First of three stories on this GROWING design trend. Is bigger better? When it comes to glass and building openings, the trend has seemingly taken off. In the last three to five years, more and more design professionals are pushing the envelope with larger spans. However, questions remain. Is bigger better? What are the advantages and what are the pitfalls?

We reached out to several architects and specifiers to get their insights on this emerging trend. Anonymity was promised to the respondents so they could speak their minds without bias or worry.  The insights provided were very helpful in better understanding the path this product line is currently taking.

First,  what exactly is “oversize” when it comes to a glass installation?  There was no formal size that denoted oversize amongst our respondants.We heard a range of widths from 2100mm/82” wide to 2500mm/98” and heights that went from a 4070mm/160” to 5600mm/220”- this difference in size range  alone shows that there’s a lot of variance in what  is perceived as “oversize.”

What are the main reasons for going bigger? Interestingly we had a wide assortment of responses including the classic “because we can.”  In more serious terms, the ability to improve on performance was the leading reason.  For many, the energy models featuring larger glass spans that show improvement in the overall wall performance was a big one.  The feeling that the span of glass can cut down on the loss from the frame that goes around it was advantageous.

In addition, the growing desire for more natural light, which can lead to improved occupant comfort, has the design community looking at the larger openings.  One of our architect respondents noted as follows, “Natural light has become such a powerful need for us.  Our clients are demanding more natural light, we find more and more ways to take advantage of it, so we are focused on going bigger.  Years ago we were limited by the manufacturing side but not anymore and that has been the greatest breakthrough for us.”

The manufacturing hurdle that existed for years has been lifted; sizes now can easily meet and exceed the range noted previously.   But the fear now involves other aspects on the product including wind loads, visual quality, potential replacements, sightlines and weight.

Weight was the most-commented worry, with concerns about dead loads, framing systems to support it, logistics and handling, and triple glazing.  All of these items change the dynamic of glazing when you graduate from more typical sizes to gigantic ones.

That said, one of our architects surveyed said none of this is stopping her firm, but it does give them pause. “We want to push the envelope.  We are known for that but we have found that there’s much more due diligence involved with the jumbo sizes.  We work much closer with our glass suppliers than previously to get the details we need.  In addition, in the past oversize glass would come without a warranty, which a lot of times meant weaker quality.  Thankfully that has changed as well.”

The warranty issue was a big one, as for many years glass that was considered oversize was sold “as is” meaning if there was a defect, it didn’t matter, you still accepted the product.  Now, thanks to advancement on quality and the addition of many more providers of large glass, those qualifications and issues have been minimized dramatically.

How large is the overall market for “oversize” glass was another question we put out there.  The majority of replies pegged the usage between 10-15% of the market, though one architect felt this trend is not as big as it is being made out to be.

“We see our competition touting the oversize market as a dominant place and they are pushing their business reputation with a mantra that the majority of the market is going that way.  To us it’s simply not the case.  It’s a growing market but it’s only probably 5% at this point.  Oversize is certainly not in every job like some are making it out to be.”

In the past, thanks to the limited amount of suppliers, cost could be prohibitive.  Interestingly, few architects we talked to discussed cost. Perhaps this is due to today’s  globally competitive marketplace combined with  vast improvements in technology-driven operations, which has driven pricing to a more competitive level.

At the start of this article we asked if bigger was better.  For many it is.  For some it’s the core focus of  their firm.  For others it’s not their favored approach.  But one thing is certain, there are more suppliers than ever working in this space and that alone means they’ll be plenty of push to go bigger in the future.

Speaking of suppliers, next month in part 2 of this series we’ll be talking to them about their approaches, how they produce and support the market and what trends they are seeing in this area.

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