Great Glazing: Columbia College Façade Replacement

The basics: Chicago’s Columbia College recently underwent a major façade renovation replacing the existing 1950s-era early modernist curtain wall with an energy-efficient wall system that maintained the building’s history. Located across the street from Chicago's Grant Park and Lake Michigan, Columbia College's campus building at 618 S. Michigan is part of the cliffwall that forms the Historic Michigan Boulevard District. With a $100 per square-foot budget for the project, the college needed an innovative, budget conscious design solution for the building’s highly visible, historic location. Gensler architects determined the only option was to use an off-the-shelf curtain-wall, but to upgrade it in some way. The upgrade was key to the final product, which exposes the building’s past in a modern way.

The players: Architect: Gensler; structural engineer, Rockey Structures; general contractor, W.E.O'Neil; glass manufacturers, PPG Industries, Guardian Industries; glazing contractor, Chicago Heights Glass; glass supplier/digital ceramic printing, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

The glass and systems: To achieve an upgraded look with historical context, Gensler utilized a digital ceramic printing process to overlay an abstract image of the original 1913 terra cotta façade onto a new energy-efficient curtain wall system. All that remains of the original façade are a few photographs, which the team manipulated digitally to create an abstracted “ghost” image. The insulating glass units include an outer lite of PPG Starphire with the digital ceramic frit on the No. 2 surface, and a clear inner lite with Guardian SunGuard Light Blue 63 on surface No. 3.

Instead of using a traditional silk screening process, Gensler specified that the print be directly applied to the glass and oven dried, which allows for a unique print on each piece of glass without creating hundreds of unique screens. Columbia College received a customized curtain wall with this process, without exceeding the budget.