Design and Application
Glass as a Surface Material in Architecture
How is the evolution of advanced glass solutions transforming architects’ and designers’ perceptions of glass?
As architects and designers, we have always looked to glass to provide transparency and strength (or protection) in our applications. This has most typically come in the form of using glass to define a transparent enclosure i.e. a window, an office partition, a table top, or full glass building exteriors known as curtainwalls. These applications have historically relied on glass production methods that consisted of allowing molten glass to cool slowly on a bed of metal – a method that produces float glass. Float glass’ inherent structure and rigidity results in glass that must be held by frames or points in space to hold its weight. Typically, this meant the bigger the glass; the bigger the frame or more points of support necessary. Innovations in glass manufacturing technology have been radically altering the dimensions and physical properties of this age-old material, creating chemically toughened sheets of glass that are lighter, thinner, and optically clear with little to no visual distortion while continuing to provide exceptional surface strength. Architects and designers are now exploring ways to implement this spectacular ancient material.
I was introduced to thin, chemically strengthened glass approximately 10 years ago。 I was excited to handle the paper-thin material and know that it was, in fact, chemically strengthened glass – I had never seen anything like it。 While I was used to designing with thick, heavy pieces of glass, I was intrigued by the possibilities of extremely thin, transparent, lightweight, strengthened glass and the opportunities it lent to the architecture industry。 Since that first chance encounter, my firm has been collaborating with fabricators to explore opportunities to introduce the advanced glass solution to the architectural market。
I must say that it was fortuitous that my introduction to this glass happened the way it did. Architects like me who worked on tall core and shell tower buildings will commonly also design the high-profile elevator and lobbies of these buildings. Core and shell buildings are typically comprised of the building lobby, core infrastructure, including the elevator, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and the extensive exterior building enclosure that keeps the weather out and temperature controlled inside. It happened that I was able to introduce this material to a contact who dealt solely with elevator finishes. It took some time to figure out the specific uses and assemblies, but, ultimately, it became clear that this material was ideal for the demanding industry of elevator finishes. It made sense that a material that was extremely thin, light, and super durable would be advantageous to a space that was small, weight conscious, and gets a lot of abuse. This niche industry became a very good testing ground for the use of such a product.
, we have worked on numerous interior elevator modernizations that required a lightweight, decorative finish materials on the interior due to weight restrictions of an older elevator mechanical hoisting system。 Building owners on these projects typically want the added value of contemporary finishes without the need for rebalancing the counterweight mechanisms of their elevators。 This is where chemically toughened glass has added significant value to our projects due to its extra thinness and high-strength characteristics。 On past projects, standard float glass applications increased the weight of the elevator, which limited the other materials that we could use in a complimentary fashion in the elevator cab。 Chemically strengthened glass solves this problem。 Weight hasn’t been the only attribute that made chemically strengthened, thin glass the best material for these projects。 On most all of the projects, the protective nature of the thin glass has also added value to the aesthetic offering by permitting the use of more vulnerable materials in these high-traffic areas。 This was typically achieved by using an antiglare version of the thin glass over the desired aesthetic backing material。