USGlass Magazine Special Investigative Report:
U.S. Suppliers Do the Design Work but Overseas Company Gets the
Job for Portion of One World Trade Center
March 31, 2009
by Tara Taffera
The following is a special investigative report conducted by
USGlass magazine over the past few months concerning the
glass to be used at One World Trade Center.
|Construction at One World Trade Center, formerly
known as the Freedom Tower. Photo courtesy of the Port Authority
of New York and New Jersey. Photo credit: SOM
It will stand as a sign of freedomOne World Trade Center,
formerly known as The Freedom Tower, currently under construction
at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. The
bid process for this prestigious project began for some glass companies
a few years ago and ended this month when they learned they weren't
awarded the project. This alone was not an unusual occurrenceexcept
that these companies collectively had invested a high seven figures
in developing products specific to this project.
Ultimately the final contract for glass for the podium wall (lower
20 stories) of One World Trade Center has been awarded to a Chinese
North American companies including Barber Glass Industries Inc.,
a full service glass fabricator located near Toronto, and Johnson
Screens, with U.S. offices in New Brighton, Minn., and PPG Industries,
based in Pittsburgh, Pa., provided significant technical support
to this project's development.
After the completion of a significant number of hours of work,
Barber Glass Industries Inc. submitted a proposal to fabricate a
base glass product that was to be supplied by PPG. Both PPG and
Johnson Screens were noted in Barber's project specification as
the preferred and specified suppliers.
Under the original bid design for the project, the main supply
companies were scheduled to:
- Make additions to their offering that would include the manufacture
of low iron glass in PPG's U.S. facilities in available thicknesses
up to 1-inch.
- Based on the architectural specification, Barber Glass Industries
Inc. would fabricate, and laminate glass supplied by PPG Industries
in line with the Barber Glass "Ridge Line" Prismatic
- Further based on the architectural specification, Johnson Screens
would provide the back-up screen that would hold the Prismatic
Glass onto the face of the building.
Following the completion of the formal bid process, none of these
companies were chosen to work on the project.
Of the three bidders that were considered for the installation
contract, two of them (APG International in Glassboro, N.J., and
W&W Glass LLC in Nanuet, N.Y.) have headquarters in the United
States. The third, DCM Erectors, has offices in Toronto as well
as New York.
Ultimately the contract for the installation of the podium wall
was awarded to DCM Erectors.
Sources who wish to remain anonymous say that although the bid
from DCM Erectors was significantly more expensive than both APG
and W&W in its original proposal, DCM offered a significant
savings by proposing that foreign supply sources be used for the
Podium Wall components. (USGlass magazine spoke to Joe Begley
from DCM's curtainwall division who said he wanted to speak to us
for this article but needed permission from the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey first due to confidentiality issues. USGlass
requested this permission from the Port Authority but did not receive
In the end both Barber Glass Industries and Johnson Screens received
a short letter from DCM Erectors saying it would be awarding material
supply contracts to an alternate supplier.
In early February, before the job was awarded, USGlass asked
Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman about the possibility
that this glass might be manufactured in China.
"I will say this is an open procurement process," says
Coleman. "We're a public agency and we solicit bids and award
projects based on their ability to do the work and at the lowest
After the contract was awarded this month he told USGlass,
"Our contract is with DCM/Solera. That firm hired a sub, Zetian,
an American company, to procure the glass from a Chinese manufacturer
which is producing the 'starlite' low-iron glass under the Pittsburgh
glass license," says Coleman. (Calls to Zetian Systems, based
in Las Vegas, from USGlass were not returned at press time.)
The Money Spent
Rob Struble, business commercial manager for PPG's Performance Glazings
division, says PPG invested a great deal of money into this project,
yet it won't be supplying the product.
"We've been working with the Port Authority, the architect
[at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)] and the glazier to develop
the specific glass for that project," says Struble. "We've
invested hundreds of thousands of dollars at our Carlisle, Pa.,
facility to make glass to that unique specification."
