Related is fitting home-made panels to its vast New York scheme. This picture shows the 55 Hudson Yards (Kohn Pedersen Fox)

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US construction hit by curtain walling crisis

9 September 2015 | By David Rogers | 1 Comment

A shortage of US curtain walling makers caused by the 2008 crash is so severe that it is halting projects and has even forced one developer to open its own factory.

“The finishes are happening as we go up the building. So if we can’t start those activities because there’s no glass, we can’t finish the building”– Nathan Rundel, Build Group

Eleven of America’s 47 glass cladding companies went out of business after the financial crisis and, now that there is a boom in tower construction, the market is suffering from a severe lack of capacity.

As a result the price for curtain walling systems has risen between 35% and 45% in the past 18 months, and lead times have increased dramatically, the Wall Street Journal has reported

In San Francisco, contractors are having to go to China for glass cladding, but that means delays.

Nathan Rundel, vice president of preconstruction at contractor Build Group, told CBS San Francisco: “We’re all trying to get the cost of these projects down, so we started to source Chinese curtain wall or overseas curtain wall. Their glass has been delayed five, six, seven months. Both from the fact that they went to other vendors and the fact that they can’t get their material.”

He added: “The finishes are happening as we go up the building. So if we can’t start those activities because there’s no glass, we can’t finish the building.”

In New York, the availability of cladding systems has become the single main determinant of programme and schedule.

Ralph Esposito, head of commercial building in New York for Lend Lease, told the WSJ: “Nowadays, the glass guys are dictating the timetables of a project to us, instead of the other way around.”

The curtain walling industry has been slow to respond to the rise in demand, partly because of the capital cost of beginning a new plant or restarting an old one that has shut down.

A restart can take month because thousands of pounds of hardened, melted glass have to be removed from melting tanks with sledgehammers.

Some developers have taken drastic measures to alleviate the effects of the shortage.

One developer, Related, which is building the Hudson Yards scheme on the west side of Manhattan – the largest private development in US history – has opened its own glass panel maker, New Hudson Facades.

Bruce Beal, the president of the company, said: “With the logistical issues, small number of producers and growing costs, we’d rather bet on our ability to domestically produce and control the supply.”

Photograph: Developer Related is fitting home-made panels to its vast New York scheme. This picture shows the 55 Hudson Yards (Kohn Pedersen Fox)