Breaking Down Barriers to Large-Scale Specification of Dynamic Glass

By Jordan Scott

Not all technologies are welcomed in the world of building facades. This is especially true with expensive and unproven innovations. Early adopters are willing to take a chance and, with time, these barriers can begin to fade away. That’s been the case for dynamic glass products, which have grown in popularity in recent years due to several past barriers beginning to break down.

Slow to Change

The architectural community was slow to warm up to dynamic glass for a number of reasons. Craig Henricksen, vice president of product and marketing at Kinestral Technologies Inc. in Hayward, Calif., says durability was a major reason developers hesitated to embrace dynamic glass.

“The product can be proven but will the company be viable in ten to 20 years? For developers it’s very much a trust game. If the glass breaks ten years down the road will they be able to get areplacement? Practical things like that were a concern,” he says.

Henricksen adds that Kinestral, which produces Halio smart-tinting glass, partnered with AGC Glass early on to give the company additional resources. He says this helped the company in regard to trust as it entered the market and began to speak with big developers.

“People in the market are just now starting to feel that subside a little bit. As more buildings adopt dynamic glass the fear is diminishing,” says Henricksen. “That’s why we’re starting to see an uptick in adoption and excitement.”

According to Jordan Doria, senior channel marketing manager for Sage-Glass in Faribault, Minn., lack of either market awareness or a long-term track record of success prevented the technology from gaining traction at first. Dynamic glass was used in smaller pilot applications before being specified for commercial projects. Now, Doria says, the company is seeing repeat customers as confidence in the technology grows.

Changing Perceptions

View Inc., based in Milpitas, Calif., with its manufacturing facility in Olive Branch, Miss., is actively working to gain the building industry’s trust. View Inc. North America president Guthrie Cox says the company invites interested parties to tour the manufacturing facility so they can meet the team and understand the company’s quality procedures.

There’s another mindset that needs to change for people to want to adopt dynamic glass technology, according to Doria, who adds that his company has been working to break down traditional thought.

“Comparing dynamic glass to theglass we’ve known for years really doesn’t work. We need to get people to understand that it’s not just glass, but a smart glass solution that takes the place of blinds and shades and contributes to energy management,” he says. “It’s a living part of the building. We’re getting people to reframe their thinking about this new solution in the building space but that doesn’t happen overnight.”

The growing focus on energy performance and sustainability targets, whether LEED Platinum, net-zero or Passive House, has opened doors for dynamic glass products. Many of these targets come with a tradeoff in the amount of glass that can be used.

“Designers and occupants don’t want to minimize glass and reduce daylight. They’re realizing that those targets are achievable without sacrificing daylight but only with dynamic glass,” says Doria.

Henricksen also believes that sustainability is driving the adoption of dynamic glass. He says that stakeholders are beginning to look at the building as a fully integrated system, focusing on how each part interacts with each other.

“Companies are leading the charge with the next generation of Class A buildings. They are doing this almost out of necessity,” says Henricksen. “If you look at owner-occupied buildings, such as the Facebooks and Microsofts of the world, they are being asked by their employees to do better in terms of energy efficiency. It’s a changing dynamic and the industry is starting to look at how to make better buildings up front.”

Dynamic glazing can also be paired with other glazing products to increase energy efficiency. According to Henricksen, Halio can be paired with low-E coatings or vacuum sealing. It could even be used as part of an insulating glass unit.

While Doria believes that dynamic glass is a premium technology, he says that people often think it’s much more expensive than it really is until they are given a cost range.

“They sometimes think the cost is going to be 40-50% higher than what we tell them the range actually is,” he says, adding that while the cost may have come down compared to five years ago, the perceived cost difference is what’s changing most dramatically.

The technology itself has also evolved. The lites of glass tint more uniformly than before and separate parts of the lite can be controlled in different ways.

“You can have one pane of glass control heat and glare while still letting in daylight. It’s the same as if you had blinds pulled halfway down to prevent the space from being too dark,” says Doria. “More product options have opened up the market.”

According to Henricksen, the color of the glass in its clear state has become more neutral over time as the technology has developed, and this has reduced dynamic glass’ barrier to entry from a design perspective. The overall performance has also become faster. The glass can also be connected to the cloud and data management tools that give companies insight into how the system is functioning.

Cox adds that the technology continues to become more intelligent. View recently added a smart protect feature that notifies occupants of a break-in immediately.

“What you want in dynamic glass is a solution that has the ability to predict ahead of time instead of reacting. If the glass is reacting to weather, then occupants will experience glare and moments of discomfort, he says. “Dynamic glass can predict ahead of time to ensure occupants have a perfect experience free of thermal discomfort and glare. That’sthe intelligence platform.”

In Doria’s experience, dynamic glass is being specified in increasingly larger-scale projects. Airports and developer-led office projects are major applications for the market segment. He says many developers see the benefit of dynamic glass for one-upping surrounding buildings due to its status as a new and smart amenity that contributes to wellness. Higher education is another strong segment for the dynamic glass market. This is driven largely by universities’ sustainability targets for new buildings and the desire to compete for students with an innovative campus.

“A bright shiny new building with cutting edge technology is part of the kind of schools students want to go to. Our product is a big part of that image,” says Doria. “We’re helping to portray the type of image schools want to convey to students.”

Henricksen says he has no doubt that dynamic glass will soon be specified for a large-scale project, adding that he’s already seeing adoption into midrise Class A buildings.

“Developers for [large commercial projects] tend to take a wait-and-see approach but it’s not an ‘if ’ but ‘when’ this will happen … People want glass and access to the outside world. No one wants to work in concrete boxes. The demand in energy efficiency and building efficiency is growing and the industry is looking to technology to solve this problem,” he says.

“We’re finding that, as more and more people sit beside the glass and experience the product, they love it,” adds Cox. “We’re seeing a push from end users saying they want dynamic glass.”

More Barriers

While the focus on cost is beginning to shift, Doria still believes the market needs to reframe its thinking. Rather than comparing dynamic glass to traditional glazing, which Doria says isn’t reflective of what dynamic glass companies do, he hopes they will begin to change how they analyze cost.

He says that users should focus on the savings created by installing dynamic glass, such as those from not needing automated shading solutions or from being able to downsize the HVAC system.

“Large clients understand the underlying value because they’re looking at cost per employee,” adds Cox, who says that dynamic glass can improve the layout efficiency of a space by bringing in more daylight and making previously uncomfortable spaces comfortable. “It becomes more valuable to end users. That’s why developers are willing to invest.”

Henricksen says that the industry needs to help building developers change how they model these costs.

“We’re asking them to think about the façade differently. This is a natural light control system, not just glass,” he says, adding that there’s often a disconnect between who makes the façade decisions and who focuses on interior applications such as blinds and shades.

Dynamic glass has gained traction, according to Doria, but there still isn’t one large project using the technology that’s well known to everyone. He says this will change with time. Sage-Glass offers AIA courses and lunch and learns in order to educate the design community about its products. Doria said the company has had a shift in its strategy and now focuses more on the source of the decision making.

“Human resources teams are having a larger role to play in real estate decisions. They’re looking at facilities’ footprints as part of their wellness strategy for attracting, retaining and getting the most out of their talent,” says Doria. “Design and construction can play a part in their wellness strategy and we’re trying to tap into that.”

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at jscott@glass.com.

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