What is a Facade Retrofit?

Building facades don’t always age gracefully. Over the years cracks can appear in concrete, leaks can arise due to damaged silicone joints and glazing gaskets, metals rust, and building maintenance can become much more expensive due to rising operating costs and poor energy efficiency of outdated systems. More often than not, some of this energy inefficiency can be attributed to old non-thermally broken steel or aluminum curtain wall systems. The same can be said for older glazing that may be monolithic or insulating glass without high performance low-e coatings. If these aren’t enough reasons for building owners to consider their options of facade replacement or complete demolition and building new, there is also the pressure to try to attract new tenants or to increase rent by modernization of an antiquated looking exterior (in addition to adding amenities and interior upgrades) to meet current design trends and client needs. If the rest of the project’s structure is sound and intact, it may be a prime candidate for a facade retrofit. In this blog, we will look at the reasons to consider a retrofit for office buildings and the process behind it.

 

 
 
330 Madison Ave. before the façade retrofit.
 
There are a few main reasons why a building might benefit from a facade retrofit. These retrofits can provide new life to a building as shown in the before and after photos of 330 Madison Avenue. In most cases, fixing the current facade is not an option. The systems are obsolete and beyond repair. The building may have air and moisture leakage issues and may not have acceptable thermal or acoustical performance that meets today’s standards. This could cost more money in operating/maintenance costs to the owner and tenants. A reclad will not only fix these problems, but also allow the building to still be fully operational with minimal disruption to tenants. This ensures that the owner can still keep the space occupied, bringing in revenue while the update is taking place, without having to shut down for a long period of time. 
 
 

 
 
Left: 330 Madison Ave. façade retrofit in progress. Right: Completion of the retrofit.
 
 
Full building demolition can be costly and very difficult with larger buildings in major cities. The demolition process can be slow and potentially dangerous when dismantling the entire structure in a tight lot. Also, the timeline to build new can be two to four years from concept design until the new project is complete for occupancy. This means that the owner can’t make income from the property for a long time. Recladding can be a great alternative solution.

 

Sometimes an older building just needs a new look in order to attract new clients or catch up with the times. Retrofitting allows old projects to look brand new to attract higher-paying tenants willing to sign a long-term lease. Our work at 100 Park Avenue in New York City is a great example of a commercial building reclad that used a high performance unitized curtain wall system to do just that.

 

 

 

 

Facade retrofits allow for a wide range of materials and visual design language to be incorporated into the new exterior enclosure. Many times, owners or development teams are required to file for a zoning variance to allow for the new façade to encroach further out over the property line. This variance can be helpful in the creation of a more prominent, deep facade or due to the fact that the old facade may need to remain in place during the installation of the new building skin over top. The unitized curtain walls installed during the reclad can often include infills such as terracotta, stone, custom insulated panels, or metal plate in various finishes to completely change the look of the building. 

 

Architectural designs for facade retrofits are developed based on the premise of fitting new high performance curtain wall and window systems within existing building conditions. Sometimes old architectural and structural drawings aren’t always accurate, so some demolition probes are done to find the exact locations of main structural components. Retrofits require close coordination between the design team and the glazing subcontractor to make sure the system can be installed and sufficiently anchored off the current structure.     

 

Unitized curtain wall system panels for the reclad will include fire-rated spandrel or shadow box assemblies. Panels are shop fabricated to control quality and expedite installation time on site. Meanwhile, holes are demoed back to structure through the current façade for new anchors to be attached. The building will then be reclad top to bottom or bottom to top depending on the installation sequence required for the panels.

 
 
 
 
Once the building reclad is weathertight, the interior demolition can begin. In this stage, the contractor either takes out vision area glazing and curtain wall or puts in new operable windows depending on the type of system. Fire safing of areas at each slab level must be put in between the systems, and interior closure metal may be installed to cover the space between the old and new facade head and sill at each floor slab.

Again, all of this demolition and installation can often be completed while the building is still fully or partially occupied. The goal is to be as accommodating as possible to limit disruption during normal working hours of the current tenants. This often means most of the work is done during the early morning or at night.

 

It’s also important to understand the logistics and structural design tolerances of a facade reclad on a project to project basis. For example, a site like 655 Madison Avenue may be more difficult to work on if there are other buildings and roads within close proximity. They can make it difficult for deliveries to be made and material to be staged for installation. Accommodating higher live load slab deflections can also be problematic depending on when the building was designed due to the added weight of another facade on the columns and beams.

 

Facade retrofits are a great choice for projects that need renovation due to energy performance or simply need a new look to draw in new businesses. They are an efficient solution that can keep your building operational and can make your building look great without the expenditures of complete demolition and reconstruction. If you think your next project could be a facade retrofit, feel free to contact us and we’d be glad to help you out! 

 

NEW FAÇADE RETROFIT PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT!

 

Recently, W&W Glass was awarded the reclad/repositioning of the iconic Time-Life Building at 1271 Avenue of the Americas at Rockefeller Center by Turner Construction Company. The 48-story building, previously designed by Harrison, Abramovitz, & Harris, was built in 1959. World-renowned architect Pei Cobb Freed is the design architect for this complete renovation. World-renowned architect Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is the design architect for this complete renovation.

 

Our installation scope will include 430,000 square foot of Sotawall® unitized curtain wall, Erie Architectural Products Enviro/Facades™ custom-fabricated storefront systems and new all glass entrances. More info is to come, so please stay tuned for future updates.

 

 
 
“Time-life building” by Filip Maljković – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
 
 
W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems, including stick-built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar structural glass facades, and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

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