Struble says the glass his company was going to produce for the
tower is PPG's Starphire ultra clear glass but is much thicker than
what is currently available commercially.
"Modifications had to be made to the [float] line in order
to produce that glass," he says.
He adds that PPG invested not just hundreds of thousands of dollars
but hundreds of man-hours in the product's development. Additionally,
one of the plant's two lines was shut down during the conversion,
resulting in the lay-off of about 40 workers. The line is still
down and will be restarted when demand increases. Struble adds that
PPG is looking at other potential markets for the glass produced
at this thickness.
"We were preparing to supply cradle-to-cradle certified Starphire
ultra-clear glass, the most transparent float glass available commercially
in the world, from our Carlisle, Pa., facility-just a few hundred
miles from the jobsite," says Gary R. Danowski, vice president
of PPG Performance Glazings. "We're disappointed that the project
has taken this turn. We believe that regional supply and the specified
product, Starphire glass, are the most appropriate for such an important
Regarding the costs accrued by Johnson Screens, John Fedie, North
American market manager, says, "We invested a lot of time and
The costs also were significant for Barber, which spent money on
prototypes, labor, research and development, specialized tooling,
samples and prototypes.
Sources also say that throughout the bidding process it became
very apparent that cost was the most important factor, and that
all installation bidders were continually requested to provide alternative
products for submittal to the architect. (Calls to SOM were not
According to a source, "It is our belief that the contract
was awarded to DCM Erectors at a dollar value that allowed DCM to
work with the companies outlined in the specification."
The Crux of the Problem
When asked about the process, representatives from both Barber Glass
Industries and Johnson Screens agreed that it is easy for companies,
both foreign and domestic, to offer a last-minute cheaper option
when others do all the development work.
"How ethical is it that you have companies like ours do all
of the upfront work and then you award the contract overseas?"
asks Mike Wellman, vice president of sales and marketing at Barber
Glass Industries. "If there is going to be an appetite to drive
cost out of the process through the use of foreign supply, is it
not appropriate that you would work with that foreign supply source
in the up front development process?"
Suppliers all felt they were brought in during the developmental
stage for a reason.
"We were pretty confident we were going to get the job,"
says Fedie. "We weren't price gouging."
Lyle R. Hill, president of MTH Industries in Chicago, one of the
country's largest and most widely-respected contract glazing companies,
says it is a very common practice for design-build professionals
to seek out assistance at the developmental stage of a project for
engineering, budgeting and other design and logistical issues.
"In exchange for such efforts, it is generally understood
that one of two things happens. Either the job becomes yours to
meaning that you'll have every opportunity to meet competitive
pricing as needed
or a final pricing arrangement will be negotiated
on your behalf," says Hill. "So I can completely understand
why these companies would be extremely disappointed and surprised
when the work went elsewhere
particularly to an overseas supplier
on a job of this type."
Both Johnson and Barber say their companies will definitely be
making changes based on this experience.
"You have to be cautious as a fabricator," says Wellman.
"If this trend continues, it will become increasingly difficult
to support the design process without firm commitments or development
contracts. "This puts more pressure on the architect."
In hindsight what would Barber and Johnson have done differently?
"Perhaps what we should have done is propose a development
contract," says Wellman. "Say, 'You pay us $1 million
for the development work and then you own it.' From there, you can
shop internationally all you want."
"We should have put a 'buy American' spec in there,"
says Fedie. "Now we're careful about what we do provide."
Fedie adds that he can't compete with an Asian company as far as
price. "We pay our workers more than $100 per week," he
Should This Project Go Overseas?
Whether or not the glass for this project should be manufactured
overseas is purely a matter of opinion, but it's a question that's
been asked about a project that stands as a symbol for freedom.
Sources say that in early design discussions, Chinese sources of
raw glass material were ruled out, and domestic supply sources were
cited in the architectural specification documents. But ultimately
the final contract for the glass was awarded to a Chinese manufacturer.
PPG's Danowski, for one, is disappointed with the final decision.
