Glass Plays a Critical Role in Downtown
Pittsburgh’s First New Skyscraper in 20 Years
More and more developers and planners are searching for ways to restore
the life, culture and excitement of cities, culminating in the revitalization
and renewal of many urban areas. Consider downtown Pittsburgh. For centuries
this Pennsylvania locale was known for its strong industrial ties, particularly
in coal mining, steel production, aluminum and glass. And today, while
manufacturing remains a big part of Pittsburgh’s economy, the city’s industrial
focus has evolved into more high-tech fields.
“Cities are trying to create more diversity in the use of their downtown
areas so they are not just a financial district or a business district.
Developers are trying to get people living and shopping downtown and getting
more 24/7 use out of their urban core,” says Ben Tranel, a project architect
with San Francisco-based Gensler.
Earlier this year downtown Pittsburgh saw the completion of its first
new high-rise in 20 years, when the Fairmont Hotel at 3 PNC Plaza opened
its doors. Designed by Gensler, 3 PNC Plaza is a 752,000-square-foot,
23-story, mixed-used high-rise constructed to meet LEED standards. The
cladding area of the building was 250,000 square feet and about 4,000
pre-glazed frames were installed.
“The idea was to create a building that would be a part of the skyline
in a light, bright and refreshing way,” says Tranel. “We were looking
for glass products that would feel light and airy. We also wanted a glass
that would have some coloration and warmth so on those cold, gray, winter
days the building would still have warmth and brightness.”
Another design consideration was the fact that the tower would be a mixed-use
building, having a hotel, condo and office portion, as well as different
aspects in the base, such as a retail component.
“We were looking to break down the mass of the building so it would not
feel too big and massive and we wanted to articulate the different programs
inside the building, both formally, but also through the type of glass,”
“There was a desire to, if at all possible, work with PPG because its
headquarters are a block and a half away,” says Tranel.
“The company provided us with a new coating that had not been used extensively
before; it wasn’t brand new and it wasn’t the first time it was used,
but it was something relatively new for them.”
The majority of 3 PNC Plaza features PPG’s 70XL, as well as a green body
Trulite Industries in Mississauga, Ontario, fabricated the insulating
glass (IG) for the project.
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope™ (which acquired contract glazier Antamex in
2006) handled the glazing portion of the project. R. (Rocco) Parzanese,
vice president of contracts, said they were brought on to the job by P.J.
Dick, the general contractor.
“We were pretty well involved beginning with the design-assist stage of
the project. There were architectural drawings available when we came
on board, but a lot of the architectural details were not developed yet,”
says Parzanese. “We went through all of the development details and conditions
with the architects, which involved several meetings and a lot of conference
He adds, “The architects wanted to work with one entity as much as possible
and we took on that role,” says Parzanese. “They already had in mind what
the glass and colors and finishes were going to be. We were on board to
make sure it would all work properly.”
Form and Function
For a project so heavily focused on the glazing element, both performance
and aesthetics were critical. Tranel says one of the challenges with which
they were faced involved making sure the color of the glass was exactly
“It was tough to get the right combination of substrate and low-E coating
to get the color we wanted,” he says. “While it was a challenge to get
the right color and balance with environmental performance, in the end
we were happy with the way it turned out.”
Working with large glass lites also posed challenges.
“There were some very large pieces of glass, especially in the storefront
of the hotel lobby. So it was a bit of a challenge to get some of those
made because they were 7-feet, 6 inches wide—quite big insulating, low-E
coated units,” says Tranel.
Parzanese adds that his team spent a lot of time at the main entrance
of the hotel because of the large glass lites.
“It took quite a bit of planning and logistics to make sure they would
work,” he says. Speaking of the project in its entirety, he adds, “[The
glass work] was quite intricate in the sense of some of the interfacing
details, especially at the terrace areas and the soffit areas where we
had to integrate with the curb and roof
In It Together
According to Parzanese, one thing about this project that made it different
compared to others was the fact that Gensler, the design architect, and
the local architect, Astorino of Pittsburgh, were on two different coasts.
“So [working around] the time difference could sometimes lengthen the
time to communicate between all the parties,” Parzanese says.
However, he points out that despite the logistical considerations, everyone
involved was able to work well together.
“We had a number of face-to-face, on-site meetings [which had to be coordinated
when Gensler architects were in town] and we also had weekly conference
calls and those conversations took place [from the beginning],” says Parzanese.
“It wasn’t a case of coming to a certain point in time and saying, ‘OK,
I guess we better ask some questions.’ The questions [were asked] continually
and we worked through them every week with the architects and contractor.”
“It was a very positive experience,” he says, adding that this project,
like many others, provided a learning opportunity and lessons that will
be valuable on future jobs. “You always learn about how products go together
and it’s enlightening to experience the differences in how a material
appears from a 12 x 12 standpoint to a mock up to the actual site,” he
says. “And that’s also an experience that you accumulate and take with
you to the next project.”
Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide
to Glass & Metal magazine.
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