Investigation into W Austinís Falling Glass Continues
June 30, 2011

Photo: Reagan Hackleman
Experts and engineers are continuing to investigate what caused glass panels to break and fall from the W Austin Hotel. Curtain Wall Design Consultants (CDC) based in Dallas served as the independent inspection engineering firm, but declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. However, a June 11, 2011, report on the initial incident that was prepared by CDC says “in an effort to locate the initial source of possible falling debris, we have confirmed that a pattern of damage does exist emanating partially from the slab edge at level 27 directly above the failed units. Based on our initial observation of this area, it appears that high strength grout applied to the slab edge has been dislodged adjacent to a post tension cable head location. The high strength grout appears to have fallen onto the top edge of the glass unit at level 25. Cementicious debris collected on levels 25, 24 and the pool deck is consistent with the missing grout on level 27.”

In its conclusions and recommendations, CDC’s report said, “due to the location of the point supported glass in-fill panels any falling debris could likely damage the top edge of glass causing catastrophic failure. Per the GANA glazing manual smooth edge shallow ‘flake chips’ such as that observed at the glass damaged by the falling glass debris is not necessarily a weakening factor to the glass, In addition ASTM C1036 states that ‘shell chips’ are permitted. However the GANA glazing manual states that all heat-treated glass will break when the compression layer is completely penetrated and ASTM C1036 provides guidance in Table 6 as to acceptance criteria for this type of damage. The compression layer as defined by GANA has a depth equal to 20 percent of the glass lite thickness and ASTM C 1036 Table 6 states chip depth cannot exceed 50 percent of glass thickness, chip width cannot exceed glass thickness or ¼-inch whichever is greater, and chip length cannot exceed two times (2x) chip depth.”

CDC’s report also recommended “that chips be measured and the most conservative standards be used to determine glass for immediate replacement.”

According to one news report the etched label on one glass panel had the name of China’s Xinyi Glass (XYG). The company has North American operations in Richmond, B.C. Representatives there declined to comment and directed media inquires to Stratus Properties, the hotel’s developer.

U.S. Railing in Tampa, Fla., served as the balcony railing system designer, fabricator and installer on the project. The company also directed media inquiries to Stratus, which released a statement last night from its chief executive officer, Beau Armstrong.

The statement noted that work began yesterday morning with a crew removing all of the glass balcony panels and by 3 p.m. three floors of glass panels on the north, south and east sides of the building had been removed from the balcony frames and secured. According to Armstrong, the crews are working as quickly and safely as possible and work will continue until all balcony glass panels are removed (at press time information was not available as to what company is handling the removal).

“A thorough investigation of this incident continues with numerous engineers and experts to ensure this work is done as safely as possible,” stated Armstrong.

Stay tuned to™ for more details as they are made available.

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