Main menu


Technological advances shape modern glass applications

featured image

The following article by Aki Ishida kicks off the focus section of the July/August 2022 edition. architect’s newspaper, Introducing the latest and greatest innovations in glass. The entire section, including product summaries and case studies, can be viewed in full here.

In recent decades, technological advances in chemical coatings, structural engineering, and manufacturing methods have changed the possibilities of building with glass. As new technologies expand the range of effects and performance of transparent glass, transparency in glass becomes increasingly multivalent and complex, both materially and metaphysically blurred. The historical association of glass with exclusivity and sophistication has led to today’s predicament of overconsumption. This is evidenced by his all-glass iPhones, the curtain walls of luxury skyscrapers, and other glass buildings and products. At the same time, as we spend more than 90% of our time indoors, glass is an integral part of architecture that connects us to the outdoors.

Beginning in the late 1990s, I worked in the office of glass artist/engineer James Carpenter for four years. At that time, glass knowledge was still proprietary compared to today, as many architectural firms now have glass and curtain wall specialists. At the time, Carpenter’s studio was at the forefront of experimenting with reflective coatings, including the dichroic polychromatic effect of his glass that characterized much of Carpenter’s early work. German engineering company Schlaich Bergermann Partner.

Building on my professional experience as an architect in my book Blurred transparency in modern glass architecture (2020) explored the intertwining of materials, cultures, and technologies through six case studies, arguing that clear glass readings are becoming increasingly blurry.

The ephemerality of glass that enhances its sophistication has challenged architects and captured their imaginations. From the 11th century to his 16th century, until Louis XIV of France smuggled out his three glassmakers to build the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the secrets of glassmaking were coveted by the Venetians. Crystals, glass slippers, coffins, and mirrors often appear symbolically in fairy tales that illustrate a culture’s collective dreams. In contemporary architecture, glass is a material imbued with idealism, symbolism and a utopian vision. For example, Walter Gropius mentioned crystal in his Bauhaus manifesto, writing: […] One day, like the crystal symbol of a new faith, it will rise from the hands of a million workers to heaven. In early modern sanatorium buildings, including his Zonnestraal (1931) in the Netherlands, the transmission of the sun through glass walls was thought to “heal” sick patients and transform them into healthy workers. Today, these historical examples continue to influence the meaning associated with glass.

After the financial crisis of 2008, amid growing concerns about global warming, glass came under fire for being environmentally irresponsible and out of reach. Bird enthusiasts demonized New York’s Javits Center as a dangerous place for birds to fly into its reflective glass walls. In 2014, FXFowle replaced the original glass from IM Pei and Partners (now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) with fritted glass that is easier for birds to see. Bird mortality he reduced by 90%. In 2019, following the surge in glass skyscraper construction in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio exaggerated the claim that steel and glass “have no place in our cities or on the planet.” and raised the alarm bells for architects and developers. It wasn’t that glass would be banned, it was that the energy code requirements would become stricter.Architect and scholar Andrés Jacques in his 2021 performance be silica It was a critique of ultra-clear, low-iron glass made from white sand extracted from some special locations around the world. The same sand is also used for fracking. Jake said low-iron glass, which costs three times as much as his greenish regular glass, has been used in high-profile glass buildings such as Apple stores and skyscraper luxury apartment towers in New York City’s billionaire district. I said it was the perfect material. line. In other words, ultra-clear glass symbolizes excessive wealth and environmental exploitation.

There has been a lot of negative attention to glass in recent years, much of it based on legitimate social concerns, but most people believe that a world without glass would be unimaginably dark and boring. I would agree. Addressing the climate crisis doesn’t have to ban glass, but it should be used more judiciously rather than glazing all sides of buildings from top to bottom. Architects can educate their clients and the public not to associate floor-to-ceiling glass with the “good life.” Excessive fritting, coatings and coloring required to meet energy standards defeat the purpose of using glass in the first place.

Architects can also consider a smarter combination of building function and location with glass materials. For example, SANAA’s Glass Pavilion (2006) in Toledo, Ohio, is an all-glass building that recirculates heat generated in hot glass shop furnaces to heat galleries and office spaces in the winter. As his Michael Na Min Ra of façade consulting firm Front shares in my book, this innovative approach to heating and cooling makes all-glass buildings sensible in Toledo’s cold climate. became.

Additionally, as architects such as Lacaton & Vassal have shown, transparent walls and windows are operable and adjustable, giving residents a sense of ownership in managing their own environment.

Even if glass is no longer designated as a “curative” effect, like tuberculosis sanatoria 100 years ago, clear glass continues to capture our imaginations and remains an integral part of our cities. As advances in glass surface treatment and engineering continue to transform glass as a material, the visual perception of glass, along with its cultural symbolism, is further blurred.

Aki Ishida is an architect, educator, and author who is Interim Associate Director of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design in Blacksburg, Virginia.