Glass in High Rises Problematic Elsewhere: Remember the W in Austin?

Published May 3, 2012 by Candy Evans

It wasn’t reflective heat, but Austin, our oh so ecologically correct sister city to the south, had major problemos last summer with the W Hotel and Residences last summer. The Austin-American Statesman found that Austin ”does not insist on the safest kind of architectural glass for guardrails, or specifically, require engineering inspections of exterior balconies on the high-rise buildings proliferating downtown.” Wow. Naturally, this led to some lawsuits.

You may recall the  W opened in December, 2011, very hip and cool, but six months later was shuttered, streets around it cordoned off. What happened? Eight panes of glass had mysteriously shattered, falling from balcony railings more than 200 feet high, crashing to city streets below. At least four people were injured, more damaged. Whether it was the heat that loosened high-strength grout from the bottom of the balcony slab on the 27th floor, or falling debris that damaged the top edge of glass the sleek glass panels, held by the hand-rail system at only four points, it was a mess. Experts told the Statesman that tempered glass, which is made by heating and then quickly cooling regular glass, is extremely strong toward the middle of a pane, but weakens considerably at its edges where it is more vulnerable. To this everyone looked at the developer’s engineering designers:

“For the W Austin Hotel and Residences, city officials said they relied on the developer’s engineering designs, just as they do with all projects. Although city inspectors visually checked the balconies, looking for things such as railing height and glass thickness, they didn’t verify the soundness of the design, according to Dan McNabb, the city’s division manager for building inspections. “We do not do engineering,” McNabb said. “No city does that.”




— Daily Local Real Estate Dish By Dallas Real Estate Insider — Candy Evans at