The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entire glass industry, from manufacturing and supply chains to design and construction. While the first day of the National Glass Association (NGA) Summer Conference included a focus on the manufacturing perspective, the session, “The New Normal – Design & Construction,” included a different perspective.

Domenic Cristofaro, an associate principal with HED Design, provided an architect’s perspective on the crisis.

“Protecting occupants from the spread of disease will be foremost in the minds of architects,” he said.

He also pointed out that glass is a popular material due to its ability to bring in natural light and create visual protection while supporting sustainability and protecting occupants from storms or attacks. He expects it will no longer be specified just for its functional and aesthetic purposes but also to prevent the spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

“Glass is hygienic and easy to clean,” said Cristofaro. “It’s unlikely that offices will continue to use open office layouts. Glass barriers could be installed to protect occupants in addition to staggered office hours. COVID-19 has put an end to the over-densification of office buildings.”

He anticipates that in the future, a portion of offices could be turned into apartments or condos. He also posed modular construction as a solution to the supply chain issues created by the pandemic as it allows parts of a project to be built in a controlled, safe environment.

Joe Conover, vice president of Clark Construction Group, started out by explaining how important in-person meetings are during the design process. With travel being cut back due to the pandemic, his company has had to rely on Zoom meetings, which need to account for several time zones.

“It makes it difficult to establish a collaborative atmosphere and for people to focus,” he said. “We’re still trying to achieve the same level of quality even if we have to work harder and longer to get there.”

Conover said that at Clark, working safety and maximizing productivity are the two things that must be accomplished on the jobsite. That has translated to each person monitoring themselves for symptoms to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition, each room has been evaluated for air flow and size. The company has determined safe occupancy levels and manages work flow and prioritizes tasks with those levels in mind. Clark also has implemented one-way hallways.

“It impacts productivity but we’re not yet sure to what extent. However, we’ve learned we can work safely and we’ve only had a few positive tests. We’ve yet to have community spread on any of our jobsites,” said Conover.

Liz Haggerty, president of the Architectural Glass and Metal division of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® (OBE), said that once the pandemic began the first thing her company did was look internally and change work stations to allow for the proper level of distancing.

“We implemented a touchless roll call situation and changed driver protocol to allow for touchless delivery for our customers,” she said, adding that the company now relies on more digital tools such as SystemSelect, with allows architects and glaziers to choose glazing systems for a project.

The company also has fast-tracked its research and development and external measures. Outside of the change in driver protocol, the company also increased its unitizing capacity and ability to delivery unitized product.

OBE has increased production of demountable walls and moveable partitions to help separate workspaces for offices. This can be a long-term or temporary solution, according to Haggerty.

“We believe glass is more durable than plexiglass for these applications. It has a longer life and is more conducive to sanitation,” she said, adding that the company also has been supporting the medical industry throughout the pandemic.

Connor Leahy, regional business development manager with Assa Abloy, said his company first safeguarded the manufacturing staff while the sales staff transitioned to remote work. The company implemented social distancing practices and temperature checks.

Randal Froebelius, president and founder of Equity ICI Real Estate Services Inc., offered a management and development perspective on the situation. He explained that traditional retail and restaurants were impacted significantly at the beginning of the nationwide shutdowns, with many unsure if they could cover operating expenses due to reduced capacity.

“Densification of office spaces was increasing but now we’ve done a 180 and we’ll have a surplus of office space,” he said. “We’ve also needed to deliver services in a different way. Entering a workplace or home has introduced a different level of safety and security concerns.”

He’s noticed an increase in people wanting to use their elbows for door buttons and people avoiding touchpoints in general. His company has implemented constant cleaning of high-touch surfaces. In addition, there is now temperature screening for occupants to check in and a health questionnaire before swiping into buildings.