Preserving Union Station’s Metal Frames in Historical Restoration Project

Aug. 5, 2021

Thanks to super-thin vacuum insulated glazing units, Walter Robbs Architecture was able to restore Winston-Salem’s Union Station brick and limestone façade to its original glory.

Winston-Salem, N.C.
Walter Robbs Architecture

Built in 1926, the historic Winston-Salem Union Station lent a more cosmopolitan feel to the growing tobacco industry in the area and was key to bringing travel to the region. Designed in a Beaux Arts style with Neoclassical details by Fellheimer and Wagner, a prominent New York architectural firm that designed train stations throughout the U.S., the station closed its doors in 1970. It was then converted into a vehicle-repair garage until the city repurchased the large structure and decided to restore it.

“Because there were so many windows, it is one of the most significant features of this building and to keep them was critical,” explains Michelle McCullough, historical resource officer, city & county of Winston-Salem. However, in modernizing the building to meet current energy and thermal-efficiency standards, the project team had to figure out how to fit a conventional 24-mm thick double glazed unit into the thinner historical metal frames.

“Insulated glass panels are much thicker than the original glass,” explains Michelle Portman Walter, senior project manager, Walter Robbs Architecture, Winston-Salem, N.C. “That wasn’t going to fit very well back into an historical steel sash that was intended only to have a piece of 0.25-in. glass in it.” In essence, the low-E panes would not fit, so Walter Robbs Architecture was planning to install regular panes together with a second interior storm window.


In a stroke of serendipity, a Pilkington representative came into the architects’ office to give a presentation on a new product. “I was lucky enough to be in that presentation and decided right then and there that’s what the train station needed—the Spacia glass,” recalls Walter. At just 6.2mm, the vacuum insulated glazing was the perfect fit for the 1,600 large glass units that needed replacing and offered a high-performance insulation inside a very thin overall profile. 

Though the building had at least a dozen different types of windows, because the Spacia glazing is already a customized product, there was no added cost to further customize the panes to different sizes, explains Kyle Sword, manager business development, Pilkington North America, Toledo.

Pleased with the abundance of daylighting and preservation of historical details, McCullough states, “I consider the end of this story to be a success story for the city of Winston-Salem. Walking into this building gives you something to be proud of in your community.”


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