San Diego condominiums provide panoramic views despite strict code regulations

Sapphire Towers is a luxury condominium in San Diego that affords residents views of the bay. However, code regulations require the building's south façade to be solid or have openings with a minimum fire protection.
NFRC Certified SuperLite II-XL 45 IGU in GPX Framing
May 18, 2011

Project Profile:  Sapphire Towers in San Diego, CA

Architect: AVPR Studios

Contract Glazier:  Starline Windows 

Product:  NFRC Certified SuperLite II-XL 45 IGU in GPX Framing with Majority of the Units Shop-Glazed and Shipped as Modular Units

Project Description:  Sapphire Towers is a luxury condominium in San Diego that affords residents views of the San Diego bay from their individual units.  In order to provide panoramic views of the bay and waterfront, every façade had to have maximum possible window openings.   However, this vision was met with a challenge.  The building’s south facing elevation was in close proximity to the adjacent property and due to code regulations, the south façade either had to be solid, which was contrary to the design, or have openings with a minimum fire protection of 45 minutes. This included the windows and glass balconies on all 32 floors.

With glass figuring prominently in the building’s exterior, keeping a uniform look was very important to designers. The fire-rated glazing on the south-facing elevation had to match the non-rated glazing systems used throughout the building. Starline Windows, the glazing contractor, looked to SAFTI FIRST, to engineer a system that met the uniform design demands and performance requirements of the project. 

For Sapphire Towers, SAFTI FIRST supplied a complete insulating assembly of ¼-inch Versalux Blue glass for the outboard lite with ¾” Superlite II-XL 45 minute fire-rated glass with a low-E coating on the No. 3 surface. The assembly uses GPX framing with aluminum covers that feature a silver powder coat finish on the exterior and Akzo Nobel white finish in the interior. The Versalux Blue on the outboard lite and the powder coat finish on the frames matched the rest of the non-rated glazing systems used in the building, making everything appear seamless.

This complete fire-rated assembly was used for 182 openings on all 32 floors on the south-facing elevation, totaling approximately 10,000 square feet of fire-rated glazing. The opening dimensions range from 48 inches by 90 inches to 82 inches by 130 inches.

In this case, Starline and Swinterton Builders, the general contractor, asked SAFTI FIRST to deliver the majority of the fire-rated glazing systems as assembled modular units because they felt there would be more control and less risk during the installation.   The majority of the fire-rated glazing systems used for the punched openings were shop-glazed in SAFTI FIRST’s factory in Merced, CA and the bigger openings used in the higher floors we shipped knocked-down and glazed onsite.

Having most of the fire-rated glazing systems assembled and ready to go into the openings eliminated having a lot of parts and pieces held at the job site. Furthermore, SAFTI FIRST worked with Swinerton Builders on a tight shipping schedule to make sure that the glass was installed in the opening as soon as it arrived on the job site.


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Fire rated glass and framing

Fire rated glass and framing technology today has come a very long way, and there are systems that can meet the design and code requirements of the application so architects and building owners would not have to overlook or make sacrifices in either design or performance. 

The GPX framing supplied here is not a traditional aluminum system.  It is a listed and labeled fire resistive, temperature rise system with aluminum cladding.  So it may resemble the look of aluminum (which was a design requirement), but unlike traditional aluminum frames, it will not melt or warp under severe fire conditions up to 2 hours. 

Concern for moisture control is legitimate, especially since these rated windows are in the exterior of the building.  This is why additional independent testing was performed on the SuperLite II-XL/GPX system for air and water infiltration:  ASTM E 283-04, ASTM E 547 and ASTM E 331.   The SuperLite II-XL/GPX system was unitized in our facility, delivered to the site and installed just like the conventional rainscreen system to which it is adjacent.  The insulating element in our framing is designed for exterior applications and is treated for exposure to water.  

An expanded version of this story can be found at

Fire rated glazing systems

As a builder and remodeler who has encountered close proximty construction and using fire rated glass assemblies, I find the use of aluminum framing for set glazing a self defeating encounter. Aluminum burns,melts,warps under severe fire conditions. This can cause failure of the entire system and present an even more dangerous condition for those called to fight the fire. Heavy materials falling out of distorted opening present extreme hazards for anyone below. Additionally, the transmittal of inside/outside conditions are a cause for concern as well. Moisture has been noted in many a building system failures. As engineers come up with ways to control just this type of failures ,the fire rating system are often over-looked in favor of preventative measures to eliminate or control moisture and condensation and heat transfer. Interestingly, Materials used in packing openings for a snug fit are often non-rated materials. It will be interesting to come back to this building in say, 15 years to look at the overall preformance of this system