One of the most common themes we see in modern architecture is the use of light and space to create a feeling of wellbeing and comfort. No surprise then, that glass is still one of the most important construction materials to use, as it allows natural light to flood through a property. Over the past decade or so, glass has undergone something of a revolution in terms of the properties that it can now offer. Understanding the possibilities that modern glass processing now provides, is, therefore, key to great design.
The first innovation is perhaps the advance in the toughened laminated glass process. Using modern interlayers to sandwich together two or more sheets of toughened glass, we have been able to create lighter, stronger glass panels. Critically, this has allowed us to increase the size of panels, allowing the architect to create taller, wider, more seamless designs which add more natural light than we once thought possible.
However, we can now do so much more. Glass can now provide added security, privacy and even sound attenuation – as well as great looks and protection from the weather.
One of the most popular innovations of the last decade or so is switchable LCD glass, or privacy glass, as it is often known. Privacy glass is created using an interlayer through which an LCD electric current can be passed. When the current is switched off, the glass will form an opaque panel, but when the current is switched on, the glass becomes transparent, letting in light and providing a clear view. The current which makes it transparent is low on energy consumption and is controlled by a simple button, or even using an app. Privacy glass can be installed anywhere that a current can be applied, and is therefore becoming increasingly popular for defining spaces within a more open plan setting.
In studio apartments, for example, switchable glass is now often used to divide the sleeping area from the more free-flowing living, dining and cooking zones. At night, the glass panel can be switched off to create a separate room, but during the day it can be switched on to allow light to flood all the way through a property, making the overall footprint feel larger. In corporate settings switchable glass is popular for boardrooms, changing meeting areas from private and confidential to open and inclusive at the touch of a button. Increasingly, we are seeing glass like ESG Switchable being used in shower screens and on exterior windows in place of curtains or shutters.
You may wish to add colour to glass, and we can also achieve this by using interlayers. There is a wide range of Vanceva coloured interlayers which we can use to create large panels of coloured glass. These can be used to great effect in both domestic and commercial settings. A perfectly white interior can be transformed as daylight through the glass bathes the walls and ceilings in subtle colour, the form of which will change with the movement of the sun.
Glass can, of course, also be etched or painted, and it is still one of the most beautiful, practical and hardwearing materials to use to add a pop of colour to splashbacks or wall panelling. One very cost-effective option is a simple satin or frosted interlayer, which will provide permanent privacy but still allow a lot of light to pass through. Interlayers can also be used to encapsulate motifs, decorative films or even fabrics – there are a great many options for the designer.
Advances in processing toughened laminated glass have also allowed us to create more architectural features. In modern building design, architects are using glass for more structural features such as beams, stair treads, balustrades and floors. By using thicker panels of glass and more robust interlayers, we can encapsulate fixtures and fittings such as bolts, so that the head of the bolt can be laminated into the stair tread then fixed to the wall. This approach can be used to make the stairs themselves appear to float. Many designers are also opting for glass balustrades on staircases with mezzanine walkways also being constructed in glass.
We can also address the modern urban problem of noise pollution, using glass processing technology. A specialist sound attenuation interlayer can be used to help reduce noise, whether it emanates from outside or inside the property. Occupants can then each enjoy their own choice of music, or you can create a quieter study area, so adults, as well as children, can be seen and not heard. Neither are you restricted to a single purpose interlayer, as it is entirely possible to add sound attenuation, added strength, privacy and colour to a single panel, using multiple interlayers. The permutations are numerous and allow a great deal of choice.
As designers and architects dare to dream even more creatively, glass processing has kept pace, making it possible for their concepts to be realised. Glass has always been the architect’s and the designer’s friend. With the latest developments, increased versatility and greater possibilities that glass processing now offers, we can be confident that it’s a friendship that will certainly stand the test of time.