Too Bad

Let’s clarify a couple things about the glass that was to go in the podium wall at One World Trade Center. First, there isn’t anything wrong with it.

Despite all the protestations by various architects, the building’s owner and other nebulous pundits out there, the glass that was manufactured did not have any problems. And though PPG is too professional to say otherwise itself, the implication that the glass was some how defective is a disservice to its primary manufacturer.

Second, I have been told that the problems lie in the complex way in which the glass was to be fabricated – complex not only technically but logistically as well. After manufacture by PPG, the glass was to be fabricated by Sanxin Glass of China in such a way as to create a prism-like effect. Additional security concerns led to additional performance requirements for a product that was to be notched, tempered and laminated in the fabrication process.

In fact, some who reviewed the project early on, including one person who viewed the samples as first fabricated in Canada, were concerned that the performance characteristics required would be difficult to achieve given the surface design of the one-inch thick glass.

If you remember back to when USGlass/usgnn.com™ originally first broke this story – all the way back in March 2009 (see http://www.usgnn.com/newsHotNewsAlert20090331.htm), there was controversy involved even then.

So the question becomes one of logistics. Where was the testing on the fabricated product and why wasn’t it done sooner? Why wouldn’t sample glass have been fabricated and tested prior to ordering? Why would not the architect and/or building owner have seen full sized samples and known there were issues with the fabrication? And why would thousands of feet of the glass been ordered without knowing it could be made the way they were hoping?

I have been told that at least one of the companies involved was so concerned about this that it raised the issue and adjusted its payment terms to make sure it would be paid even if the fabrication processes did not achieve what was required.

Why not? I don’t know the answer to this, but I have an opinion. I think the problem is in the fact that a job of this complexity (in what I am guessing was an effort to save money) was not awarded to a sole source to manufacture and fabricate. Instead it was divided up across the globe for cost-savings, for politics and a variety of other reasons. It became akin to having a team of medical specialists, each working on his own part of the patient, and so intent on that part no one stops to ask first if the patient is breathing.

Instead the glass was moved around more times than a contestant on Wipe-Out. And, in the end, the glass and its primary manufacturer get some subtle blame. Not fair.

I have asked a person familiar with the situation what will happen now. “It was probably just be some usual curtainwall,” he said.

It’s been said that 9/11 was a failure of imagination. It was a failure of people to imagine what horrors those who wished us harm were able to effectuate. But failure of the glass in One World Trade Center was not a failure of imagination; in my opinion, it was a failure of coordination and timing. Too bad.

3 Responses to “Too Bad”

  1. Eric Tyira says:

    In the recent article from May 12, there are two separate reasons why the glass was not used:

    1. “glass panels tended to bow after they were cut and tempered, which interfered with the lamination process.”

    2. “They [the Times] managed to identify two key points: the scale and the breakage effect. Prismatic glass can be tempered and laminated successfully into smaller lite sizes than designed, but when it breaks, it acts differently than tempered flat glass – no matter what size. This is the key to the change. It has nothing to do with where it is produced. The laws of physics apply universally.”

    Point number 1 was presented as conjecture. Point number 2 really makes no sense at all and appears to be more gibberish than anything.

    Your blog here gives no real reason why the design was changed/scrapped. Something about security but in today’s world, are we expected to just accept that as a good enough reason without questioning? Really? Please. We’re smarter than that.

    Will the real truth please stand up?

    If a Chinese manufacturer can’t make the part to spec, then it should be duly noted and taken into consideration before the next project is granted to a distant fabrication shop without ever knowing of their capabilities.

    If was because the architects designed something that was beyond the capabilities of any fabricator, then they should be educated as to what is possible.

  2. Patrick Elmheilm says:

    Hey Deb (and Tara):

    I just want to let you know that we appreciate the heads-up on stuff like this. I remember when you first wrote about it — didn’t Tara get an award or something???? Anyway, thanks for getting us the real story, not sensational, no supplier slant. You guys are the best!
    -Pat

  3. Deb Levy says:

    Hello Patrick:

    Thank you for your nice note. You remember correctly. We were very proud of Tara for being nominated for a Neal award, the true Pulitzer of business publishing, for her World Trade Center story. See http://www.usgnn.com/newsUSG20100202.htm. We were very proud of her and thanks for your comment. Regards, Deb Levy

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