All that’s holding the more than one thousand red glass panels in place on the Winspear Opera House is tape and silicon glue. Watch the video to see how it’s done.
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Wine red, fire engine red, panic button red: Whatever you want to call it, you’re not to going to miss the deep-red glass covering the entire auditorium of the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. The red surface (called a “cladding”) is just starting to be installed on the building this week — only the first panel or two will be attached to their aluminum frames — so you probably won’t notice them at first. But when all the panels are up by the end of the year, there will be some seven stories of red glass, probably the single most striking feature of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. It will be a blazing sight among downtown’s concrete and steel towers, unmistakable from the Woodall Rogers Freeway. And seeing as the opera house’s lobby will be fronted with clear glass — so the red will be seen right through it — the red auditorium will be a major point along Ross Avenue as well.
McGrath (left): “We wanted the building to stand out. We wanted it to really say, I’m a performing arts center, I’m an opera house.”
James McGrath is a partner in Foster + Partners, designers of the opera house. There’s a tradition of using red (and gold) in opera houses, mostly for curtains, carpeting and seating. But McGrath says that wasn’t the initial inspiration here.
McGrath: “We always looked at the auditorium as the ‘heart’ of the building, and so in our early concept sketches, in our early presentations, we sort of did the symbolic heart of the building as a red object.”
The late Bill Winspear, chief donor to the opera house, had his own input on the final choice of the red surface. During a presentation on the construction site, the architects displayed several mocked-up possibilities for a red-surfaced auditorium — using ceramic tiles, glass tiles, stained concrete.
McGrath: “He led the facilities committee. And he said, ‘Would you like to have it this way, would you like to have it this way – OR do you WANT THE RED GLASS?’ (Laughs.) I think everybody knew which way he wanted to go.”
The red color actually comes from the layer of polyvinyl, made in Italy, that is laminated between two panes of glass. The glass was made in Germany. The aluminum frames are from China …
[ambient sounds of factory work]
… and everything was brought together at Haley-Greer, a Dallas firm that specializes in architectural glass. The company handled the glass for the Nasher Sculpture Center, they’re doing the new Cowboys Stadium. At their factory warehouse off Northwest Highway, the assembly line runs from early morning only into the early afternoon. The metal warehouse has no air-conditioning; it can get over 120 degrees in here, even with the fans roaring.
To put the glass on the metal frames, each pane must be lifted and fitted in place, then taped and glued. But the glass can’t be lifted by workers. Curved glass breaks too easily, as does annealed glass, glass that hasn’t been tempered or hardened. The Winspear’s glass is annealed because tempered glass inevitably has bends and distortions in it (that’s why, when you drive past a glass skyscraper, the reflections are so squiggly.) The opera house glass is going to be absolutely smooth.
[Factory sounds, winch starting up]
So a winch is needed. It has four, power-activated suction cups the size of pie plates, specially adjusted to fit the curved glass. Three men maneuver the pane carefully on to the frame. Each pane is then injected with 12 lbs of special silicone sealant to glue it to the frame. There are no clips or bolts fastening the glass, nothing on the front to hold it to the wall. The Winspear’s surface will be smooth, pristine.
Dale Whitener, project manager for Haley-Greer, says all this requires a demanding level of precision.
Whitener: “We’re building a, you know, Swiss watch here. So we need to make sure every single panel is 100 percent spot-on.”
Holloway: “91, 93, this sequence here will be elevation FE.”
Donnie Holloway is the shop supervisor and he carries a three-ring binder with him.
Holloway: “This is our quality control, we make with each unit we send out. That way we keep track.”
Each pane of glass is numbered, each one is inspected, measured and checked repeatedly throughout the three-hour assembly. There will be more than 1,450 panes of red glass covering the Winspear.
And at night, under the lights, they should shine like rubies.
Whitener: “Without this red glass, it would just be a concrete and steel building. So we’re the ones that are going to make it look beautiful.”
Red buildings are fairly rare — other than red-brick ones, of course. Or red barns. Some notable scarlet structures include:
Austin’s Red Building Studios