Fired Up: A Little Reminder About How Awesome Glass Is

David VermeulenIf you haven’t been to Seattle in the summer, you should. It’ll kick your visions of hippies drinking coffee in the rain to the curb. Eighty-degree weather, sun until well past 8 p.m., mountains, trees, water, ferries – the list goes on. It’s so stunning, you might not even notice our grunge scene, plaid shirts and famed movie single sites. Not convinced? Just look at these pictures. As a transplant from Michigan, perhaps I appreciate the views more than most Washingtonians. But locals say the summers are what allow them to survive the rest of the year.

In all seriousness, if pioneering glass artist Dale Chihuly’s “Glass House” exhibit isn’t enough to convince you to visit Seattle, the city should definitely be on your list as a glass pro after Olson Kundig’s recent Space Needle renovation. Yes, the iconic Needle is a tourist attraction that’s plastered on half the logos in the city. But it’s also a remarkable example of glass’ ability to reinvent buildings.

We talk a lot about what glass does for us—how it lets in light, can improve our views and even protect us from fires. It meets such basic occupant wellbeing needs that it’s easy to overlook its wow factor. With the Space Needle right in our own backyard, its potential has been hard to miss. In a classic example of “it’s hard to make time to sightsee in your own city,” I haven’t been to the Needle since before the renovation—I’ll be making a trip out soon, and TGP customers are frequently making trips out. But living just 30 miles away, it’s been fun to follow along with the progress and now the success.

Glass wasn’t just used to restore the building. It’s now one of the reasons visitors come to see the icon. This industry win is a super-hot topic in the glass space, and the press, in my opinion, is well deserved. Let’s give some major props to the building and design team, including Herzog Glass. Here’s a recap of what they accomplished, sometimes by doing near insane feats like this.

Up on the 500-foot level observation deck, visitors can now look out across the city through floor-to-ceiling glass wall panels that tilt out towards the city. They can even lean back against the clear walls on glass benches. The uninterrupted 360-degree view of the city is certainly impressive without the building’s old wire caging barricade, but so is the fact that 1.3 million people visit the Needle each year and put their trust in the glass. I did a little research and found that the glass panels and transparent benches were designed “like reinforced concrete.” I don’t have all the details at my fingertips, but I think we can all say the engineering feat is as impressive as the views.  

And then, of course, there’s the world’s first—and for the moment, only—revolving glass floor, the “Loupe.” It also sits at the 500-foot level, giving visitors a chance to look down at the city below. Glass floors have really come into their own over the last decade, and this one does not disappoint. I encourage you to dig into the details at some point, but to recap, the result is a mix of structural glass, high-strength interlayers, sacrificial lites, low-iron glass, custom frits and a design tested for more than 100 pounds/square foot and 600-pount point loads.

Views and an awesome installation aside, what’s the coolest thing about the Space Needle? For the moment, when you research the icon, it’s the glass that people are talking about. It’s a trend that seems to be growing. Chicago has the TILT. CN Tower has the glass floor. Now Seattle has the Needle and its Loupe.

What’s your favorite example of how glass technology was used to reinvent or create an icon?

David Vermeulen is the national sales manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. TGP works closely with architects, designers and other building professionals, providing them with the state-of-the-art products, service and support to maximize design aesthetics and safety in commercial and institutional buildings around the world. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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