Curve Ball: How the Manufacturers View Curved Glass

By Katie Brown

Designing a building takes the same flare and dedication as de-signing a top dollar clothing line. Architectural design is creative, vibrant and full of life. So too are the products architects use to garnish their masterpieces. Curved or bent glass often times is the crown jewel of these projects. Architects constantly push the glass industry to create pioneering feats, but where do manufacturers draw the line? Just because a certain design or fabrication can be created, doesn’t necessarily mean they should be used in a project.

Relying on Requests

Manufacturers hear a lot of the same requests from architects. The most popular question? “How big can you make it?” As the saying goes, bigger is better, and architects often just want to know how a particular piece of glass can be made. Joan Tarrús, global marketing director of Cricursa, says that they can deal with requests for glass larger than 20 x 10 feet. With glass this large, he says it can be hard to find solar control and low-E coatings to fit the glass, as well as keep their equipment up to date to take on such challenges.

“Nowadays, the sophisticated structures allow for larger and larger openings and, with it, the glass industry is challenged every now and then. Today, to the trend of delivering laminated XXL glass (larger than the EU jumbo size 20 x 10 feet) we have the challenge to add solar control and low-E coatings,” says Tarrús. “While it is still complex to find coatings available in large sizes, it is even more ambitious to keep up with state-of-the-art equipment, engineered and manufactured within Cricursa, to find ways to bend this soft off-line metal oxides and achieving the highest quality standards.”

Along with this, manufacturers often are asked how tight something can be made. Ac-cording to Jake Bowser, the architectural sales manager with Standard Bent Glass (SBG), he is often asked what is the tightest radius feasible for SBG. The tighter the radius, the more de-fined the curve, making their particular glass project stand out. Bowser adds that in an industry as changing and competitive as the architectural industry, there is a constant demand to have the newest and edgiest glass designs. These are all things made possible with tighter radii.

“… architects and engineers contact us asking for feasibility on a combination of parameters: radii along with maximum sizes and energy efficient coatings (double and triple silver),” adds Tarrús.

When working with all these different requests, manufacturers must work very closely with their clients to meet all their needs. Tarrús and Bowser both say that the best way to help a client is to fully understand exactly what their design concept is, and then how to fit that vision into reality.

“For us it is very important to understand the design concept, to know what the architect wants to achieve. We consider it crucial to get into the architects mind to fully understand the challenge he is envisioning to be able to go back to him with a solution up to scratch,” says Tarrús.

Tim Greene, the engineering manager with Consolidated Glass Holdings, adds that to best meet a client’s requests, manufacturers need to use all their resources, including technical support from suppliers. In addition, Greene says that as much information he can get about the project will allow for the best product outcome. He needs to know specifics such as qualities, shipment expectations, design details, performance requirements and installation methods, just to name a few.

Sometimes requests can throw manufacturers for a loop, forcing them out-side the realm of everyday requests. SBG has been around since 1936, and is no stranger to such requests. Bowser says SBG is up for any challenge, as long as it is within the parameters of what its equipment can create. Sometimes manufacturers are faced with architectural requests that aren’t always easily accomplished. Architects’ visions don’t always fit into reality, but by working closely with members of the industry, they can work together to make each project unique. Manufacturers want to do the very best for their clients. Their years of experience and professional discretion can help make even the most challenging projects a success.

Curving Challenges

Every project faces unique challenges, and that’s true with curved glass as well. However, those considerations aren’t al-ways limiting to where and how the products can be used..

“Curved annealed glass has very few limitations when it comes to manufacturability and aesthetics,” says Greene.

“It can be produced in similar sizes and thicknesses as com-pared to flat glass, with minor changes to aesthetics and optics.”

Greene adds that particular difficulties come into play when working with annealed glass.

“Basic material stiffness and deflection is unchanged by heat strengthening, however annealed glass will have a higher probability of breakage during load. Annealed glass may not be sufficient for all curved glass requests.”

Tarrús says change is also a challenge.

“One of the challenges, as everything in life, is the constant change. For instance, projects requiring larger glass sizes which oblige us to upgrade our equipment. The restless market launching of new double and triple silver coatings oblige us to test all of them in the different disciplines (bend tempering and bend annealing/slumped glass) in various radii and thickness to, in the end, be able to give the designer an answer to his project needs,” says Tarrús.

However, with thoughtful cooperation, architects and designers can work together to make their visions into a reality.

Curved glass is not as intimidating to fabricate as it might seem. With help from industry experts, and with the right eye for design, curved glass can be the cherry on top of a beautiful architectural design.

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