"It's always hard to lose a big project and much more so one
that is so prestigious," he says. "I'm not sure a more
important symbol of our nation than the Freedom Tower will be seen
in my career. The thought that the protective skin of this icon
of America will be made from glass sourced on the other side of
the planet and not local material is quite a blow."
"This is the Freedom Tower," adds Fedie. "This is
for the bottom 20 stories-this is what people are going to see."
(The upper floors of the tower will have glass supplied by a U.S.
Though PPG and Johnson are obviously close to this project, others
share their views, including Glenn Corbett of John Jay College in
New York City, chief technical advisor to the Skyscraper Safety
here for more info on this group.)
"The symbolism here is unbelievable
" he says,
adding, "that they would use non-American workers for this
"This project would have created jobs for people in Minnesota,"
Fedie confirms that there were letters exchanged between the Minnesota
Governor Tim Pawlenty and the governors of New York and New Jersey,
David Paterson and Jon Corzine, respectively, about keeping the
work in the United States.
When USGlass contacted Paterson's office in February about the
possibility that some of the work may go to an overseas company,
Erin Duggan, a representative for the office, said, "Right
now you're asking a hypothetical question. And I can't comment on
that." When USGlass contacted Duggan again in March
when the news was official, the requests for comment were not returned.
Quality Trumped by Cost?
"We've proven that our product and processes work," says
Fedie [His company also did 7 World Trade Center so Fedie says it
has experience in wall cladding]. "There is concern about the
quality of the Chinese product."
Corbett has concerns as well and his lay with the Port Authority.
"The Port Authority has a history of doing things on the cheap,"
he says. "They claim to meet or exceed codes but often they
He says this dates back to the original World Trade Center, adding
that the Port Authority didn't learn valuable lessons there.
"It's just a continuation of their legacy," says Corbett.
"There's nothing new here. They're doing it cheaply and quickly."
He says he's tried to lobby for change but it's been difficult.
"I've been at the jobsite with protest signs," says Corbett.
"I've also gone to City Council meetings. Politicians are in
favor of keeping the work here but the Port Authority is very powerful."
But they haven't been powerful enough to keep this massive project
going without delays.
According to a Wall Street Journal article published on
March 21, much of the 16-acre site, including five skyscrapers,
a memorial, a transit hub, a shopping mall and a performing-arts
center, was expected to open between 2011 and 2013. "Those
dates are in jeopardy and at least some elements are unlikely to
be finished until the later part of the next decade. The memorial
is set to open by the tenth anniversary of the attacks, but even
it faces budget shortfalls and is pursuing federal stimulus money,"
states the article.
Corbett says that stimulus money isn't being sought for One World
Trade Center, but it is for other parts of the project. "If
they get stimulus money for the tunnel, for example, then that will
free up money for other projects such as the tower."
One World Trade Center has also been in the news last week for
other events as well.
On March 26 various news outlets reported the building's new name-it
will no longer be known as the Freedom Tower.
"As we market the building, we will insure that it is presented
in the best possible way-and 1 World Trade Center is the address
that we're using," said Port Authority chairman Anthony Coscia
in an article from the New York Daily News.
Also on March 26, The New York Times reported that the first
tenant for One World Trade Center was signed-a Chinese real estate
"The Beijing Vantone Industrial Company has agreed to a 23-year
lease for floors 64 through 69 in what will be known as 1 World
Trade Center, at the southeast corner of West and Vesey Streets.
The $3.1 billion office building, once called the Freedom Tower,
is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Vantone plans to build a cultural
and business center for Chinese companies doing business in the
United States and American companies working in China," stated
An Associated Press article published on March 27, said
the following: "The newspapers said the change came after board
members voted to sign a 21-year lease deal with Vantone, a Chinese
real estate giant, which will become the first commercial tenant
at Ground Zero."
"The negotiations with Vantone, which is closely affiliated
with the Chinese Communist government, had nothing to do with the
name change, Port Authority officials told the News, but
was based primarily on bottom-line marketing considerations."
© 2009 USGlass magazine. 540-720-5584 All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.
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