By Richard Bermack, Contributing Writer and Photographer
Viewing the tinted glass panel walls, someone unfamiliar with the construction site at Van Ness and Geary might wonder if this is going to be a northern extension of the South of Market art district. Medical centers tend to be conservative, concrete-block structures with sparse glass, designed to meet OSHPD (Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) standards. That style just wouldn’t do for 21st century downtown San Francisco. The SmithGroupJJR, designers of the Van Ness and Geary Campus of California Pacific Medical Center, designed a world-class building with an all-glass exterior–the first medical center building of its kind.The curtain wall system utilizes a four-sided glazing exterior attached to interior aluminum with a silicone sealant. The panels, manufactured by Midwest Curtainwall in Cleveland, are finished off with aluminum extrusions. All this detail gives the wall the look of a Mondrian painting.
Will the hospital be able to withstand the expected Bay Area earthquake? The builders created a two-story model in Sacramento and OSHPD officials tortured it using hydraulic rams and water canons. The design passed, and now Glaziers Local 718/District Council 16 members are implementing the new system and making building history. We watched as glaziers on radios directed tower crane operators, who lifted massive glass panels weighing a ton or more from the staging area on the roof, through the air, and to the side of the building, where the glaziers could grab them and bolt them in place.
The glaziers are employed by Custom Engineered Openings Windows & Doors (CEOWD), who are the team partners of HerreroBOLDT, the medical center builders. Herrero Builders and the Boldt Company are known for innovative construction techniques and cooperative management practices stressing worker safety and quality construction through teamwork.
–Voices From the Union–
Superintendent, Custom Engineered Openings Windows and Doors
Getting the glass panels out of their crates, setting them up on the deck, and getting rid of the empty containers is the hardest part. Setting the glass is easy. If we get started a little too late in the day and the wind picks up, it can become a safety situation and our guys have to stop. The crane operator monitors the wind and decides if it’s safe. We’ve had a few times when the wind started blowing the glass panels around and we had to bring the glass back to the deck. Now we spend the latter part of the day opening up the crates and preparing for the next day so the wind won’t be a problem.
As a union glazier, safety is number one. I’ve been in the trade over 20 years, and because of all the efforts we put into working safely, I’ve not suffered any major injuries and the guys I’ve worked with have not suffered any injuries. I take a lot of pride in that, and I try to install that in all my lead foreman. If a guy is unsure, you stop and you make it safe before you proceed. Working safe is hard work. It’s easy to just climb up a ladder and do something and not have any regard for your own safety. Bringing up your rigging and hooking off takes a lot more effort.
It’s awe-inspiring how the trade has changed and how prevalent glass has become as the main exterior material. When you look around the San Francisco skyline, you can tell how old a building is by how big the windows are. When I started this was a very specialized craft, mostly single pane windows that you could move by hand. The union has almost doubled its membership. We’ve trained a lot of people. You get a 21-year-old apprentice coming into the trade and you want to make sure you are giving them a career that they can work for the rest of their life and retire without being injured. That’s my goal.
Superintendent, Enclosures HerreroBOLDT, Carpenters Local 22
The exteriors of most of the older hospitals are pretty much cookie cutter designs with concrete and punch windows for example. With the strict OSHPD standards, they don’t typically venture far from the norm and don’t invest much in the exterior. But on this project we’re using unitized curtain wall panels with complicated extruded profiles and dimensions with all kinds of interesting flashing and coping details. Some of the panels will have LED back lighting to create an exterior that is going to be very unique for a project of this scale. Working on this project is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity.
You take a site that’s a city block square, three stories underground and 13 stories high, and the logistics are challenging. We have a special logistics crew managing the deliveries. Everything has to be coordinated safely and on schedule. We keep two tower cranes going like gang busters.
I assist in coordinating the deliveries along with our logistics team, for example loading the curtain wall panels on the roof. There are also metal panel systems with steel tube and framed unit assemblies. Everything has to go to a particular place at a particular time to keep pace with our schedule. And it’s an extremely aggressive schedule. Right now we have about 500 tradespeople on this site and another 250 across the street.
Being a superintendent is a lot of stress. There are definitely challenging days with almost an insane amount of activity. But I love it and feel lucky to have this opportunity. I’m very happy to be here and to be a part of HerreroBOLDT. Representing the trades out here is a blessing.
Lead Journeyman, Install Crew
Being a lead is an important job. You are responsible for yourself and for your whole crew. You have to keep your crew safe and you have to keep them busy and happy as well.
I started at CEOWD six months ago. I love this company and working on this job.
Before I worked with smaller glass units that we could move around by hand. These units are so big we need tower cranes. It’s easier on your body, but it’s a little dangerous. You got to keep your attention on the job. You can’t be thinking about what is going on at home or a big accident can happen.
It takes a little bit to get used to communicating with the crane operator. Each guy is a little different. You have to give clear signals. You need to say it loud and clear. Sometimes there’s so much noise around, you have to say the signal twice. It takes time to get used to working with someone. You start by moving smaller stuff around until you feel comfortable. Then you begin moving the panels.
We have a good system. We use the tower crane to drop the panels in place. We have adjustable screws on each side. We have two people on the bottom with pry bars and two people on top on the floor above who tell them which side to raise up. We have two radios, one for the crane operator and one for the guys on the different floors. Dropping the panels in place is easy. The hard part is getting them straight and leveled up.
I got into the trade about two years ago. I didn’t know a thing about glazing. A buddy of mine told me that with all the work, this was the perfect time to get into construction. I’d never picked up a tool before. Now I’m learning everything I can. It’s become my passion.
Today I learned about doing layouts and the importance of math. The teachers and journeymen and superintendents have all been great.
I hope to make this my future career. I like using my hands, I’m good at math, and I’m not afraid of heights. I love it. You hang off the side of a building all harnessed up and 100 percent tied off. You get an amazing view of the city that nobody else ever gets to see. You get that gut-wrenching feeling of being alive.
There are so many other trades involved. We’ve been working with plumbers, HVAC, waterproofers, sheet rockers, and ironworkers to mention a few. Every now and then somebody will be ahead or behind you, but on this job everybody works hard to cooperate and help each other get things done. San Francisco is my city. I love working with everyone else building the city I love.
These panels are quite large and heavy, but when they are set they cover a lot of area. You can bend a lot of tools getting everything to line up. But we’re precision glaziers, and that is what we do.
Before glazing I did iron work, but this is more fulfilling. When the job is finished the iron is hidden inside. The glass is on the exterior and it stands out. You can see what we did forever.
When people come to San Francisco, what they see first is all the glass.
I’m from Belarus. I came here with my parents when I was 16, and after school I joined the union and became a glazier. There was not a lot of work in Belarus, and food is so expensive everyone has to grow their own garden just to survive.
We have a good crew and a good company. We have our own safety guy, and he always walks around making sure everything is safe. If we need any safety equipment, we can call him and he brings it. We have never had even one accident.
After I graduated from school I was looking for work. My buddy was working as a glazier.
I started 24 years ago, and this is the cleanest construction site I’ve ever been on since I started in the trade. They’re doing a quality job standing up for safety and keeping everybody aware of everything going on.
I started in as a glazier in Louisiana. There you worked really fast and hard. It was all go-go-go-go. A lot of people got hurt because they should have slowed down and looked before they did something.
Here it’s safety first.