Aesthetics and Performance Drive New Developments in Storefront and Entrance Projects
By Ellen Rogers
2017 was a tough year for retail. Store closures last year increased 229 percent from 20161, w it h major U.S. retailers closing nearly 7,000 stores. That’s the highest recorded rate of closures—exceeding even the annual store closure count during the global economic downturn. That decline is also evident on the construction side. ConstructionConnect reported that for June 2018, the retail/shopping segment was down 16.7 percent for the first six months of the year.
While the retail numbers may be down, there are still opportunities for growth in the use of storefronts and entrances. Even with an increasing number of brick and mortar closures, the storefront and entrance projects that are underway are emerging with new features that center around drawing in consumers and occupants—and use lots of glass.
Beyond Just Bigger
If you want to bring people inside a space, one of the best ways to do so is to create a bright, open and transparent environment. Alison Smith, marketing manager with Architectural Glass North America (AGNORA) in Collingwood, Ontario, says when it comes to retail environments the biggest push for innovation often falls on the shoulders of the brand’s flagship stores.
“Retailers now think more about the customer experience and product interactions,” she says. “The Samsung Experience Store, for example, allows customers to explore and discover their products through experiences. The initial impact of the brand happens at street level with the storefront, and Samsung’s facade clearly reflects that strategic planning.”
Jumbo sized glass has become popular in these applications. According to Jeff Wilkins, vice president of operations for AGNORA, big, clear glass is being used increasingly in storefront applications.
“The challenge with solar control [darker glass] is that, as you go bigger in size, you lose visible light transmittance (VLT). [We’ve seen that] the addition of the anti-reflective element helps in solar control and reduces reflection, which significantly improves the vision through the storefront.”
Josh Wignall, director of marketing for EFCO Corp. in Monett, Mo., says his company has started to see store-front designs transition toward larger depths to accommodate for the thermal and acoustical requirements. He says at one time a 2- by 4.5-inch profile was its most common application for storefront, but that’s changed.
“We have started to see a requirement for 2- by 6.5-inch profiles to accommodate for the thermal break and larger glass needs to achieve better acoustical performance,” he says. “Even with these deeper depths, we continue to see the desire for smaller sightlines on storefront projects.”He says one reason for the increasing sizes of glass is that architects want to achieve as much daylighting and visibility into a front of a building when designing their storefront projects.
“Storefronts often open into lobbies, cafeterias, waiting areas and retail shops. Small sightlines and large day-light openings allow for an open feeling when people arrive in the building. It’s no coincidence that it’s called storefront for a reason—architects and retail owners use these spaces to draw in customers who may be window shopping.”
Roger Overend, president and CEO of Ellison Bronze based in Falconer, N.Y., says his company has also seen the shift to bigger sizes of glass.
“The most significant trend we are currently seeing is larger and larger storefronts exposing more glass with less metal framework materials,” he says. “Architects are looking for clean lines and less overall metal with more ultra-clear glass so they can take advantage of more natural light.”
In addition to bigger sizes, James Cole, AGNORA senior project manager, says they’ve also seen more digital frit and patterns on storefront applications, particularly on high-end retail stores.
“Whether it’s a border/perimeter image or a faded white, we’re just seeing more of it,” says Cole, who explains the images are often a perimeter frit, which helps to clean up the IG sightline.
One recent project they did was the new Dior store in Chicago, where the storefront glass was almost entirely printed, so it was difficult to see inside.
“That’s an unusual request,” says Cole, adding that while most retail owners want transparency to the inside, there are those who want to in-corporate exclusivity and privacy.
First Things First
With so many new glazing products on the market combined with increasing performance requirements, there’s a lot to consider when designing or in-stalling such a storefront system. Architects looking to incorporate larger sizes must first understand that bigger glass is more expensive than standard sizes.
“An architect moving from a 4-by-6 punched opening to 10- by 20-foot glass needs to consider the heavier glass make-up that is required is going to cost more money and, in some cases, depending on the size of the glass they will need custom frames,” says Wilkins, explaining it’s not just the cost of the glass, but other components as well.
“These things need to be considered in the planning stages.”
Architects are also looking for higher and higher performance from the glazing systems they specify. Solar control can sometimes be a challenge—particularly with large sizes—since most architects are also looking for the clearest glass possible. Fortunately, there have been product advances that can help.
According to Wilkins, the availability of low-E jumbo insulating glass is in-creasing, the VLT is getting better and the availability of the product (large sizes) is no longer an issue, as both Guardian and Vitro are starting up jumbo glass coaters in North America.
Wignall points out that water performance continues to be the biggest challenge with storefront and the larger spans of glass. He says while storefront may be capable of spanning taller distances structurally, his company always recommends that architects check the water performance prior to selecting a system.
“We like to run the proposed sizes through our storefront water calculator that looks at the vertical dimensions, overhang, width and number of horizontals,” he says. “This gives us a quick reference to weather a storefront system is best suited for the application.”
Let’s Work Together
Finding and keeping skilled labor remains a challenge for the glazing industry. As a result, many companies have begun focusing more on pre-fabrication products and processes, such as unitized curtainwall.
“Especially in larger cities where the cost of skilled labor is so high, we’re seeing more glaziers interested in having the manufacturer take on more value-added work to speed up the installation time,” says Wignall. “Most of our storefront systems are designed to be pre-assembled in the installer’s shop to increase efficiencies and provide more consistent quality.”
Overend says that, in most cases, his company’s balanced doors are easier to install than typical storefront doors.
“Many of the balanced doors we manufacture are factory-glazed and have all hardware items attached. The doors are then pre-hung in our facility and are subjected to a final fit and function inspection,” he says. “This is to ensure the hardware is pre-adjusted and all hardware items are functioning properly prior to crating the materials for shipment.”
According to Cole, the large glass his company fabricates is often used within unitized systems. As a result, the company works closely with installers on these complex installations. One installation trend is the move toward the use of clip installation systems. This can help create a cost-effective way for the contract glazier to handle installation of either new or replacement units in storefront applications. With these types of systems, waterproof plastic pockets are embedded within the silicone joint and spaced apart depending on wind load. Different types of pockets provide either a shallow or deep retention area. The IGU is fixed back to the facade mechanically through the use of retract-able tabs and a threaded restraint.
Cole adds that there have also been projects where the company has allowed the contract glaziers to come into their facility to perform some of the pre-assembly work here.
“We allow the contract glaziers to sometimes work in our facility as it makes it easier on the jobsite,” says Cole. “Sometimes the glass is so big you can’t do the pre-fabrication on site.”
As the demand for large-sized continues to grow, Cole says it will be important to remember these projects bring a certain level of complexity.
“The size of the glass ties back to the capabilities of the fabricator and the contract glazier—when the glass gets big and heavy, the quality of the fabricator and installer are critical for success.”
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