The 2018 Top Glass Fabricators | The Projects

Companies tout their complex feats of fabrication
By Norah Dick and Katy Devlin
February 22, 2018


Brooklyn Health Center

Brooklyn Health Center
© Terry Wieckert, Abstract Photography

Digital glass printer
Viracon’s Dip-Tech digital glass printer. 

An arresting curved façade of decorative glass surrounds the new state-of-the-art Brooklyn Health Center in Brooklyn, New York. To achieve the unique and vibrant wave pattern on the exterior of the building, Viracon provided 50,157 square feet of insulating glass, including over 22,000 square feet of DigitalDistinctions digitally printed glass. 

DigitalDistinctions, a specialty line of glass engineered to combine energy performance and ceramic printing, was part of a design that integrates vertical and horizontal glass framing lines and vertical fins, along with waves of horizontal digitally printed lines and various shaped lites, says Annette Panning, director, marketing and product management, Viracon.

Creating the complex effect required close collaboration between architect Francis Cauffman and Viracon, especially regarding color selection. Whereas most designers are familiar with CMYK litho-printing, they may be less familiar with ceramic digital inks, explains Panning. Viracon fabricated 12-inch-by-12-inch samples during the design process for the architect’s review and feedback regarding color and pattern, she says.

Aligning the horizontal and vertical framing lines across 158 differently shaped lites presented a definite challenge for the fabrication team. To ensure consistent color-printing across all lites, Viracon printed a mockup using simulated etch ink, a process that in itself posed difficulties. 

“Printing simulated etch ink requires an ultra-clean work environment, as the transparent etch ink magnifies imperfections caused by dust or oils left on the glass prior to printing and firing,” says Brian Distel, Viracon’s digital print specialist. “By using the glazier’s elevation, we were able to position each prepped file in its location on the curtain wall, prior to printing, to check for inconsistencies in the hookup/registration of the line pattern. By catching any issues prior to printing, we saved everyone involved time and money.”

To align lites correctly during the printing process, Viracon’s prepress department created unique identifiers for each of the 3,000 lites of glass. The team created a digital file for each lite that contained information for the color(s) to be applied, the size of the lite and whether or not edge deletion should occur, if the unit was coated, explains Distel. Operators then used the individualized specs to physically place the lite so that the printer could register it, a process that was key for the differently-shaped lites.

“With odd-shaped lites, the orientation is critical,” says Distel. “There was typically only one corner that could be used for proper registration.” Inks were printed directly onto the glass substrate and then Viracon’s VRE-59 coating was applied over the printed image.   

Skansa was the general contractor. EFCO Corp. manufactured the curtain wall, and handled the full assembly of the unitized system and the installation.


Cadillac Fairview Shops at Don Mills

Cadillac Fairview Shops at Don Mills

Cadillac Fairview Shops at Don Mills
Photos by The Cygnus Design Group and AGNORA

Striking decorative glass pylons guide visitors through the Cadillac Fairview Shops at Don Mills, an outdoor mall in Toronto. AGNORA fabricated the glass signage, including: five 40-foot pylons to mark the main entrance; three 32-foot pylons at the secondary entrance; and 27 smaller signs, each just under 10 feet, for parking spaces and intersections. 

Given the wayfinding purpose of the outdoor signs, the design required pylons and signage to be visible both day and night. Creating the desired effect required that AGNORA closely collaborate with the design team, and experiment with ink opacity and color application, says Richard Wilson, president of AGNORA. 

“In a collaborative process with the sign designer, Jonathan Picklyk of [the Cygnus Design Group] and the sign installer, Forward Signs Inc., AGNORA developed a two-layer opacity application of the ink, meaning a double pass on the same surface to achieve the desired color and preserve the design intent,” explains Wilson. “This created a stunning effect both during daylight and when backlit at night.”

The use of frit for the signature pieces also represented a design hurdle. “Using frit for a project needing visual integrity both day and night on both sides posed technical challenges,” says Wilson. “Internal samples and progressive mock-ups for the project players to test allowed the process to move forward.” 

AGNORA fabricated the gateway pylons by digitally printing ceramic frit onto about 6 ½-by-19 ½-foot panels of Pilkington’s Optiwhite, low-iron, monolithic and two-ply laminated tempered glass. Each gateway pylon was then constructed by stacking two of the panels vertically, with the graphic pattern designed to transition between the pieces.

