Glass atriums have become a key aesthetic feature of many modern commercial and office buildings. But how can architects and specifiers achieve this look, while simultaneously ensuring the comfort of occupants and compliance with fire safety regulations? Here, Andy Lake, Sales Director UK & IRE at Pyroguard, explores the factors to consider when approaching a glazed atrium project, from fire glass classifications and aesthetics to acoustics and impact resistance.
It’s no wonder that glass is such a popular building material, helping to create light, open, airy and contemporary spaces. Used within atriums, it can help to create something of a central focal point; a statement architectural feature within our modern commercial buildings. That said, it is not just aesthetics that need to be considered when it comes to glazed atriums, but also the safety of the building and its occupants too. Fortunately, with the correct fire safety glass solutions and the right technical advice, both aesthetics and safety can be achieved – and more besides.
Specified correctly, fire safety glass can be an important part of a building’s overall passive fire protection strategy, offering a means of compartmentation. Given an atrium is often positioned centrally within a building, from which rooms and corridors are then built off and around, installing fire-rated glass here could be key in helping to prevent the spread of fire, in the unfortunate event of a blaze.
There are three standard European classifications of fire safety glass for architects and specifiers to be aware of, each with its own level of performance. E (Integrity) offers the base level of performance, preventing the passage of flames or hot gases. EW (Integrity and Radiation) maintains the same level of protection against smoke and flame but, in addition, will also deliver a reduction in the amount of radiated heat to the protected side. EI (Integrity and Insulation) offers the highest level of protection. As well as providing a strong barrier against smoke, flame and hot gases, EI also delivers a significant reduction in the amount of heat transferred through the glass. The classification required can depend on the individual application and architects should consult the relevant building regulations for further guidance.
In addition to fire safety, it’s also important to consider the other aspects of building safety when it comes to specifying glass atriums. Given that office buildings can be many storeys high, considering line loads and ensuring that the glass specified within the atrium is impact resistant is key, capable of withstanding people leaning on it or, in the event of a trip, even running or falling into it. Architects and specifiers should therefore look for glass that has been classified to Class 1 impact resistance – the highest classification according to BS EN 12600.
Of course, perhaps the biggest challenge when approaching fire safety glass for internal atriums is ensuring the overall aesthetic isn’t compromised. Given that atriums are often chosen to create a striking and impactful look, it’s important that the use of fire safety glass doesn’t detract from that. A key part of this is the size of the glass panels used. Standard, non-fire-rated glass can be manufactured to great dimensions, helping to create the clean and sleek aesthetic expected from a façade system. Whereas, with fire safety glass, sizes can differ, with the potential for there to be a mixture of pane sizes used in the system.
Fortunately, select fire safety glass manufacturers are aware of this concern and test their solutions to the maximum size possible, ensuring that it can match and align with the equivalent non-fire-rated products.
Another way to ensure the overall aesthetic is not compromised can be to opt for solutions suitable for butt-joint applications. Having large amounts of framing and metalwork within the main face of the atrium can understandably detract from the overall look and effect. Whereas innovative solutions such as Pyroguard Infinity require no vertical frame profile, providing a sleek and seamless look.
In addition to aesthetics and fire safety, it is also important for architects to consider how people will be using the building and how they can ensure that the experience of the space is a positive one. With atriums becoming a common feature in our cities’ office buildings and places of work, acoustics is an important consideration, helping to create a quiet and productive environment.
Thanks to the multi-functional capabilities of fire safety glass, fire protection can also be balanced with other additional performance qualities – including sound-deadening properties. In fact, fire protection can be just the start of a fire safety glass specification. With the correct technical expertise, it is possible to incorporate additional glass layers and counterpanes into the fire glazing system, helping to do everything from improve the acoustic performance of the system to – in the event of coloured, etched or screen-printed glass interlayers – add a unique twist to the overall look.
As architects and specifiers continue in their quest to create striking and contemporary buildings, glass atriums will likely remain a popular feature, especially within the commercial and office sector. Delivering on this loved aesthetic, while also ensuring that the safety of the building’s occupants and their overall experience of the space is not compromised, is essential and can require a careful balancing act. With glass atriums often requiring hundreds, if not thousands of square meters of fire safety glass, seeking the technical support and advice of an experienced fire safety glass manufacturer can be essential in ensuring a successful project delivery.