Custom challenges at UCSD Price Center

Tower Glass, Santee, Calif., #19
Katy Devlin
April 20, 2009

The word “custom” best describes the glazing systems at the University of California, San Diego Price Center, completed in July 2008. The project features a custom curtain wall, custom veneer system and custom sunshades and panels, expertly installed by glaziers at a tight site location and on an aggressive time schedule.

Tower Glass, Santee, Calif., won the $3.7 million contract by setting itself apart from other glaziers during the bidding process, says Barry Swaim, owner of Tower Glass. “The bid stage of this project was very challenging. There were two areas of the project that presented some unique engineering challenges. One bidder dropped out at the last minute due to some of these challenges,” he says. Tower Glass’ close relationship with one supplier also allowed the glazier to provide required documentation, helping Tower win the contract.

Tower faced additional challenges on site, as the Price Center is located tightly between two buildings, serving as an expansion to one of the buildings. “There was no room on the site for stockpiling materials. We had to fabricate and glaze the units for just-in-time delivery,” Swaim says.

Additionally, the custom-designed veneer wall system had to be closely coordinated with the steel backup system. “The steel tolerances and the glazing tolerance are different. The architectural design didn’t allow for large shim spaces, so we had to work in conjunction with the steel installer to meeting the architectural design,” Swaim says.

The project features a unitized curtain wall with varying stack joint locations supplied by Vision Systems, El Cajon, Calif. California Sheet Metal, El Cajon, supplied the panels and sunshades, and Vitro America, Oceanside, Calif., supplied the glass. Cannon Design, Los Angeles, was the architect, and M. A. Mortenson Co., Minneapolis, the general contractor.

Tower Glass is experienced in public projects, as about 50 percent of the company's work is in the public sector, Swaim says. The company has always been involved in educational projects, including university projects such as Price Center that present interesting and different design challenges.

“In a university environment, the architects are usually trying to make some sort of unique statement while staying within the standards of the campus. These architectural statements are usually very complicated from a design or engineering perspective—large glass lites, custom suspension systems, artwork, patterns, etc. These areas of the buildings are usually much larger than, say, the entry of an office building or a walkway canopy. Sometimes they involve entire elevations of the project,” Swaim says.

While educational building as been historically strong for Tower Glass, Swaim says the California budget crisis and the lack of funding for the schools will likely affect many educational projects in the state.

“The advantages, until recently, are that they are generally funded well and the payments are timely,” Swaim says. “Most educational facilities want to continue building and modernizing as their budgets allow. Many of them have become repeat clients. They generally have a better knowledge of construction than an agency or private party that is only doing one project. As with any public construction, there are a lot more hoops to jump through than with private development.”

Swaim doubts the economic stimulus package will have a large affect on educational projects. “The stimulus package appears to have more effect on road construction. However, there will be some projects that get funded with stimulus money,” he says. Educational construction in California will rebound once the state’s budget is in order, he says.

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at

  • The project: University of California, San Diego Price Center

    The players: Contract glazier, Tower Glass, Santee, Calif.; architect, Cannon Design, Los Angeles; general contractor, M. A. Mortenson Co., Minneapolis; curtain wall supplier, Vision Systems, El Cajon, Calif.; panel and sun shade supplier, California Sheet Metal, El Cajon; glass supplier, Vitro America, Oceanside, Calif.

    The glass and systems: Custom unitized curtain wall with varying stack joints, custom veneer system and custom sunshades and panels.