Glass as flooring is becoming more acceptable thanks to the trend being jumpstarted with stairs being used with glass in some iconic projects.

A great example of this is the Onassis Cultural Center (OCC) featuring a tremendous design by the team at Perkins Eastman in New York.

The initial design challenge that Nick Leahy, Principal & Executive Director of Perkins Eastman and his organization faced was the venue itself. The Onassis Cultural Center has a reputation beyond reproach thanks to memorable performances, exhibits, and symposiums. So not only did the design need to meet the level of excellence and class that the center is known for, but they also needed to deal with space and layout issues.

“We were charged with enlarging the gallery space at the lower level, making it a singular flexible space that could support multiple functions, and to improve the entry sequence to the gallery, to make it more open and less basement-like thereby increasing its visibility from within the atrium,” said Leahy.

One of the answers for Leahy was to open things up with the usage of glass.

“The use of an all glass structural ornamental stair is the right solution in this case for several reasons; not least of which is that as an object of distinctive beauty it fittingly creates the right entry for an important cultural institution such as OCC. It in itself adds value, cache -a sense of place- to the atrium and the OCC by its unique design. It transforms a “low value” basement space into a high value destination, along the lines of the “Apple Cube” on 57th street and Fifth Avenue.The glass stair creates the maximum impact while satisfying the city’s strict guidelines for reconfiguring the space,” said Leahy.

The initial concerns many have when they encounter anything to do with glass flooring or stairs are slips and breakage. Those concerns of course are legitimate but with the right make-ups, design, and materials, this application should not present any negative issues.  Leahy and team used their superior experience to ensure success.

“The design called for coefficient of friction of 0.6, this is an industry standard that is applied to all walk-able surfaces no matter the material. The product we used is Walker Textures® Anti Slip glass, that meets this criteria under wet conditions and betters this under dry conditions and the product is known for its superior traction, and its resistance to surface contamination. The slip pattern is acid etched into the surface and so is integral to the product and therefore more durable then systems that are applied to the glass.”

For Walker Glass, having their Walker Textures® Traction product used in such a significant structure was a tribute to their tireless work on developing a high performing floor and stair product.

“The more and more Traction is used and all the stakeholders who experience the quality, the more acceptance that the product will have.  We’re thrilled to have another project using our product, but the Onassis one is truly a special honor. The design is beautiful and application perfect for glass,” said Marc Deschamps, Business Development Manager, Walker Glass.

And that beauty and overall layout of this project is not lost on Leahy.

“I would have to say the most satisfying part of the project is that the whole composition works very well and achieves all the goals we set out for the project, its elegant, its retrained, yet its distinctive. The glass stair flows down to the gallery foyer and makes anybody who enters the gallery a very special guest.”

The question now is can this trend grow? Or will some of the worries outlined above constrain it? One of the keys according to Leahy is collaboration.

“Because of their complexity (glass flooring and stairs) and high level of skill required at every stage of the project from early design through to completion, they require the right team of people, with the experience and focus who can shepherd the project from design through fabrication installation and onto completion.

Design, fabrication installation has to work in unison. All this requires the right budget that can seem expensive when seen through the lens of someone trying to look for false savings. Relationships are everything and understanding the letting go of the smallest detail can ruin the whole thing. In structural glass projects there are no places to hide mistakes.”

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