Technology Streamlines Layout for Hawaii High-rise Curtain Wall

By Larry Trojak
August 1, 2016

The entire east-facing side of Waiea Tower is clad in a curtain wall that undulates across the face of the building, creating a wave of glass. Photo by Nordic PCL.

The new Waiea Tower stands out among the scores of high-rise condos dotting downtown Honolulu. The 38-story high-rise, designed by WCIT Architecture, features an eye-catching, complex simulated wave glass curtain wall. The façade, a unique curtain wall system designed for the project, features wall panels of all different sizes installed at different angles, presenting notable challenges to the installation team. The glass supplier on the job was Inland Glass and Aluminum of Honolulu, and the glazier, Oahu Metal and Glazing.

Bringing the impressive design to life was not easy, and presented serious curtain wall installation challenges, according to officials from general contractor Nordic PCL. To resolve those challenges, the company turned to new layout technology that greatly improved production and installation efficiency, and assured accuracy.

“This is an all-concrete structure with a traditional curtain wall exterior on three of the exterior sides,” says Thane Werner, Nordic PCL’s field engineer. “On the remaining side, the east-facing wall, is a unique, simulated-wave, glass curtain wall consisting of more than 600 panes, each different from the other, which runs the full length from top to bottom. This was one of the most unique designs we’d ever encountered and it presented a situation that we’d never dealt with before.”

The complex curtain wall presented serious curtain wall installation challenges. To resolve those challenges, the company used a 3D layout technology that improved production and installation efficiency. Photo by Nordic PCL.

Complex layout

Curtain walls are traditionally anchored to a building structure by welding steel angles to weld plates embedded in concrete. To secure the curtain wall to the structure at Waiea, each panel has to tie in to any of a variety of embeds attached to each floor’s post-tensioned slabs. It was in this area that securing the wave wall proved most problematic, according to Werner.

“On any given floor there can be as many as 320 embeds, and we needed to ensure that each embed was in the precise position to mate with what the glass supplier had provided,” he says. “If the embed is found to be out of position, we would be forced to do a re-work to make that structural connection happen. That can be both costly and time-consuming. So, at the outset of the wall installation, we were performing a manual layout for each of the embeds, which was proving extremely cumbersome.”

That layout required Werner and his crew to pull tape from two different dimensions in order to set up offsets. “I was out there all day every day pulling tape from gridlines to make sure each of those locations was correct,” he says. “At the outset of the project, we were only doing half of the structure at a time—about 170 embeds on each floor—and that was taking us about two days. Looking at the task ahead, I felt there had to be a better way to do this.”


Werner investigated solutions to improve efficiencies during this process and discovered a YouTube video of PCL using the Topcon LN-100 Layout Navigator—a self-leveling laser and 3D positioning instrument.

“If what I was seeing was correct, instead of having to pull tape, we could simply set up this 3D positioning instrument and verify that all these locations were correct,” he says. “I spoke to one of my managers and told him I felt we should look into this technology. My rationale was simple: by using it, we would be able to quickly and accurately ensure that every embed is in the correct location, eliminating the need to chip away at the slab and reposition wrongly-placed embeds—and the costs associated with doing so.”

Werner’s pitch was accepted and the team began collaborating with RDO Integrated Controls to set up the layout tool for the project’s wavy curtain wall.

“It was extremely simple to use,” he said. “It is a self-leveling instrument and operated in conjunction with an iPad-driven Autodesk BIM 360 Layout app, which connects to the LN-100 via Wi-Fi. Once it was up and running, I was able to take a re-section and, running off the 3D model on the iPad, was able to see, in real time, where my prism rod was in relation to the instrument. From there, I simply verified my points and we were in business.”


Incorporating the 3D positioning technology greatly improved the team’s productivity, according to Werner. Rather than requiring a day and a half to two days to obtain 170 points, “using the LN-100, I am able to do that same number of embeds, with accuracies consistently well within our parameters, in anywhere between one and two hours,” says Werner. “That’s an impressive turnaround that’s made even better in knowing we’ve all but eliminated any rework costs.”

In addition to using the 3D positioning technology on the Waiea project, PCL is also looking to incorporate the tool in other types of applications, such as verifying pipe, floor and wall layouts.

The author is president/owner of Trojak Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Minneapolis. He can be reached at