It was the era during which glass fa£ades had become popular, after the creation of the first one, for the Lever House on Park Avenue in New York City. The fa£ade was called a glass curtain wall, and it consisted of two parts. The lower part, called spandrel glass, was dark and non-transparent, and was tempered to withstand the tremendous heat that would build up from the midday sun and not dissipate, since no air would circulate behind the glass. The spandrel would cover the lower parts of the window wall, behind which were hidden the peripheral air-conditioning and heating units, as well as the building’s structural
Construction of the curtain wall on the building in Cleveland was complete and that on the Buffalo building was partially completed when spiderweb cracks began to appear in the spandrel glass in both buildings, near the edges and always in the corners. This happened on about 15 percent of the spandrels in both buildings.
We were mystified as to why this had occurred, and so was LOF, the manufacturer of the glass. First, LOF tried to blame the cracks on birds flying head-on into the windows. How, I asked, could birds fly into the Cleveland and Buffalo buildings at around the same time? And why were there no bird carcasses on the streets below? When their explanations didn’t carry the day, LOF began to blame us—it must be the fault of poor installation techniques. I refused to accept that explanation (or the responsibility for replacing the panels that it would have brought). We hired experts from MIT to look into the matter, and with the help of Tishman Research and of LOF’s own research team, the researchers eventually found the culprits.
The immediate culprit was alternating blasts of hot and cold air on days that were broiling during the sun-filled hours yet were very cool, almost frigid, at night. But the original cause was—the tongs used during the tempering process. In that process, tongs were used to lift a panel out of one treatment procedure and convey it into another. Research discovered that the cracks in the glass began at the tiny points where the tongs had made impressions on the panels as they were used to lift and carry the glass panels from one bath to another. These minute impressions on the tempered glass, over a period of time, would cause the panels to crack.
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The compromised panels were replaced, the production process for the tempered glass was changed so that the tongs would not dig into the glass, and the new panels on both buildings were tested for prob-lems—in place—by an ingenious process of heating and forced-cooling conducted from outside the building on hanging scaffolds. After an extraordinary effort and considerable time, construction on both projects was completed. Since then, so far as I know, the curtain walls have held up—a matter of almost fifty years. And so—one hopes—thus ends the tale of two cities.
One of our Tishman Research projects, conducted jointly with a leading roofing-materials manufacturer, had to do with an experimental roofing compound just developed by that manufacturer. This innovation would hardly be of interest except for the brouhaha it created that had to do with the Russians in Riverdale. The Soviet Union’s bigwigs had decided to construct a new facility to house their people who served the U.N. as well as at their counsel in New York, to be built on the highest point of land in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. They also planned to use a construction method invented by a Russian engineer but untried in the U.S. They approached us to be the Construction Manager of the job; our relationship was somewhat complicated, as it was entirely dependent upon an intermediary who had obtained the contract for us and to whom the Soviets would send money for through-payment to us. Since the Russian government had purchased the land, their ownership conveyed to the land diplomatic immunity from New York’s complex building codes. Even so, the Soviets were interested in adhering to all our building codes; however, this presented substantial difficulties because some of their building techniques and installation requirements were not easily accepted by our trade unions, particularly in terms of which union was to perform what installation.