A recent article in CNN discusses the change in attitude that architects are now pacing on Glass in building design and construction. While glass is a beautiful medium that makes for some wonderful glittery and shiny edifices, it is also costly to maintain and costly to heating and cooling which adds to the general pollution that is generated by the energy used to heat and cool the interiors of these buildings. Did I mention the cleaning costs? Every pane of glass needs to be cleaned regularly by high rise window cleaners, that work daily all year round.
The development of new technologies and materials in the middle of the 20th century enabled architects to design entire buildings covered with glass. The material is cheaper than alternatives, easier and quicker to build. It also launched a global market for construction glass, and an industry sector to fulfill the constant demand for this material.
The new concept that architects are starting to look at are insulated paneling that offers a similar shiny exterior, is malleable more than glass and structurally stronger, which is the use of stainless steel and solid iron panels. Ken Shuttlesworth, a British architect, and designer of the famous London “Gherkin,” is the man behind 5 Broadgate in London, a building that shines like glass and provides much higher insulation while retaining the beauty of the exterior design.
Another issue with glass is how it impacts society. Large glass panes are synonymous with wealth, with cities such as Shanghai and Dubai are built on glass edifices. This leads to higher maintenance costs and in the case of Dubai extreme cooling solutions. Where the world is seeking ways to reduce costs and save on energy consumption, glass is the biggest enemy to this direction. Glass is impersonal, it opens up spaces and makes for an absolute light space. Architects are known for their play on light in spaces, and the large pane from the 1950’s postmodern style gave them the medium to play with.
Shuttlesworth said that another issue is with material science, where glass has reached its current zenith, and he doesn’t foresee any Significant changes to how glass is manufactured, and this opens the way for a change in materials used for modern building. Architecture goes through periods, where each period is signified by a change in material and design. The glass edifice period is drawing to a close, architects, like artists are getting bored with this medium and are now seeking a new medium to use. So, replacing the glass with a stronger, shinier and more reliable as well as the cost-effective material is an obvious direction to go. The costs of construction might go up slightly, as designs become more Avant Garde, but the end result is a cheaper and cleaner society, without losing the beauty of the design.
The current trend is to combine glass with other media to project amazing designs and beauty that captivate the mind and awe the eye.
The bottom line for glass and the glass industry Is not good. Sure, we will always use glass in designing buildings, but the amount of glass used will drop radically over the next decade, which signals alarm bells for this industrial sector and anyone invested in it.
Ken Shuttlesworth’s new building, 5 Broadgate in London. Credit: John Madden/Make Architects