By Jeff Razwick · December 22, 2016
Imagine walking through a hospital with windowless corridors lit only by artificial lights. Or, stepping into a study room surrounded by glass with heavy wire-mesh inserts.
Now picture walking through a healthcare center with long spans of glazed windows, filled with soft, soothing daylight. Or, imagine sitting in a classroom with bright, open windows that foster collaboration.
Would you rather spend your time in the first or second set of campuses?
For many people, the answer is easy — it’s typically more enjoyable to be on campuses with light, open spaces. Studies also show that access to daylight and views has a positive impact on student performance and can help expedite patient recovery (Center for Health Design, 2006). Given these benefits, design professionals focus on creating campuses that maximize light transfer and visual connectivity.
One major hurdle they face when developing these designs is how to create light, open spaces in areas with fire and life safety requirements. Standard fire-rated building materials, such as concrete and gypsum, block flames and shield non-burning parts of a campus from intense heat. However, their opaque form also limits light transfer and views.
Today, thanks to manufacturing advances, fire-rated glass systems are now a viable alternative to solid walls. Clear, sleek and high-performing, they are revolutionizing the way building teams can design code-driven spaces in campus facilities.
Why Fire-Rated Glass Systems?
Fire-rated glass systems can block the spread of flames and smoke (fire protection), as well as defend against the transfer of radiant and conductive heat (fire resistance). Fire-rated glass and frames that can serve as a barrier to heat are able to pass the test standards for solid walls. This makes it possible for building teams to meet fire ratings and have large expanses of glass in campuses, instead of being limited to smaller windows, borrowed lites and small view panes in doors.
Today, building teams can select from numerous fire-rated glazing system options such as door assemblies, transparent glass walls, curtain walls, silicone-glazed curtain walls and glass floors.
Design teams can use these advanced fire-rated glass systems to provide transparent fire protection in corridor walls, windows, doors, stairwells, elevator cores, interior separations, atriums and floors. They can also be specified in storefronts and exterior walls where shallow lot lines necessitate blocking a fire’s spread to adjacent buildings, as well as in applications with impact safety and bullet-resistant requirements
Make the Most of Your Fire-Rated Glass Systems
There are numerous ways design professionals can use fire-rated glazing systems to allow occupants to make the most of their campus environment while still providing protection from the threat of fire.
One of the primary ways fire-rated glazing systems can benefit campus design is through transparent compartmentation.
The subdivision of buildings into spaces to help slow or stop the spread of fire provides occupants with time to exit the premises, and it also buys time for firefighters to arrive. Time is particularly valuable in healthcare facilities, as many take a “defend in place” approach to safeguard patients who are incapable of self-preservation.
Due to its transparent nature, fire-rated glazing is able to provide this level of protection without creating spaces that are dark, isolated and contrary to occupant wellbeing goals.
This is especially beneficial in modern campuses with expansive interior layouts, such as those created by a multistory atrium. According to the U.S. National Association of State Fire Marshals, these designs can create “a lack of compartmentation that would serve to limit fire spread to a smaller area, such as a room or a wing or a floor of a building.”
Fire-rated glazing is able to reduce the overall volume in campuses with these open layouts and still preserve the building team’s original design intent.
A case in point is Northwestern University’s Engineering Life Sciences Building infill. Flad Architects wanted to have a five-story central atrium to promote a collaborative learning environment and encourage interconnectivity with students and faculty. In implementing the infill design, a potential setback was satisfying the atrium’s two-hour fire separation code requirement without losing the campus’ sense of shared space.