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Focus on Exterior Glass
Projects and products that push the material’s boundaries
How Did They Do That? The Engineering Behind Coal Drops Yard’s Big Kiss
3 Glass Cladding Products to Make Your Project Shine
Manhattan’s Pier 17 Gets an “Anti-Mall” with a Gorgeous Glass Facade
Focus on Exterior Glass
Focus on Exterior Glass

For a development that began life as the repository of a grimy and unglamorous cargo, the Coal Drops Yard in central London’s Kings Cross district has had a remarkably colourful history.

Constructed in the mid-19th century, its two long sheds were the terminus for trains delivering the coal from Northern England that fuelled London’s Industrial Revolution. Later, part of the site was purchased by Bagley, Wild & Co.; according to the developer’s official history of the site, the glass manufacturer employed “gangs of fearsome and muscular women” who off-loaded 30 wagons’ worth of bottles each day, then plied a less reputable trade by night. After a period of disuse, the buildings hosted illegal raves in the 1980s and 1990s.

PHOTO: Frener Reifer
PHOTO: Frener Reifer

But from a design point of view, its most interesting iteration is also its most recent – a transformation, courtesy of locally based Heatherwick Studio, from decaying industrial plot to welcoming public square. 

As project leader Tamsin Green notes, there were considerable challenges involved in repurposing the buildings. “They were designed for coal storage,” she says, “not for people.”  

Finding the opportunity to work on an existing piece of Victorian architecture “extraordinary,” the firm was keen to honour its heritage. When it was determined that the crumbling roofs needed to be replaced, the studio envisioned a sweeping new one that brings the buildings together in a “kissing point” and was able to source slate tiles from the same seam in Wales as the original Victorian-era roof, paying homage to the buildings’ history while taking the aesthetic in a dramatic new direction.

PHOTO: Quintin Lake

The ambitious design posed some hurdles, however. The Italian office of engineering and fabrication firm Frener & Reifer was commissioned to construct the building envelope of the upper-level facade and, as project manager Damien Finn recalls, “the design and installation of the kissing point glass was extremely challenging due to its size and complexity.” The zigzagging orientation of the facade required 86 frameless insulating glass panels (the largest of which are 7.2 metres high and weigh about 900 kilograms) to be set at varying angles; custom brackets were developed to support expansion and shifting.

“Every one of the thousands of pieces of glass and cladding was different and had to be individually drawn in 3D, then individually manufactured,” says Finn. To avoid any unpleasant surprises during construction, the team first built a partial 1:1 scale model. Ultimately, this attention to detail paid off: The facility has become not just a place for locals to gather, but a new architectural highlight in a city full of landmarks.  heatherwick.com, frener-reifer.com 

Lacobel T by AGC Glass

A back-painted enamelled glass suitable for spandrel and cladding, Lacobel T is available in 10 versatile colours including petrol green, anthracite grey and oyster white. Fabricators can cut and temper it to order, making it easy to customize and install; the smooth glossy finish is both UV protected and resistant to thermal shock, heat and impact. The glass can also be used for such indoor applications as furniture, backsplashes, shower stalls and retail stands.  agcglass.com

Convex Circles by Nathan Allan Glass Studios

The surfaces of these panels are detailed with repeating convex protrusions and concave recesses, lending them a three-dimensional appeal. Boasting 98 per cent clarity, the material offers excellent transparency and light transmission; the safety-tempered or -laminated panels, which can be up to 1.8 by 3.5 metres, are available in four pattern scales and can be frosted or etched for privacy. Applications include cladding, storefronts, windows and balustrades.  nathanallan.com

Exterior Glass by Skyline Design

Expanding its range of applications, Skyline Design has introduced new digital ceramic frit printing and laminating techniques to its portfolio. Customizable in large, seamless spans, the range can be altered to achieve different transparency levels, filter sunlight, reduce glare and offer privacy. Shown is Pulse by Anne Lindberg, part of the Exterior Ceramic Frit Digital Printing line, a durable and weather-resistant patterned glass.  skydesign.com

Once a bustling colonial-era harbour, New York City’s South Street Seaport underwent a gradual decline over much of the past few decades, becoming little more than a tourist trap with a lacklustre shopping mall. But a new “anti-mall” has replaced the latter on South Street’s rebuilt Pier 17, drawing visitors and re-attracting locals to the area like moths to a … lantern, it turns out. 

PHOTO: Taylor Crothers

Conceived as a public amenity, the 27,870-square-metre building offers dining, shopping, programmed events, a winter skating rink (on the rooftop, no less) and, thanks to innovative glass applications, an indoor–outdoor experience.

Among other interventions, the project designer, New York’s SHoP Architects, devised 16 operable “pier doors” using multiple double-paned glass lites. The six-metre-wide-by-9.7-metre-high walls retract upward on the north and south elevations to create a connection between the building interior on the ground level and the pier’s promenades. In inclement weather, the doors can be lowered, but still command views of docked historic sailing vessels and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. 

PHOTO: Taylor Crothers

More prominent in the design, however, is the green-grey channel glass mounted onto the building envelope. The material functions as a rainscreen, but its primary role is an aesthetic one: It establishes a distinct linear rhythm as it alternates with recessed clear-glass windows, even when dark falls. “The channel glass allows the building to both reflect and embody the deep colours of the East River waters surrounding the project, while also producing an ethereal glow at night,” says Scot Teti, a project director at SHoP. LEDs within the channels beautifully and evenly diffuse light, reinforcing the dynamic pattern while illuminating the promenade for restaurant patrons and nighthawks.

The application, however, wasn’t so straightforward, say SHoP and its glass supplier Bendheim. The architects wanted the lit channel cavities to have a crisp appearance, yet long spans of the lightweight material would have required cross-bracing and mid-point clips to manage riverfront wind loads of roughly 220 kilograms per square metre, resulting in shadows within the channels.

For the first time, Bendheim – working with Germany-based glass manufacturer Lamberts – custom-engineered channels with an atypically deep flange of 9.5 centimetres, enabling fabrication of six-metre lengths capable of withstanding the wind pressure without clips. Glass installer Enclos then unitized these – 26 channels to a single panel – to speed up installation. Discreetly placed perforated metal panels provide access to the light sources for maintenance, as well as ventilation to help prevent overheating and condensation (which could also have ruined the visual impact).

PHOTO: Taylor Crothers

In the end, the collaboration between architect and manufacturer proved successful. Whether emitting white or coloured light, the lantern-like building brings energy back to the seaport neighbourhood, and its exploration of glass demonstrates one of SHoP’s many strengths. “We use materials that have been well trotted through time but temporarily forgotten,” says Teti, “and we reinvent them, employing them in ways that make them relevant for today’s context and design ethos.”  shoparc.com, bendheim.com