Exterior Window Films; Can They Keep You from Melting?

September 9th, 2013 by Editor

20-Fenchurch-Street-300x221Imagine a 525-foot magnifying glass. That’s just what Londoners are dealing with now in the wake of last week’s news that heated sun reflections from the yet-to-be-completed, 38-story glass tower at 20 Fenchurch Street had melted part of a Jaguar sedan parked on a nearby street and had even been the source of several fires in the area. Could window film retrofits help salvage the building?

“It seems that these types of cases, although highly publicized for good reason, are fairly rare,” says Hugh Bernardi Jr., president of Interwest Distribution Co.

“We are taking the issue of light reflecting from the 20 Fenchurch Street seriously,” says a joint statement from the building’s two developers, Land Securities and Canary Wharf, “and are looking into the matter as a priority.”

Owners of the building have agreed to pay for damages to the sports car and quickly constructed a scaffold screen at street level to temporarily minimize damage to the surrounding area until permanent corrections can be made. Three parking bays in the area have also been closed as a precaution.

Critics have mockingly referred to the building as a “fry-scraper,” but its developers still contend the problem is short-term.

“The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky,” says the statement. “It currently lasts for approximately two hours per day, with initial modeling suggesting that it will be present for approximately two to three weeks.”

“Fundamentally, it’s reflection,” Chris Shepherd of the Institute of Physics told the BBC. “If a building creates enough of a curve with a series of flat windows, which act like mirrors, the reflections all converge at one point, focusing and concentrating the light.”

“This is also a problem on a building here in the states that I have been involved with,” says Glenn Yocca, CEO of Bethel Park, Pa.-based US Film Crew. “The building has not yet, to my knowledge, moved forward with any solutions, but film was presented as a viable option. The film would indeed correct the issue, however, the drawback from the owner’s stand point is longevity and reoccurring replacement costs.”

Other dealers contend exterior films could provide a long-term solution.

“An exterior matte IR-absorbing film should solve the problem,” says James Beale, vice president of sales for National Glazing Solutions in Roswell, Ga. “We just installed an exterior IR film on Norton Cancer Center in Kentucky and the engineers are thrilled because it dropped the interior temperatures by 30 degrees in addition to being virtually invisible on the glass. There are even darker IR films that would reduce the reflectivity less than natural glass and knock out the heat.”

That’s been the solution to the problem continuing to plague Londoners, the second as such for Vinoly, whose crescent-shaped Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas was infamously known as “Death Ray Hotel” when it opened in 2009 after guests complained that 15-square meters of the pool deck were hot enough to singe their hair and melt plastic. The hotel has since added anti-reflective film, rows of umbrellas and even large plants to cure the problem.

Though it may be rare, other buildings have also experienced such problems. Upon its opening in 2003, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall was forced to have some of its burnished stainless steel panels sanded down to prevent drivers from being blinded by the glare and pedestrians blinded by pavement hotspots that reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius).

Earlier this year, Museum Tower, a condo-filled skyscraper in Dallas, was a source of friction to the nearby Nasher Sculpture Center, which claimed the intense sunlight reflecting off the Museum Tower was killing the plants in its sculpture garden and ruining exhibits. The museum even removed a Picasso painting from display over concerns that direct sunlight would damage it.

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  1. Exterior window film to go on the outside of a very tall building is a tall call.I will take my hat off to the installers and call them supermen with special skills if the can do a clean and acceptable finish.Leon Levy Klingshield South Africa

  2. On the case with this already. Definitley needs a special solution, any reflective film will only make the problem worse. I think a matt film could help but likely to reduce the quality of the view from the inside. We have another idea..which is being trialled. Watch this space… access wise its easier that it looks if you do not mind heights.

  3. This is not a new problem. We already got such a request several times. I think the window film industry has not yet moved to face it with a specific film. Let us see what happens in future.

  4. If the buildings planners would have given this enough thought they might have been able to plan the install of the windows several degrees uppwards or downwards reflecting the rays to some cheap car and not a Jaguar…

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