There’s something about the appeal of glass. It can be manipulated into almost any shape, given any color, and used in applications from mirrors to expansive balcony windows and foot bridges. As an architectural staple, this is one material that’s as enduring as it is fresh and modern.
New technology is one reason why it remains as relevant today as it was at any time in the past, and that’s always changing too. Here are some pioneering examples of what’s happening right now:
Throwing Architecture a Curve
A flat pane of glass is nothing extraordinary. But manipulate it into gentle curves, and you’ve got something interesting. Bent glass, as it’s also called, isn’t new, but it is new in terms of adaptability. And it’s finding its way into design for a different reasons.
Aesthetics is probably the first thing that comes to mind with a curved-glass building facade. Although curves have been effected in different ways, true curved or bent glass has been a rarity in construction. Another benefit of bent glass is the potential thermal performance, explains Architectural Record. It’s a wide-open landscape right now, with fabrication and design experiments that feature bending and strengthening techniques, coatings, and even silk screening.
Two Skins are Better Than One
The glass skyscraper is a paragon of city architecture, and advancing technology is taking skyscrapers to new heights. Double glass curtain wall facades make buildings stronger, and the reflective appearance gives them a unique, almost metallic aesthetic appeal.
In fact, the second tallest skyscraper in the world, Shanghai Tower (2,073 feet tall), is an example of “double skin” design, explains Architectural Record. The two curtains of glass aren’t sandwiched together. The space between is wide enough to serve as a lunch area, and also helps improve building insulation.
New Technology is Clearly Better
Glass is a perennial favorite, and in some cases a necessity. So it makes perfect sense that new ways to improve glass are a priority. Such was the case in the 1970s, with its energy crisis, and the resulting low-e coatings, says Architectural Record, just as the idea of double-pane glass became common in the 20th century.
A newer bit of technology is VIG or Vacuum-Insulating Glazing. VIG technology makes two panes of glass as efficient as three, but without the gas in between. So a lighter window can perform just as well as a heavier one, if not better. And if you really want to think about something incredible, consider this: A group of MIT scientists are developing coatings for glass that function as virtually invisible solar panels.
To be sure, glass is one of the most versatile building materials on Earth. And instead of gradually finding its way into obsolescence, like a lot of materials do, it keeps reinventing itself time and again. Tomorrow’s windows and foot bridges might not look like the ones in use today, because architectural styles evolve, too. But chances are they’ll still be made from this same material that was invented thousands of years ago.
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