National Museum of American Jewish History Chooses Viracon as Glass Façade Fabricator

Ultra-Clear, Tint-Free Glass Matches Building’s Symbolic Power

Publish Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2014

OWATONNA, MN…The National Museum of American Jewish History, on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to the American Jewish experience. Behind its glass façade, fabricated by Viracon, it houses the largest collection of Jewish Americana in the world.

Viracon’s glass curtainwall symbolizes the museum’s efforts to welcome people of all backgrounds. The building’s exterior stands out from, but also mimics the landscape of its Old City Philadelphia neighborhood.

Designed by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects), the museum overlooks Philadelphia’s Independence Mall and has views of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Center.

"The visual accessibility of the glass volume was meant to welcome people of all backgrounds to the museum and to represent the immigrant experience,” says James Polshek, design principal of Polshek Partnership, now Ennead Architects. “The glass symbolizes the museum's efforts to reach out to other people - other ethnic and religious groups that came to this country - and extend to them a welcome.”

Insulating laminated VE13-2M and VE1-2M glass provides the ultra-clear, tint-free aesthetic critical to the building’s symbolic power. Viracon’s Low-E coatings bring both substantial light transmission and solar energy control to the building.

“The design team carefully studied several Low-E coatings in an effort to strike a balance between the clarity of the glass and the required performance for a west-facing glass façade,” says Dean Kim, an architect who was a member of the Polshek Partnership design team.

The transparent glass façade allows passerby to enjoy one of the museum’s permanent art installations. Beacon, created by media artist Ben Rubin, employs 2,688 LED nodes arranged on seven parallel mesh panels. Its glow, emanating from the museum’s fifth floor, is clearly visible through the glass envelope that surrounds it.

The façade itself is also a work of art. Viracon silk-screened a custom ceramic frit, drawn freehand by the building’s design team, onto the glass curtain wall.

"We invented a frit for the curtain wall. The frit was made by everybody on the team, drawing interlaced freehand horizontal and vertical lines. Up close, it looks like weaving – this weave or network of threads is symbolic of how the Jewish experience in America is woven into the experience of all Americans,” says Polshek.

The frit not only functions as a work of art, but also offers solar performance. It shades direct sunlight from the building’s west-facing wall.

“The original hand-drawn artwork was inverted to allow for a higher density of frit, which improved the overall performance of the glazing, while simultaneously enhancing the desired weaving effect,” says Joshua Frankel, project manager of Polshek Partnership Architects.

The National Museum of American Jewish History was completed in 2010. The project team included Polshek Partnership Architects (now Ennead Architects), general contractor INTECH Construction and installer APG International Inc.