An increasing number of clients are considering or requiring bullet resistant elements in their projects. But few architects or firms see these projects regularly enough to be truly up-to-date on the intricacies of designing integrated, attractive bullet resistant barriers. It’s easy to slip up, and fail to account for weight, cost, availability, or any of the other little details that make bullet-resistant materials slightly more challenging to work with than conventional materials. This especially shows when it comes to integrating a rigid ballistic barrier into a curved architectural element. As a result, more architects are turning to bulletproof experts to guide them.
Start Talking with the Bullet Proof Company Early
Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards recalls looking over a set of drawings for a rounded reception desk. These had been prepared by an architect with no prior experience using bullet resistant materials.
“It was a beautiful counter, but not conducive to bullet proof glass at all,” he explained. The problem? The budget just didn’t have room for curved bullet-resistant transparency—a material that is not mass produced. To address this, TSS will usually approximate a curve using flat panels. Because of the thickness of ballistic transparency, each corner is still going to bend light, creating visually distracting vertical seams. On a gentle curve, working in acrylic (which can have better than of 90 percent light transmission), TSS can engineer, fabricate, and flame-polish the pieces to minimize the seams. But this doesn’t work on a very tight radius.
“With their radius, this barrier needed to be segmented into 8 or 10 pieces. That’s a lot of visual clutter. We suggested opening that radius a little bit—I think it was just ten degrees, maybe—and we got it down to just a few pieces,” substantially clearing sight lines, and restoring the open and airy feel the architect and client wanted.
“This is really a big part of what we do. We don’t expect architects to be experts in security, access control, and ballistic barriers. Our number one goal is to fill in those gaps for the architect, so that you can land that project, and look really good when it’s all said and done.”
It’s Never Too Late to Partner with the Right Bulletproof Experts
Although it creates challenges, TSS is often brought in late in the design process—specifically because they’ve proven themselves able to rise above challenges. Jim is in the midst of just such a project.
“What they needed was a large, single curved sheet of bullet proof glass,” Jim notes. “They have this huge steel structure that’s supporting all this top and bottom, because there’s no fasteners. A large, open design. And that structure is already built and in place. They’d started out speccing a laminated product.”
Laminated bullet-resistant glass—in this case, glass-clad polycarbonate (GCP)—is made by stacking layers of tempered glass and reinforcing polycarbonate. These are then laminated together with epoxy. The result is bullet-resistant transparency with extremely high resilience to forced entry and very low incidence of spall. In order to make curved GCP, each layer needs to be heated and bent separately, and then layered and laminated together. Owing to slight variances in the cooling temperatures between materials, it was proving exceedingly difficult for TSS’s glass production partner to manufacture such large curved pieces without cracking.
Designing for the Situation
“The client’s contractors had already built everything and were just waiting for the glass. So, instead of GCP, we’re going with a monolithic acrylic product. We can have that molded and poured at that radius from the start, as a single piece.” Even at a greater thickness, monolithic acrylic has excellent light transmission. Presented as a single, seamless curve you’ll get a really beautiful barrier that will take a beating, but won’t distract the eye.
“That’s where we’re different,” Jim says. “We look at everything on a job-by-job basis. We’re able to assess the complexity of a project—even something we’ve never seen before—and figure out where it falls into place. A lot of companies only have specific products that they’ll do. But we don’t specialize in residential or retail banks or schools; we specialize in designing for a situation. You bring us the situation, and we design for it.”