W Austin Hotel Temporarily Closed After Third Incident of Falling Glass
June 29, 2011

For the third time in the past month glass has fallen from the W Austin Hotel. This latest occurrence took place yesterday afternoon, and while no one was hurt, the hotel has been closed temporarily.

Glass first fell from the tower on June 10 and again on Monday this week.

In a statement from Beau Armstrong, chief executive officer of Stratus Properties, developer of the W Austin, he noted that the glass yesterday “shattered in place and fell, breaking two panels directly below, and sending glass into the pool area, which was closed.

“The entire team here at the W couldn’t be more devastated that this has occurred, but unfortunately after consulting with numerous experts we still do not know why this has happened.”

Armstrong said every piece of balcony glass on the building will be replaced and in order to do so safely the City of Austin will shut down several lanes of traffic around three sides of the building and will also close the sidewalks entirely around the building until protective pedestrian walkways are installed.

He said they are also working to relocate current and future hotel guests, and closing the hotel until further notice.

“We have experts and the City of Austin on site to ensure this work is done safely and as expeditiously as possible. Safety is our top priority,” Armstrong said in the statement. “Again, the entire team is devastated by these incidents, and we apologize to our hotel guests, our residents, our neighbors, and to the City. We will make this right.”

While engineers are currently working to determine the cause of the breakages and fallings, some in the glass industry spoke to USGNN.com™ yesterday with possible causes.

Mark Meshulam, Exterior Building Consultation & Testing, in Northbrook, Ill., says in instances such as that of the Austin W, there can be many possible causes for the breakage and an organized, systematic approach is needed in order to get at the root cause and find a solution.

“Many factors are analyzed including glass thickness, glass makeup and fabrications, anchoring system of the glass, weather conditions, patterns of the actual breakage pattern, age of the building, possible effect of building deflection, and even the potential for pre-existing damage from shipping or installation,” says Meshulam.

Some have also questioned whether or not the high temperatures Austin has experience of late could be to blame for the breakage. Industry consultant Bill Lingnell says the heat alone is not a likely culprit.

“The heat by itself is usually not the trigger for tempered glass breakage in applications like this unless other materials are causing pressures or movements to the glass and its support system,” Lingnell says. “Tempered glass will generally withstand very high temperature differences within the glass itself. Certain impurities in tempered glass, such as nickel sulfide, are time/temperature related and on occasion can manifest into a fracture, but it would be speculation to suggest this as the probable cause of breakage without defined evidence.”

Open since December 2010, the W Austin Hotel was designed by Andersson-Wise Architects. According to a press release posted on the architects’ website, the 1 million square foot project is the largest LEED Silver Certified building in the American Southwest region, and the only one that is mixed-use.

Featuring highly reflective windows, the release notes that the tower's primary facades are oriented north-south, with differing apertures composed to control daylight, heat gain and energy use. It adds that the south façade features “generous, deeply-recessed balconies--inspired by the Hopi Indian cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde,” the north-facing residences have walls that slide open to form porches, while projecting balconies are on the east and west sides of the tower.

At press time information about the contract glazier and glass supplier was not available.

Stay tuned to USGNN.com™ for more updates as they are made available.

Need more info and analysis about the issues?
CLICK HERE to subscribe to USGlass magazine.