Spring 2004


Designing with Decorative Glass
Trends Highlight New Innovative Technologies
by Rick Wallace

Glass has much to offer architects, both artistically and structurally. It can assume any appearance, fulfill many functions and is capable of great strength and versatility. The trend toward the increased use of glass for both exterior and interior applications is global, as architects and designers continue to push the envelope by using glass in non-traditional ways. In response to this increased demand, a rebirth in the usage of decorative glass has emerged with new advancements in technology that have opened the door to endless design possibilities.

Creative Expressions
In years past, clear glass was used to join the interior of a space with the exterior world. However, the concept of using decorative glass as a personal and creative expression has transcended traditional usage. Today, repetitive silkscreen printed patterns heighten interest in building facades, digital design processing personalizes kitchen cabinets and shower doors and customized wall-cladding applications make bold statements with bright colors and reflective pigments. 

Designing with decorative glass is on an upward trend as a result of advances in technology that make it possible for designers, architects and consumers to create space that reflects individual messages or moods. Transforming ordinary flat glass applications to create subtle privacy and add mellow light to a room aside, the importance of decorative glass in comparison with other building materials is fascinating.

Digital Decorating 
One intriguing example of how technology is changing the ways decorative glass is used is the debut of DecoTherm™, a glass decorating process that uses patented digital technology created by our company, IIMAK, of Amherst, N.Y. Low- or high-resolution design images are printed onto a unique ceramic decal substrate with a ceramic frit based ink to create a transfer decal. The image is then transferred to the glass using a special adhesive and tempered to make a permanent image. Images can be created up to 400 dpi, which offers one of the highest resolution solutions in the marketplace. 

“The inherent technological advances in the DecoTherm process offer detail and styling options that are unmatched in today’s decorative glass marketplace,” said Karen Clemens, senior marketing manager at IIMAK. “And because each panel of glass is heat treated, the result is a durable image that resists fingerprinting and offers ease of cleaning. Furthermore, unlike traditional sandblasting, the look of etched, frosted glass can be achieved without compromising the strength of the glass.” 

DecoTherm also paves the way for economies of scale in the decorative glass market. No minimum orders are required, so each design can be different and very detailed. 

“With no capital investment or commitment required from our channel partners, the availability to the end-user has increased exponentially,” said Shawn Donovan, architectural marketing manager at Oldcastle Glass (one of two companies licensed to manufacture the patented technology; Arch Aluminum and Glass is the second).

Traditional Thinking
Decorative glass in the design of commercial and retail buildings to create appealing and attractive space is becoming increasingly widespread. Setting moods in spaces such as shops, restaurants, airports, office buildings and hotels, decorative glass, through its textures and patterns, defines areas, diffuses sunlight and creates intimacy while still letting in light. Enhancing the beauty, originality and quality of projects, new technological advancements of customization, in the decorative glass industry have architects, building owners and designers rethinking the use of more traditional materials in favor of glass and its inherent beauty.

Traditionally, decorative glass products that provided an increase in aesthetic value tended to lack in functional and structural applications, limiting their use in building design. Today, however, new advancements in laminated glazing, for example, help achieve beautiful design and color in projects, with the additional benefits of strength and durability.

Adding Color
To achieve color in laminated, decorative glass products, colored plastic interlayers can be used alone or combined to produce an array of transparent and translucent colors. From bright, vibrant colors to soft pastels, innovative color sequences can be customized to match any taste. Patterns and metallic interlayers can be integrated into a laminated system, offering even greater design flexibility. And, unlike other methods of coloring glass, the interlayers in some laminate systems are made with heat and light-stable pigments, instead of dyes, to produce true and long-lasting colors.

Color and design can often have a dramatic effect on human attitudes. In an age when the pace of life is ever increasing, Americans are running at a higher speed than ever before and feeling more stress and tension in their daily lives. Therefore, people are seeking environments that can bring peace, relaxation and tranquility to their lives, and provide light, open and fluid spaces. 

“With new advancements in decorative glass color and design, architects and designers are given the freedom to design and think about glass performing functions and roles never before possible,” said Donovan.

Residential applications are soaring as decorative glass options become more easily accessible and affordable. Shower doors, entry doors and sidelites, cabinet doors, fireplace screens, furniture and glass staircases are giving homes a new look as imaginations are ignited by the possibility of expressing personalized style with unique 

Homeowners have realized that glass block is no longer the only way to cast transparent light. While still used extensively in residential applications, primarily basements, options with sandblasting and colors add further decorative elements to the standard blocks or bricks of glass. Repetitive silkscreen motifs, digitally designed graphics, etching and laminating have all contributed to the surge in the usage of glass as a material to form unique spaces.

With an estimated global market value of close to $1 billion, the decorative glass market, fueled by emerging technology, is playing an increasingly important role in the design of commercial and residential spaces. 

“Infinite treatment options have broadened the use of glass from merely creating an invisible edge between two spaces to giving us a blank canvas on which we can create our own works of art,” said Donovan. 

Architect's Guide to Glass & Metal

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