Pavilion crazy: The City of Glass celebrates its craft at the Toledo Art Museum
Early in the 20th century, the major glass manufacturing companies located in Toledo bestowed the moniker, “the City of Glass” on their hometown.
Edward Drummond Libbey, president of the Libbey Glass Co., founded the Toledo Museum of Art in 1901. One hundred years later, the museum’s design selection committee traveled the world looking for an architect who could create a home for the museum’s renowned collection of glass art. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Sanaa Ltd. in Tokyo responded with a single-story design constructed almost entirely with glass walls. The Glass Pavilion was Sanaa’s first commission in the United States, according to museum officials.
In late August, the Glass Pavilion opened to celebrate the history, art and craft of glassmaking.
The office of Don Bacigalupi, director of the Toledo Museum of Art, resides in a neoclassic building constructed in 1911 with marble, stone, steel and wood; the same elements used to create many of the art pieces housed there. The design of the Glass Pavilion mirrors that relationship between art and presentation. “The building is the perfectly appropriate vessel for the collection that resides inside,” Bacigalupi says.
The Glass Pavilion will present more than 5,000 pieces of glass from ancient to modern. “From the earliest virtual renderings, to drawings, to nearly finished building, there’s been a kind of awe expressed about the audacity of building a transparent glass building with no apparent structure, and the appropriateness of that building for the purpose it will serve,” Bacigalupi says.
Contractors hired to work on the project were impressed with the renderings and architect’s design. Translating that vision required their best work. Lowell Metzler, project manager for Rudolph/Libbe Inc. of Walbridge, Ohio, the general contractor, conducted extensive weekly planning meetings to coordinate work flow and the route the glass panels would take to reach each destination. “We started discussing how we would coordinate the installation of all the glass panels,” Metzler says. “How could the glass be installed while the rest of the building was under construction?”
Front Inc. of New York City, a façade consultant, created the conceptual design for the curtain wall. “We expected the building to be relatively easy,” says Michael Ra, president. “When we got into it, we understood the architectural intent and where the difficulties and challenges were.”
UAD Group in Brooklyn, N.Y, was the design-build contractor. The company was hired to supply, fabricate and install the glass curtain-wall system. Its designers also fashioned the ornamental metals including fascia, air towers and canopies.
Pilkington Glass Co. in Weiherhammer, Germany, manufactured the glass. “The architects were looking for low-iron glass to allow people to see through the building,” says Stephen Weidner, vice president of sales and marketing for Pilkington North America. “People walking by could see in one set of windows and right through the other side.”
After a worldwide search, Shenzhen Sanxin Glass Technology Co. of China was selected to fabricate the panels. The glass was sent from Germany to China, then on to the United States.
Exterior panels contain two 1⁄2-inch-thick laminated plates; inside walls contain two laminated 3⁄8-inch sheets. Each panel, generally measuring 8 feet wide and 13 feet 21⁄2 inches high, weighs 1,300-to-1,500 pounds.
Prior to lamination, the panels were sized and curved. The curves were created by making a custom steel frame and placing the glass in a furnace. The heated glass was molded to the frame to match the exact radius necessary for the design.
The panels were made as wide as possible to reduce the number of joints and reinforce the architect’s vision of a transparent building. “We went to extremes on how the panels were configured so that you could get maximum width within fabrication limits,” Ra says. “The curved glass in the building is at its upper limits in terms [of size for fabricated glass] in the world.”
Almost 500 pieces of custom-fabricated glass panels were delivered to the site by the end of construction.
Toledo Mirror & Glass of Toledo installed the panels. Glaziers with the 88-year old company used a modified forklift and eight powerful suction cups to transport and position the heavy large panels. The manipulator moved the panels from two staging areas into the building and to specific positions. The panels were tilted vertically and the bottom edges were set into stainless steel channels embedded in the concrete floor. A similar technique was used at the top of the panels. The channels contained a compressible material to accommodate slight movements caused by environmental influences such as snow loads on the roof. Silicon seals were used in the joints.
“We had eyes on every corner at all times,” says Brad Feltz, superintendent at Toledo Mirror & Glass. “People had designated jobs, some were watching, some pushing. Everything was so precise.” In the end, a team of experienced workers maneuvered the pieces into their final positions with manual suction cups.
Compromises frequently occur during construction of any large building. In the case of the Glass Pavilion, the absence of concessions heightened the sense of accomplishment. “There was skepticism that everything imagined in the early stages could actually transpire,” Bacigalupi says. “There was a sense that this is a wonderful dream idea of a building [but that] as we actually executed it, we would have to modify or compromise to make it a functional building and museum. There was a strong sense that we would be compromising and losing some small aspect of what the dream building was. That turned into absolute astonishment that we haven’t lost anything. The team has done extraordinary work to make this dream a reality.”
Metzler agreed: “This type of building will be around for a long time. Our biggest source of pride is how our families and children and their children will learn we had a hand in constructing this.”
Michael Ra offered his perspective. “ You have the concrete floor, the glass, joints and the drywall ceiling. With every threshold, whether it’s the joints, or where the glass meets the ceiling or the concrete floor it needed to be very tight.”
Architects’ vision turned real, Ra and others had the opportunity to explore the building before the hectic preparations for the grand opening began. “You get to explore like no one else can,” Ra says. “Walking through every corridor and then walking into the completed volume of glass is a special experience.”
The mission of the Toledo Museum of Art is to integrate art into the lives of people. The new Glass Pavilion offers both the presentation of glass art objects and the studio spaces where artists will be creating new works in glass.
The words of Brad Fletz, superintendent of Toledo Mirror & Glass, summarize the reaction of contractors who brought the vision to life. “Jobs rarely exceed your expectations. It’s an awesome building. It gives you a chill down your spine.”
Glass Pavilion Toledo Museum of Art
2445 Monroe St. at Scottwood Avenue, Toledo
Owner: Toledo Museum of Art
Cost: $30 million
Size: 76,000 square feet
Architect: Sanaa Ltd., Tokyo; architect of record, Kendall/Heaton Associates Inc., Houston
Engineers: Façade consultant, Front Inc., New York City
General contractor: Rudolph/Libbe Inc., Walbridge, Ohio
Glass manufacturer: Pilkington Glass Co., Weiherhammer, Germany
Glass fabricator: Shenzhen Sanxin Glass Technology Inc., China
Curtain-wall supplier: UAD Group, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sealant: Dow Corning
Hardware: General Building Products, doors and hardware, Toledo; VM Systems, ornamental metals, Toledo.