How Were Inmates Able to Break the Glass at a St. Louis Jail?

Inmates yell from broken windows at the St. Louis Justice Center, known as the city jail, on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021 in St. Louis, Mo. Firefighters are at the jail where inmates appear to have knocked out windows and set some small fires. A spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson said there was “an ongoing and very dangerous disturbance” going on at the St. Louis City Justice Center on Saturday morning. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

A group of more than 100 inmates at the City Justice Center in St. Louis escaped their cells and broke windows amid a protest of the jail’s conditions on Saturday. Images show the inmates, dressed in yellow uniforms, standing behind three broken glass windows with what appears to be smoke or fire damage on one window and the building’s façade. The extensive glass damage shown in images from the protest may raise the question: what kind of glass was used in the jail?

Industry consultant Chris Barry says the glass looks like typical commercial office double glazing. He describes one lite of glass as likely 6 mm tinted and/or coated glass that is probably heat strengthened to resist solar thermal stress. The windows appear to have had a ½-inch air space then a 6 mm lite of clear anneal glass.

“I see no sign of any lamination or post applied films,” he says. “Such construction should be fine for an office but hardly suitable for a location where impact resistance might be needed.”

While it’s possible security glazing is used in other areas of the facility, it doesn’t appear that it was used throughout the entire building. Cost can be a barrier for local governments to purchase security glazing options. However, it’s unclear if that was the case in this instance.

According to the St. Louis government website, the City Justice Center opened in 2002 as a “state-of-the-art” facility. It was designed by Kennedy Associates Inc., St. Louis, and Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK). The jail has six stories and the capacity to hold 860 inmates.

According to an article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 2002, there are no exterior windows in the cells. Instead, the cell doors have windows, which allows natural light from windows in the common rooms and the gyms to enter the cells.

“Designed for efficiency of operation on a compact site, natural light in the housing pods is provided through large windows in the dayroom and exercise areas where inmates spend their daylight hours, using a concept created by HOK known as ‘borrowed light,’” reads an article by the St. Louis Business Journal written in 1999 after the building’s design was recognized by the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Justice for outstanding design quality.

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2 Responses to How Were Inmates Able to Break the Glass at a St. Louis Jail?

  1. bob A says:

    Architects, in general, don’t seem to know JACK-SH** about window glazing whether it is decorative or functional glazing. Don’t the schools teach these kids the basics. I am the filming business and run across SO many architects who know very, very little about films. This jail is no darned “state of the art’ building. It is a cost factor to install the proper film, but well worth the investment. This incident simply PROVES my case. END>>>

  2. Ken says:

    I think it’s pretty standard for most city jails to use standard glass in areas not usually used by inmates and using security glazing in the penal areas.

    This quote – … a concept created by HOK known as ‘borrowed light,’” – must be misquoted as “borrowed light” and “borrowed lites” as an architectural concept was used in the 1800s.

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