects to school boards, can help.
“We can’t rush to start building fortresses and stripping away the innocence of our children,” says Lax. “The best security we can offer is that which is invisible. Attack- and bullet-resistant glass are both good options to be integrated, but will only be effective if the school design takes a more comprehensive approach by first adopting campus concepts that allow the school to minimize points of entry and sight-lines into the facility. Then properly placed glass can be affective if these entry points are monitored.”
Beach adds, “With each tragic event that occurs, architects will be asked to create designs that provide safer and more secure buildings—not just schools.”
Ensuring the safety and security of schools and educational facilities is not a challenge unique to the United States. Worldwide, architects are designing structures that provide a productive, secure learning environment, and for some the use of glass plays an important part.
“Glass in architecture has been used extensively for both practical purposes and as an artistic expression and continues to be in the forefront of architectural innovation,” says Bidisha Sinha, project architect with London-based Zaha Hadid Architects, who explains that schools in the U.K. have seen a vast change, moving from the robust Victorian buildings with very little flexibility to the industrial pre-fabricated buildings of the 1970s.
“The challenge within school design over the last two decades has been dual: that of future-proofing the buildings in terms of teaching methods and providing energy-efficient and sustainable buildings which can be maintained with ease in the long term,” Sinha says.
Evelyn Grace Academy (EGA) is a Zaha Hadid project that was commissioned in 2005 under the then Labour Government’s Academies program, which Sinha says invested in high quality school buildings in disadvantaged areas as part of regenerating the community. “The ambition displayed within buildings such as EGA built under the academies program remains singular to that period. The Academy program and the Building Schools for the Future program in the U.K. have now been superseded by the Priority School Building program, which is aimed at retrofitting and renovating dilapidated schools,” Sinah says. “There are currently very few new schools being commissioned in the region, though there is a shortage of school places within inner city areas.”
In addition to products such as laminated glass other measures are incorporated into European school designs.
“In the U.K. most schools are already surrounded by a fence and are gated. This means any visitor needs to be authorized to enter the premises,” says Sinah. “Mainland European schools within high-density cities maintain a similar, though more discrete, streaming system for visitors.”
Glass, however, is still an important design component.
“The right amount of glazing in schools can allow for the balance between privacy, segregation and passive supervision,” says Sinah. “Glass technology, especially safety glass technology, has moved forward in innovation. There should be no security concerns with regards to using them.”
The Teachers Weigh In:
Do You Need Windows in Schools?
Whatever the future may hold for the use of glass in schools, some of those who know their schools and classrooms best—the teachers—say having glass in schools is a must.
“The need for sunlight in the classroom is very important,” says Ashley Pennington, a public school kindergarten teacher. “A jail-like atmosphere with no windows will not be as beneficial for the growth of the students, no matter how safe it makes the adults feel.”
And Pennington notes that she does not feel unsafe. “I feel safe in my school,” she says. “I have not encountered any safety issues thus far. It is impossible to think of everything that ‘could’ happen in an emergency situation,” she adds. “I feel that my school has a very sensible plan.
“In case of an intruder, a warning signal is given over the intercom,” says Pennington. “Teachers make sure students are secure in a safe area away from all doors and windows; students should be hidden in an area where they cannot be seen from any doors or windows in the classroom. Next, teachers make sure all blinds are drawn and doors are locked.”
She adds, “The small glass windows in the classroom doors and windows are shatter-resistant,” Pennington notes, adding, “Anything that can keep the students safe and decrease the ability of someone breaking into the school would of course make everyone feel safer.”
“Even teachers need daylight to give us a sense of the outside world,” adds Traci Daniel, a second-grade public school teacher. “We also teach about weather, the environment etc., and having a window allows exposure to that.”
“We have a pretty secure school … Most of the windows only open to a certain point,” Daniel adds, noting that most of the glass in her school is shatter-resistant.
Sarah Elliot, a first-grade public school teacher, says of her school, “Each classroom has two windows that go to the outside area and a small viewing window on the classroom door that goes into the hallway. Our halls do not have windows, however our front entrance is floor to ceiling windows.”
Elliott agrees that removing windows isn’t an ideal option.
“I feel like removing windows from the school setting will make it feel like more of an institution where children are locked up like animals,” Elliot says. “Having windows that allow in natural light and a view of the outdoors gives the classroom environment a feeling of home and comfort which is important where a teacher wants the students to be like a family.”
She adds, “I feel like intruders with the intentions of hurting our children or staff members can easily gain access to our buildings through the front entrances. Most schools have entrances that are made with glass to make the building more appealing. However I feel like another method should be used that could have the same effect. If schools are going to continue using as much glass as they have then they should at least make this glass as safe as possible. Having doors locked so that no one can enter easily is not an effective way of keeping people out when a gun can so easily shatter a window.”
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