We start part two of this fascinating feature about the, some would say faltering, relationship between architects and glass with positive vibes from two well respected architects of international renown, two very much admired pattern makers of this planet.
Now if you listen to Ken Shuttleworth you can have your head turned and get this sinking feeling that glass is not as necessary in buildings as it once was. Let me put it to you straight dear reader, Ken is in the minority of one, perhaps two. However, make no mistake; it’s good to have intelligible dissident voices from time to time as it keeps you on your toes. There’s an old Indian saying that states “If fifty million people say a stupid thing, its still, a stupid thing.” Back in October at glasstec in Dϋsseldorf when Ken’s obstinacy about glass in architecture was put to Professor Stefan Behling, he rolled his eyes and promptly kissed his teeth Caribbean style, (if you know what I mean). Ian Ritchie was equally disparaging “Perhaps Ken did not quite understand what he was doing with glass for the past 20 years. Now that better and serious understanding of physics (and chemistry) is required, reverting to brick and windows merely indicates a paucity of knowledge and knowing how to think beyond the image”. D’you know what, we’ve always had a soft spot for Ian Ritchie.
“Fascination is within the simple yet complex interplay between opacity, reflection and transparency, which evolves according to the incidence of light on the glass. The different properties glass has, makes it a fascinating and favourable material in architecture”.
But it’s good to have dissident voices, people can listen and then judge for themselves after weighing up the pros and cons on what is best for them. You can never please all of the people all of the time it’s true, but the fabulous scientific brains in this wonderful glass industry have got us moving forward in the right direction, albeit a little too slow for some people. Our point is perspicuous and really very simple, glass is not the weakest link in the building envelope, on the contrary, it is potentially the strongest.
So as a pick-me-up, a tonic designed to invigorate you and put a spring in your step (not to mention the fact that we couldn’t find anyone in Europe outside of MAKE Architects that was advocating using less glass in architecture). You can expect an upswing in the use of glass in architecture, because the innovative technology is already here. I quote from that great orator the ex-President of Guardian Industries Russell Ebeid once again who many years ago said “the glass industry wasn’t waiting for Kyoto to tell us to be energy efficient, we were already there, they just didn’t know about it”. Well they are getting to know about it now hence the reasons to be cheerful. And using the analogy of a lovers tiff, the making up is real good.
On behalf of you dear reader, we strolled across London (in the pouring rain) to the office of Zaha Hadid and put a couple of questions to Bidisha Sinha, Lead Architect at ZHA. Bidisha worked with Zaha on the 2011 Stirling Prize Winning Evelyn Grace Academy in London. Indeed all of the photos in this article are of the Evelyn Grace Academy, the photos taken by Hufton+Crow and supplied to IGS by Zaha Hadid Architects.
IGS: How do you feel about glass as a structural material?
Bidisha: Glass is currently only used in a structural capacity as part of curtain glazing systems. It would be very exciting to see if this can be extended to true structural applications within the built form such as load bearing columns and beams or shell structures. Of course this would have to be a cost effective option in the long term. Applications such as even a simple walk-on glazed terrace come at a huge premium as compared to more traditional building materials such as steel, wood or concrete. There is also a lack of enough industry wide testing of glass as a material for such applications. Both of the above reasons limit the design applications for glass in the contemporary architectural environment.
IGS: Does glass have the characteristics and performance you require?
Bidisha: As mentioned above, while glass has moved up in performance in its traditional applications in terms of safety and energy specifications, there has been very little innovation of using it beyond planar surfaces. As a material the lack of malleability is a significant drawback in terms of incorporating glazing in a lot of contemporary designs which tend to be more soft-form. This is relegating glass back to being used only in those areas which need ‘windows’ or a large area of visual porosity. Materials such as fibre glass, resin and even concrete have seen far more innovation and have become far more exciting as building materials when compared to conventional glass. The appetite for large expanses of flat glazed facades has diminished quite substantially.
IGS: What more would you like from architectural glass?
Bidisha: In order for architectural glass to be considered as a material instead of an infill, there has to be far more flexibility in its application. This could extend for example to it being able to become structures which can perform under both compression and tension without the need for intermediate steel frameworks.
IGS: What does the term “high performance façade” mean to you?
Bidisha: “High performance façade” as a term is redundant in today’s built environment. It is more important for the whole building to be high-performance and the façade forms part of that story. A high performance building needs to fulfil criteria’s of functional and experiential spaces which will endure over a long period of time. This necessitates that all the materials used are sustainable and stand up to the life cycle cost of the building.
IGS: Are you specifying more or less glass in your designs today than you did previously?
Bidisha: Glass continues to be specified in most of our projects as it is still the main material for areas which require visual transparency. However it will be fair to say that it is not seen as a primary design element but more as an in-fill element. The formal definition of the building is achieved through materials which allow for the extra level of complexities in geometry. This is mostly due to the fact that in the same application glass would be far more expensive with far more limitations both in terms of construction and long term maintenance.
Food for thought from Bidisha who says, at the offices of Zaha Hadid glass is considered an in-fill element, it needs to perform well under compression and tension, without the need for steel frameworks.
It’s also stated that the appetite for large flat glazed facades has diminished? Goodness me all of a sudden I’m hungry, Apple anyone? There are buildings being constructed now made almost 100% with glass, not just the “windows”. The multi-functional characteristics of architectural glass make this a reality today, so there are already glass buildings that render the need for a steel skeleton redundant just ask any of the 4 most influential technology companies in the US, Amazon, Apple, Facebook & Google who are all planning headquarters that are awash with glistening glass. Granted, this is a technology in its infancy and therefore hugely expensive plus the fact that those 4 companies are breaking down all barriers resulting in new frontiers, but hey, the technology is out there.
To give an adequate account of all the cutting edge glass technologies available would take many pages, we have merely touched upon a couple of essential points here. There is a need for expository information to reach the right ears quickly. It is disastrous for the glass industry to have all these solutions and technologies yet there are so many architects still unaware, they have too narrow a conception of the flexibility of the material and the range of technologies available. To keep the fire burning in a relationship, excitement is a good thing. The glass industry has exciting and innovative solutions enough to thrill any architect and keep them happy, but there is a need to communicate this knowledge with a view to, and an emphasis upon its application.