A glass panel is lifted into place on the Fireweed Business Center. Photo by Joel Irwin.
A glass panel is lifted into place on the Fireweed Business Center. Photo by Joel Irwin.

Unique three-part window system brings natural light to Fireweed Business Center occupants

If you’ve driven down the Seward Highway in midtown Anchorage recently, you have noticed an exciting development taking place at CIRI’s Fireweed Business Center. With the installation of its windows over the past few weeks, the true look of the ending aesthetic is taking form.

From ground level, the windows might look like the simple panes of glass you’d see on any Alaskan building. But the windows of the Fireweed Business Center actually represent unique, cutting-edge technology that will save energy, enhance the comfort of building occupants and fulfill the vision CIRI shareholders and descendants had for this new, iconic building.

“Primarily, we were focusing on occupant comfort and productivity,” says Chad Nugent, CIRI Real Estate project management director. To reduce glare on computer screens, manage heat gain and loss, control sunlight and provide unobstructed views of Cook Inlet and six mountain ranges, CIRI chose a three-part curtain wall glass system composed of three relatively new materials.

Along the top 18 inches of the walls, workers are installing a “daylighting” system from Solera, the manufacturer of the daylight panels. These highly insulated, light-diffusing panels evenly distribute light from outside and cast it deep into the building. “This provides increased natural light, which forms a no-cost alternative to electric lights when daylight is present,” explains RIM Architects’ James Dougherty, principal in charge of the architecture of the Fireweed Business Center project.

To complement the daylighting panels and save energy, sensors will detect light from outside and automatically dim the indoor electric lighting.

Just below these panels is the “vision panel,” the occupants primary viewing part of the window. For this portion, CIRI chose electronically controlled dynamic glass from View. “These windows will automatically tint as Alaska’s low-angle sun shines on the building,” Dougherty describes. The dynamic glass means building occupants can still enjoy the view without the sun in their eyes or on their computer screens. The View glass also contributes to the building’s energy efficiency by reducing heating, ventilation and lighting costs.

Early in the planning of the building, CIRI conducted a study of how the sun moves around the Fireweed property; this helped planners decide how to position the building and where to install the Solera and View window systems. “The dynamic glass and Solera daylighting panels are only on the south, east and west sides because the direct sunlight doesn’t interact enough with the north to pay back the increased cost of the specialized glass or provide significant value,” Nugent explains.

Looking out the Dynamic Glass panels by View.  Photo by Jason Moore.
Looking out the Dynamic Glass panels by View. Photo by Jason Moore.

Finally, the third part of the window system is the vacuum insulated panel (VIP), which fills the space between floors. “The VIPs employ thermal insulation that provides approximately three times the insulation value of a typical house wall, but in a substantially more compact package,” says Dougherty.

“To achieve a smaller energy footprint, all three systems really needed to work together,” Nugent says.

Early in the planning of the Fireweed Business Center, CIRI held “visioning” sessions with shareholders and descendants who identified four critical success factors they felt the new building must reflect.

“Land, diversity, sustainability and CIRI culture were all important to the shareholders and descendants who were interviewed,” according to Nugent. “The windows contribute to our smaller energy footprint on the land and help with sustainability. Meanwhile the technology in the windows lets occupants interact with the outside and see nature, the views, the mountains.

“As for unique and iconic,” Nugent continues, referring to two of the four factors the CIRI executive team directed (in addition to “tall” and “good investment”), “there’s no other dynamic glass in Alaska.”

With construction on schedule to allow for an early 2015 occupancy, the installation of windows brings the Fireweed Business Center one step closer to becoming Alaska’s most unique office building–a structure CIRI shareholders can be proud to call their own.