frameless glass

New Safety Requirements for Glass Hand Railings

Architect Info, Industry News

frameless glassThe use of glass has transformed the realm of possibilities in the architecture industry. The first glass skyscraper, though never actually built, was proposed by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe in 1921 as an entry for the Berlin Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper competition. It was the first time that an architect envisioned a building as an “open frame wrapped in glass.” Glass provides transparency, allowing for unobstructed views of the outside environment and plenty of natural light. What was once a luxury to only the wealthy, glass has now become widely used in both exterior and interior architectural applications, including the famous all-glass stair treads of the Fifth Avenue Apple Store. Other over-the-top architectural glass installations include China’s new glass-bottom bridge and the giant glass high heel church built in Taiwan.

Spontaneous Glass Breakage Spurs Safety Reform

Unfortunately, a quick search of glass news reveals a growing trend of unexpected glass failure. A tiny flaw in the construction of the glass can sometimes cause spontaneous glass breakage like what happened at the new DeBruce Center at Kansas University. Such impurities, referred to as a nickel sulfide inclusion, make the glass more susceptible to pressure changes and movement. The summer of 2011 was marked with glass falling off several high rise buildings in both Canada and the USA. Panes of tempered glass from balconies shattered on two separate condo buildings in Toronto within the same week and rained down on the streets below.

It was a result of these instances that the Glazing Industry Code Committee (GICC) implemented revisions to the existing railing section of the 2015 International Building Code, which is widely used in the United States. Hand rail assemblies, guard rails or guard sections, installations where broken glass could fall on individuals below, must now use laminated glass. Previously, these types of glass railings were constructed with monolithic tempered glass.

While safety is of utmost importance to all involved, there has been some controversy over the switch to laminated glass due to increased cost and aesthetics. Frameless glass railings have become very popular in recent years, but edge quality is inconsistent and can be an issue when working with laminated glass due to the multiple layers. The revised safety requirements are relatively new so as the use of laminated glass increases for these type of installations, there is room to improve quality control and continue to innovate and push the limits of glass.

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