The general contractor was Ellis Don. Signs were installed by Explore1. Installation was managed by Forward Signs Inc. The designer was The Cygnus Design Group.


Amazon Campus

Amazon campus
Photo by Vitrum Glass Group

Dynamic orange and white fins decorate the lower levels of Amazon’s new campus in downtown Seattle. Vitrum Glass Group delivered a total of 1,000 glass fins for the project, covering about 10,000 square feet on the exterior of the building. 

“The fins not only add color and dimensional relief, but also help control the amount of direct sunlight on the building skin,” says Dale Alberda, principal and architect, NBBJ, the design firm on this project. “The idea to use two colors came very early in the design process and was driven by the desire to create a dynamic and changing building façade.”

Each of the glass fins is composed of two ¼-inch, low-iron, heat-strengthened Starphire Velour Etch glass panes on the external surfaces. The laminate interlayer is comprised of 0.030 clear polyvinyl butyral, 0.030 Trosifol Diamond White PVB and a GCC ceramic frit. The ceramic frit was roll-coated onto the glass in colors “Curry,” “Forceful Orange,” “Nasturtium” and “Golden Rod.” Vitrum created four sizes for the panels, ranging from 8-by-63 inches to 12-by-87 inches. 

The desired color effect required some initial trouble-shooting with the design and glazing team, says Michael Zizek, marketing director, Vitrum Glass Group. The design brief included two-toned, double-sided glass fins in three shades of orange and three shades of white, with the orange transitioning from darkest to lightest. To achieve this look, the glazing contractor, Walters and Wolf, approached Vitrum to create a laminated make-up that combined the two colors, with a matte finish on the orange-colored side, says Zizek.  

Creating the orange-white, two-tone fin proved a slight challenge, he explains, and required Vitrum to produce several samples. “We had a number of challenges with read through, where the orange continued to be visible or was impacting the purity of the white,” says Zizek. To overcome the issue, the fabricators replaced the white ceramic frit and one of the clear PVB interlayers in their original sample with Diamond White PVB. “This produced the most rich and vibrant oranges and prevented all read through, with no orange being visible from the white side of the fin,” says Zizek. 

Walker Glass fabricated the Velour Etch Starphire glass. Vitro Architectural Glass was the glass manufacturer. Kuraray Co. and Trosifol supplied the Diamond White PVB interlayer. Sellen Construction served as the general contractor. Glass Coatings & Concepts LLC provided the ceramic frit.

Skyline Design

The Museum of the Bible

Museum of the bible
Photo by Maxine Schnitzer Photography

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., features 381 large custom glass panels digitally printed with images of biblical artifacts. Skyline Design fabricated the decorative glass panels for the 30,000-square-foot museum, which opened in November 2017.

“The unique character of enlarging and reproducing archival documents on the surface of glass set this project apart,” says Mark Toth, sales director, Skyline Design. “The importance of reproducing original documents to be shared by the public in a museum of this magnitude was unique.”

Achieving the design goal of replicating biblical artifacts on architectural glass required close collaboration between Skyline Design and the project’s interior architects, PRD Group, says Toth. As a team, PRD and Skyline worked to realize the architect’s concept. “PRD created the artwork and our production team worked closely with them to turn their conceptual layouts into reality,” he says. Design and Production Inc. installed the glass and provided fabrication for other parts of the exhibit. 

Color matching proved to be one of the main challenges of reproducing printed text on glass, says Toth. The architect and fabricator worked back and forth with hundreds of samples to match the correct color, hue and saturation. “Color and character of the ancient documents had to be interpreted through the digital printing process and visually matched the thickness of the glass,” he says. “Much of the glass was back-lit, so Skyline Design had to work closely with the lighting designer to achieve the desired result.”

The glass was ½-inch low-iron from Vitro Architectural Glass. Skyline tempered the glass in-house, and digitally printed on side No. 2. For a little less than a quarter of the panels, Skyline also deeply etched the text on side No. 1 and then painted the etched glass with a gold infill. After digital printing, glass panels were tagged, packed and crated for final installation on-site. Once samples and full-scale glass mockups were approved, Skyline cut the glass to spec. Panel sizes ranged from 12-by-20 inches to 58-by-80 inches.

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