Deborah Moelis, principal with Handel Architects, offered a look at ways to have “glass without guilt” in designing high-performance facades.

How can we have glass architecture without guilt? The question was fitting for this year’s New York Zak World of Facades Conference (Zak), themed “The Nimble City: Renewal and Reinvention.” Opening speaker Deborah Moelis, principal with Handel Architects, answered that query during her presentation.

She said that though a tremendous amount of innovation has occurred in the glass industry, some problems with glass remain. For one, it’s difficult to make. It’s also difficult to insulate and soundproof [sic].

“We use glass innovatively to fight the problems,” she said. “We are constantly trying to test new materials; people are trying to learn how to integrate new technologies into projects … Architects need to be smart enough to be dangerous; to ask the right questions then rely on their vendors to tell us how to use the products.”

Moelis said her firm has looked at several highly insulating glass products. Insulating glass warm-edge spacers, for example, can significantly improve a building envelope compared to traditional aluminum spacers.

“Change your specs,” she said. “We want to make sure in the specs [you’re changing them] from [saying] aluminum to warm edge. You won’t get it if you don’t write it down.”

She added that vacuum-insulating glass (VIG) is another product that can help.

“It’s so cool and thin,” she said. “It also has excellent qualities for great R-values. It’s almost like wall R-values.”

She pointed out that VIG is so thin [around the size of a standard glass lite of 6 mm] that it’s ideal for landmark and renovation buildings that need a thin construction.

With these and many options readily available, what prevents technologies from becoming more widespread? Moelis said deterrents include cost, availability, insufficient performance data, specialized installation requirements and exterior appearance.

Fortunately, increasingly stringent building codes drive better technology usage. With its Local Law 97, New York is just one jurisdiction driving the demand. Others include Boston, Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Denver.

Glass, Carbon and Burgers 

Many of the Zak sessions in New York focused on strategies to reduce carbon in facades. Using VIG, said Andre Kenstowicz, key projects manager with Vitro Architectural Glass, is one way to do just that.

What, if anything, do carbon and the glass industry have in common with a burger? According to Andre Kenstowicz, key projects manager with Vitro Architectural Glass, quite a bit. In his session, “Carbon Reduction Strategies for Facades,” Kenstowicz used the example of a fast-food burger to explain embodied and operational carbon.

There are hidden costs, such as the fat and calories, of having a burger. There are also environmental costs that come from the methane cattle release.

“Building products are the same. There are hidden costs,” he said.

Embodied carbon represents the greenhouse gas emissions released throughout the process, from making to installing a product.

“Why do we care?” Kenstowicz asked. “Because higher temperatures mean buildings are going to use more energy.”

There are ways the building industry can reduce embodied carbon.

“Look for the environmental product declarations (EPD),” said Kenstowicz. “This will tell you how much embodied carbon went into making it.”

Operational carbon is the amount of carbon emitted during the building’s operation. Glass products also offer ways to address this concern. Kenstowicz said to look at the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) and U-value.

Ways glass can improve SHGC (i.e., keeping the heat out) include:

  • Additional layers of silver in a low-E coating;
  • More reflective glass; and
  • A richer, color-tinted glass.

Strategies to reduce U-value (i.e., keeping the cold out) include:

  • Using an optimal air/gas cavity;
  • Using a noble gas in the IGU, such as Argon;
  • Warm-edge spacers;
  • Triple glazing; and
  • VIG

Focused Discussions

Presentations throughout Zak focused on ways the façade industry can contribute to a healthier built environment. Three breakout sessions featured industry experts who discussed everything from façade retrofits and renovations to using laminated glass interlayers for safety and security in design and construction.

Tali Mejicovsky, associate principal with Arup, which offers design, engineering and other consulting services, said the sessions she attended provided insight and information in line with the theme of this year’s event—renewal and reinvention.

“People are focused on sustainability and retrofitting existing buildings,” she said. She added speakers focused on not just the building but also waste and what happens to the materials after the building’s lifespan.

Future Sessions

The New York event was the 134th edition of the Zak conferences. The events occur globally, bringing information, education and knowledge about façades to the industry. North American conference director Susan Kramer said this event was the biggest post-pandemic in New York.

“We’ve gotten lots of good feedback on the content,” she said. “That says we’re on target with subjects and relevance for the New York market.”

As she planned this year’s program, she asked, “Do you have a good facades story to tell?”

“As I reached out to people, I found the theme of this year’s event: the nimble city,” she said.

As a result, many sessions focused on renovation and re-use projects, a message carried throughout the program.

“The greenest building already exists,” said Kramer.

Zak heads to Montreal on Oct. 19, 2023. Seven North American conferences are scheduled for 2024, including four new cities: Miami, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles. The conference will return to Vancouver, New York and Toronto. Additional information about all events is available on the Zak website.

1 Comment

  1. So glad to see VIG mentioned. Been around almost 2 decades but still seems to be a mystery with much of the user side of the market.

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