Beware of Glass Houses – or Headquarters
By Cheryl Harbour

Everyone knows that Apple’s Steve Jobs was a visionary and a master of innovation. So it’s no surprise that the new Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California is infused with his spirit. He wanted it to look like a spaceship had just landed, and in fact, it’s nicknamed “The Spaceship." But one of its most dramatic features – the world’s largest curved panes of clear glass -- is causing a problem for Apple employees: They keep running into it.

To save their noses and foreheads from being smashed, some of the employees began putting up sticky notes on the glass – but the story is they were taken down so the design wouldn’t be spoiled.

If Jobs and the building’s architects had been paying attention, they might have realized that some other famous buildings have run into problems with glass.

The John Hancock Tower in Boston used a total of 10,344 glass panels in the 1970s and was admired as a pioneer of buildings sheathed entirely in glass – until, suddenly the windows started to pop out. It was discovered that the panels contained lead, which expanded when heated and contracted when cooled, causing the windows to pop. Replacing the windows cost an additional $7 million and caused a five-year delay.

Famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, in 1951, as masterpiece of modernist architecture. Its distinguishing feature was floor-to-ceiling glass panels – meant to invite the outdoors inside. Unfortunately, he ended up being sued by the owner over a number of issues, including swarms of bugs being attracted to the glowing light emanating from the glass walls.

Another famous architect, Phillip Johnson, was influenced by the glass-and-lead design of the Mies van der Rohe house. He built one for himself and even named it “The Glass House.” As with other flat-roof homes, his house was rife with leaks. According to legend, after Frank Lloyd Wright called one of his homes a “two-bucket house” because of the leaks, Johnson upped the description by calling his Glass House a “four-bucket house” – one bucket for each corner.

As it turns out, glass structures aren’t all that advantageous for birds, either. The US Bank Stadium complex in Minneapolis, Minnesota was named the top bird-killing building in the Twin Cities after three conservation groups – the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, the Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary – conducted bird collision stories.

Recommendations were made to make the glass building more bird-safe, including etching patterns on the glass, or adding window film, decals or tape, netting, screens, grilles, shutters, exterior shades, awnings or overhangs. Sticky notes weren’t on that list.


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