Oakland University is a highly respected and nationally recognized research university located in Rochester, Michigan. It is also one of the fastest growing public universities in the state, with additional facilities always being planned, designed or built. One such building is the new School of Engineering and Computer Science. Not only does this building have more than 127,000 square feet of space to house state-of-the-art classrooms and research facilities but also it’s aesthetically beautiful, featuring a breathtaking glass façade that mixes three unique etched products within the curtain wall.


Design Vision

The renowned Detroit-based firm SmithGroupJJR designed the building and Paul Urbanek, FAIA, was the lead designer on the project. One of the main goals with which Urbanek worked toward was to make the building itself a part of the teaching environment.

“Materials and systems throughout were considered a method for engineering students to witness, in their daily routines, how material placement and system integration perform in the built environment. The glazing used for the faculty offices was studied as part of this idea,” Urbanek said.

When it came to the glass portion, Urbanek wanted to express levels of transparency but also had to keep in mind the energy efficiency, occupant comfort and the overall aesthetic needs of the structure. To meet these goals, a variety of etched glass was incorporated into the specification.

“The curtain wall along the east side of the building was designed with panes of clear glass and three varying levels of acid etched glass, along with spandrel panels at the floor lines. These varying degrees of opacity were arranged to provide clear vision at standing and seated eye level. Above and below these points the glass slowly becomes more translucent by varying levels of acid etching,” Urbanek explained.

The variation of the etched glass delivered the looks and functionality that Urbanek had in mind.

“They provide a wonderfully rich exterior expression that changes constantly throughout the day and with the seasons. Secondly, there is a level of privacy provided to the occupant while simultaneously providing plenty of natural light into the office space,” he said.


From the Glazing Point of View

Edwards Glass Company has been a major player in the Michigan glass and glazing industry since 1953. Being the installer on this project they had the responsibility to ensure the architect’s vision for the glazing was met.

“As the glazing contractor on this project, our role was to assist in selecting an etched product that provided a consistent appearance throughout the run of each row of glass along with ensuring a gradual transition from opaque spandrel to transparent vision lites,” said Ross Winiemko, Vice President-Project Management, Edwards Glass Company

There was also the installation challenge of having a variety of similar glass types, that all had specific places to go in the curtain wall.

“On every job material management and organization is a key element to a successful project – this project was certainly no exception. With tens of thousands of square feet of glass of different sizes, types, and locations, a labeling system was utilized for each row and column of insulated units. Under Edwards Glass’ direction, our glass fabricator, Oldcastle Glass Perrysburg, did a phenomenal job of crating the glass in like areas allowing our field personnel to place the crates in their respective zones, followed by installation into the opening it was intended to go,” Winiemko added.

The Completed Project

The Oakland University School of Engineering and Computer Science now stands out in the heart of the campus. The etched glass variation truly gives the building a distinctive look.

“One unique circumstance as a result of the glazing variations and the office/curtain wall integration is that the office shades, controlled by each individual office occupant, always align with the horizontal members. The office tenants innately align their shades and the result is a constantly varying expression of the glazing, but in an ordered and aligned format adding to the overall richness of the expression,” Urbanek noted.

And the finished project pleased the man that had the major hand in designing it.

“I am very happy with the results of the glazing expression. It has provided a wonderfully rich façade that enhances and builds upon the entire building design and experience,” said Urbanek.


Using Etched Glass

Acid-etched glass continues to grow in usage on projects both for interior and exterior applications. For Urbanek, this was his maiden effort using an etched product on a façade and he walked away satisfied.

“This is my first time using acid etched glass in an exterior glazing application. I have discovered some great values in this application and am anxious to try other ideas in the future,” he said.


Oakland University – School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Architect: SmithGroupJJR, Detroit, MI

Glazier: Edwards Glass Company, Livonia, MI

Etched Glass Manufacturer: Walker Glass, Montreal, QC

Acid-etched Products Used: Textures Satin, Velour and Opaque

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