30 years ago, if you looked at the downtown Toronto skyline, you would see the clues of what was to come. The skyscrapers, the bright lights, the density, all of those things that define the ever-changing downtown we know today were already there, right in the early teens. In 2022, we look to the horizon line to see a kaleidoscopic mix of textures that shimmer, reflect and dance in the light. While concrete, brick and stone are also there, a revolution has taken place; a revolution in glass engineering.
One of the companies at the forefront of glass engineering in the development context – in Canada and across North America – is RJC Engineers. Earlier this week, UrbanToronto had the opportunity to sit down with one of RJC’s principals, John Kooyman, a professional engineer with over 30 years of experience in engineered glass systems, to find out more about his unique area of expertise. Discussing different projects in the GTA that he has been involved in, especially those that have seen strong engagement on UT, he explained the role that RJC plays as consultants for developers and architects, and the possibilities that a project enjoys. when working with experts.
This process is clearly illustrated by Kooyman’s involvement in the development of the curtain wall cladding for The One by Mizrahi Developments. “The One is a very challenging high-rise project with a very unique curtain wall system. It was quite rewarding, but it took us a long time to get to where we are now,” Kooyman told us. The system that was created, in conjunction with the design team, is known as the Unified Curtain Wall System. The entire panel, including glass, mullions and framing, is pre-fabricated and delivered to the site, greatly reducing the time required for installation, but that wasn’t the hardest part.
“What gets really complicated, especially when you’re dealing with large structures, is that you have a lot of moves that you have to manage in the system,” Kooyman said. Wind and seismic activity are some of the forces that can cause movement, but the most relentless force that must be considered, Kooyman says, is gravity. In this way, his job was to design prefabricated curtain wall panels that could fit together perfectly during installation, while having noticeable leeway to accommodate movement. His solution was to use precision silicone or neoprene gaskets at the connections.
Another part of the work Kooyman does with architects and developers is to help them achieve design feats that are very challenging, technically and logistically. Kooyman refers to this process as “design protection” and explains that he does everything he can to ensure that the client’s vision for the project can be realized.
“We don’t promise something that can’t be delivered, but we will research to find out what is possible,” he said. “Challenges are what keep us going, that’s what makes this company interesting.” How engineers are able to meet these challenges begins with having pre-existing relationships with a network of industry insiders that, for Kooyman, date back to his studies abroad in Europe, the world’s center for the glass market. .
Discussing a project that tested his ability to protect the design, Kooymans recalled the work he did on another high-profile downtown project, The HUB. “The biggest challenge we had was that we wanted to tighten the specs on glass flatness,” Kooyman said. Working with glass on a large scale, the practice of tempering has become an industry standard as a means of strengthening the inherently fragile material, but there is a catch. Kooyman explained that during the heating process, the tempered glass becomes slightly disfigured, not to the extent that it is visible on the surface, but the effects are visible in the reflections.
When designing the HUB, architect Rogers Stirk Harbor + Partners wanted to do everything possible to minimize those imperfect reflections caused by tempered glass, and presented the task to the RJC. To find a solution, Kooyman took the problem overseas and, through a process of monitoring production with UV light to reveal distortions in the early stages, was able to deliver the best flatness possible. “That aspect of quality control is a big part of the design conversation and specifications,” he said.
Finally, Kooyman explained that arguably the most important part of his job is to provide the client with a level of assurance that his design will not fail. “Involving ourselves from the early stages allows the design team to explore many more options,” he said, “but more importantly, you’re bringing a system to market that’s designed and works. .”
Looking at an impressive project recently completed at the Square One mall in Mississauga, a cylindrical glass entrance called Rotonde, Kooymans described the additional steps they took to build this structure. “Quite often what we do when we come up with something very unique like this is we test it,” he said.
Testing for the Rotunda began with the usual digital workflows, running the design through different models to identify where pressure points might be and how they might distribute the load. Numerical modeling was only half the job, however, “to satisfy ourselves and the authorities, we perform physical tests to make sure it behaves as we modeled it,” Kooyman said. For the Rotunda, this involved building a partial 1:1 scale model. Considering the project was completed in 2020 and remains the mall’s standout design feature, the tests worked.
Looking ahead, Kooyman said he’s excited to see the proliferation of glass as a viable building material, and moreover, to see designers continue to explore its possibilities. “The world is getting much smaller,” he said. “People see what’s being done all over the world, and when they start to see what’s possible, they want it for their project too.”
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A&H Tuned Mass Dampers, Adamson Associates Architects, Aercoustics Engineering Ltd, Core Architects, Doka Canada Ltd./Ltee, Live Patrol Inc., McIntosh Perry, Mizrahi Developments, NEEZO Studios, Peter McCann Architectural Models Inc., Rebar Enterprises Inc, RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists, Terraprobe Inc, The Planning Partnership, Urban Strategies Inc., VDF Vertical, Walters Group