As a University of California, Berkeley architectural student many years ago, Eli Naor never imagined that his work would help transform Bay Area communities.
Fate carries you in surprising directions in this profession. For Naor, his long design journey most recently led him to a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Milpitas, Calif.
“Good design is symphonic. You bring many instruments into the room and work hard to imagine how they all sound together. But you’re never quite sure. You have to stand in the middle and experience it for yourself,” Naor observes.
The $125 million, 68,800-square-foot Milpitas Transit Center is an intermodal facility and Naor’s final symphony. The Oakland-based architect recently retired as a vice president of STV, a full-service architectural and engineering firm with over 40 offices across the U.S. The station opened in June 2020 and links bus lines, light rail, and the BART system to Silicon Valley, a long-sought transit goal in the region.
Naor was introduced to the project in 2001. It took the better part of two decades to pass rigorous review by local, state, and federal authorities, which scrutinized every aspect of the station’s performance, aesthetics, and life safety systems. “You have to be of stout stuff to survive,” Naor says.
As the project progressed, the surrounding community also underwent a transformation. “The site was originally a trucking and warehouse district. Now the station is surrounded by high density housing,” Naor says, a reflection on the project’s community impact.
“It may not be Grand Central Station, but for Milpitas it’s a shining little jewel. Train stations still have a very important place in people’s lives,” the architect says. “That’s where I can make a contribution.”
Shining little jewel is an apt metaphor. The facility is awash in natural light, creating a welcome openness and transparency. “We wanted the concourse to be very bright, very airy, and open,” Naor says. “We wanted to bring as much daylight as possible down to the tracks. Passengers entering the station can immediately see whether the train is in or not.”
The challenge was that the BART tracks run in a below-grade trench. How do you extend natural light down to the track level?
Why not a fire-rated transparent light well?
“Most people think of fire-rated treatments as a one- or two-hour rated wall. Now you can have a transparent wall system to separate passengers from flame. Vertical glass is the most critical part of the installation. It shields against high heat and smoke. It’s all about life safety,” says Naor.
Thread the Needle
He adds that fire-rated glass had to thread a needle for size, transparency, availability, structural support, butt glazing, and seismic requirements. Oh, and one other differentiator: budget.
The investigation by the architects led to a solution that met all requirements: ASTM E-119/UL 263 rated fire resistive SuperLite II-XLB 60 glass panels with GPX Architectural Series framing. To ensure maximum transparency, SuperLite II-XLB 60 was used in a butt-glazed application to eliminate vertical mullions. The glass panels were stacked on top of each other using horizontal mullions, and structural steel was placed behind the butt-glazed lites to provide additional support. The system’s flexibility accommodated the circular light-well design, which meant that the architects did not have to compromise their design aesthetic to meet fire-rated code requirements. The fire-rated system is manufactured by California-based Safti-First.
Naor’s final symphony was complete. “When you put together the skylights, the fire-rated glass, the art treatments, the floor, and the passengers, it just works. It’s magical.”
Learn more about how a fire-rated transparent wall system can enhance your next project.