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Glass walled towers come under fire on radio

CBC Radio's Metro Morning in Toronto is running a series this week that questions the wisdom of building glass walled condominium towers -- the type that has been springing up ferociously in the Greater Toronto Area over the past decade....


CBC Radio’s Metro Morning in Toronto is running a series this week that questions the wisdom of building glass walled condominium towers — the type that has been springing up ferociously in the Greater Toronto Area over the past decade. Several of the latest towers rise to 40 and 60 storeys high, lining the Gardiner, Highway 401, and stretching out to Mississauga.

Written by Mary Wiens, the CBC series is entitled “Throwaway Buildings: the Slow Motion Failure of Toronto’s Glass Condos.” In the first episode, aired around 7.40 a.m. on November 14, Wiens interviewed associate professor John Straube of the University of Waterloo’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He said glass walls are more about “style” and a passing “fad,” but don’t make sense because they will have maintenance problems and are energy wasters.

Wiens comments: “You don’t need to be a building scientist to see the problem. A window wall is less than one inch thick. There is less than an inch of glass between your couch and a cold winter’s night. During the summer the walls act like a greenhouse absorbing the sunlight.”

She continues “Engineers make up for it with complex heating and cooling systems, by coating the glass with special films, or extra seals, with different gases in the space between the sheets of glass. But no matter how much engineering goes into a glass wall, it can’t do what a traditional wall stuffed with several inches of scratchy pink insulation can do.”

She says that while a glass wall’s seals and caulking might have to be replaced after 10 years, a traditional brick wall won’t need recaulking for 70 years.  She says we have to start paying for buildings to be more durable.

Wiens said there is a growing movement of people questioning the validity of glass walled towers, and mentioned a prediction by a Professor Alan Short of Cambridge University who called glass icon buildings such as the Gherkin in London, U.K. set to become “pariahs,” and dismissed as “energy-guzzling relics of a bygone age.”

Glass panels fell from the balconies of three high rise towers in the downtown this summer, making headlines, and raising concerns.

To hear a podcast of the CBC interview, click here. http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=2167334240

To see an article quoting Professor Alan Short, click here.