Smart-Tinting Glass Dazzles Prospective Tenants

A real-estate equity company upgrades its offices to showcase what technology can do for potential lessees.

Interior walls demonstrate the ability of the Halio glass, shown in its clear state, to extend natural light to more areas while delivering privacy on demand.

For Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., a Class A property is necessary in order for its innovative tenants to “successfully recruit and retain world-class talent and inspire productivity, efficiency, creativity, and success.” The company looks to smart technologies to deliver on its commitment to sustainability and wellness for its tenants. When the company upgraded its San Francisco office, they incorporated Halio smart-tinting glass from Kinestral Technologies, Hayward, CA, to showcase what the new technology can do for tenants.

Halio was installed to highlight two applications. A skylight demonstrates its ability to control heat gain and eliminate glare. Interior walls demonstrate the ability of the glass to extend natural light to more areas while delivering privacy on demand. Each Halio panel has its own controller, so select panels can be tinted while others remain clear.

When compatible frames are installed, installing smart-tinting glass is a simple glass swap. The real-estate company planned the installation, replacing the conventional interim glass over a weekend.

Fully tinted, the glass walls to the hallways can create privacy or minimize distractions.

Skylight Opportunity

During the office demolition for a remodel, the architects discovered framing for a skylight that had never been installed. The area was the designated break room. Until then, it had no windows, so management jumped on the opportunity to bring in natural light and used Halio to manage it.

Because the smart-tinting glass delivery date would come a few months after the completion of the remodel, standard glass was installed while waiting for the smart-tinting glass to arrive. It proved to be a good “before and after” test of a plain glass skylight versus a smart-tinting-glass skylight.

Howard Yao, assistant vice president of real estate development & design at Alexandria, is responsible for new construction and tenant improvement projects in San Francisco. Trained as an architect, Yao said of the conventional skylight that was installed while they waited for Halio delivery, “Everyone loves natural light until they realize they hate the glare. With the big skylight and no means of controlling the glare, it limited the use of the space.”

The pre-Halio skylight was disruptive to vendor presentations and training that made use of audiovisual equipment. It also brought unwanted heat. “With the regular skylight, there was little control,” said Yao. “Depending on the time of year and the angle of the sun, it could be really disruptive—and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re just stuck unless you start rearranging the room to work with the sun. But that’s not practical, because then you have to change the layout every few weeks.”

Then Halio was installed. “With our smart-tinting skylight, we can take it down a notch to take the edge off, or go dark to make the space suitable for video presentations,” Yao said. Halio delivers an unlimited number of tints between clear and dark. The smart-tinting glass also blocks ultraviolet rays and reduces heat from solar gain, making the room much more comfortable without having to use air-conditioning in San Francisco’s naturally mild climate.

Each panel has its own controller, so select panels can be tinted while others remain clear.

Interior Walls

Alexandria’s sleek office has an open floor plan that features areas for desks, a break room, several conference rooms, and a “living room” area with a fireplace, couch, and armchairs. The smart-tinting glass was installed in a conference room and the living room to allow natural light while providing the option to add privacy on demand. The walls to the hallways now tint to create privacy or minimize distractions. Because the panels are individually controlled, they can be tinted all at once, or in patterns, such as a checkerboard or stripes, to create what some employees call a “soft barrier,” a subtle way to convey that the room is occupied.

“We are sensitive to confidentiality issues and understand that privacy is a critical issue for our tenants and prospective tenants,” said Yao. “Halio has become part of our office tour—to show prospective tenants what their options are. The glass always gets oohs and aahs.”

Because everyone craves natural light, Yao sees smart-tinting glass as one of the many options for conference rooms to create privacy walls. “There are many high-end glass manufacturers that are etching glass to make beautiful patterns to create a sense of privacy. This is a fixed solution. Ten years from now, you will look at it and say that’s outdated. Halio eliminates the need for film, art glass, shades, or blinds—you can have privacy when you need it.”

The Future

Out of the three installations at Alexandria’s San Francisco office—the skylight, the main conference room, and the living room—the skylight is, for Yao, the most significant. “It is the exterior envelope application,” he says. “Because of California’s Title 24, we are getting pulled two ways: tenants want more and more clear glass—not ones with a bronze, green, or blue tint. They want perfectly clear glass. But with the energy codes getting more and more stringent, it’s getting very difficult to get a glassy building to be compliant. With smart-tinting glass, clear glass and energy efficiency are no longer mutually exclusive.”

Smart-tinting glass aligns with Alexandria’s goals of sustainability and smart building systems. “As I see it, the glass and heat gain from the building envelope is just another variable in the building-management system,” said Yao. “Halio would help with the heat load from the sun. By installing it, we could eliminate motorized window shades to reduce glare and solar gain.”

“It’s weird,” he said. “You pay a premium for a building that has amazing views and what most people do is put down the blinds, and once down, they stay there.” With programmable smart-tinting glass, that problem goes away.

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