Closer than You Think
Australia May Seem Like a Far-Off Place,
But You’ll Find that the Glazing Similarities are Many
by Ellen Rogers
Sooner or later the glazing trends rooted in European designs
cross the pond and make their way into North American mainstream architecture.
Curved glass, large glass openings and the most recently discussed double-skin
facades (see related article on page 8 of the July/August issue), saw
popularity in Europe before coming to America.
And in another corner of the globe, thousands and thousands of miles away
from the North American mainland, another country’s glass industry is
quickly evolving into a significant architectural venue. From energy and
environmental awareness to increased transparency and large glass sizes,
the trends and demands of the Australian glass industry are not unlike
those of the United States and Europe.
The Architects’ Guide to Glass spoke with Joe Finn, managing director
for Bent & Curved Glass Pty Ltd. in Revesby, New South Wales, Australia.
Finn says in many ways the trends in Australia have reflected the changes
of Europe as well as those of the United States.
“We have seen a move to more safety glass and thicker glass,” says Finn.
“The growth of structural interlayers is making a big impact at the moment,
especially for balustrades as it can remove the need for a handrail and
offer a more unobstructed view.”
“Innovative designers push
the envelope of possibility and the glass industry is challenged to respond
to achieve greater thermal and structural performance; more complex shapes
in glass; fewer connections and less structure to support the glass; and
the integration of other decorative materials with and within the glass.”
– Joe Finn, Bent + Curved Glass
For architects, he says, it’s all about glass that’s as large and as big
“Architects are looking for larger and bigger—sizes, spans, less structure,
fewer fittings and hence more transparency,” says Finn. “Innovative designers
push the envelope of possibility and the glass industry is challenged
to respond to achieve greater thermal and structural performance; more
complex shapes in glass; fewer connections and less structure to support
the glass; and the integration of other decorative materials with and
within the glass.”
Likewise, the trend toward structural glazing is also growing. Finn says
while common in commercial applications,this trend is moving into a secondary
stage for use in projects that include residential and light commercial.
“Stair treads, balustrades, floor panels, pool windows and wet edges,
roof lights and domes in multilaminate make-ups
incorporating combinations of annealed, heat-strengthened and tempered
glass with standard and specialized structural interlayers are now more
commonly specified with support from engineers and glass manufacturers
making these previously
exclusive products accessible and affordable for a wider range of projects,”
As far as other trends, Australia is also moving to more energy-efficient
Geoff Rankin, one of Solutia’s Australian sales managers, says current
trends are focused on high-performance glass and glazing.
“That would include energy-efficient glass and glazing as well as increased
use of acoustic laminates.”
Finn adds, “Legislation is still weak for this push, thus the industry
has a vast overcapacity compared with demand.”
But the industry is hard at work to change that.
“The development of coated and/or tinted glass and its combination into
a double- or triple-glazed unit and coupled with thermal frames are positioning
glass to be a solution to the energy puzzle,” says Finn. “People don’t
want to work or live in windowless boxes and crave natural light in and
views out, so glass has to evolve to meet these demands and not have a
negative effect on the thermal performance of the building.”
This ties right into one challenge the industry is facing—maximizing glazing
to allow in light and views out while still achieving higher levels of
the required thermal performance.
Finn says the awareness of each building’s carbon footprint is also growing.
“The cradle-to-grave lifecycle will become more important in the years
to come for many building products and structures,” he says.
Australia is also facing a number of challenges, not unlike those of North
“The effect of imports, mainly from China, has grown in the last number
of years with many now importing bulk glass and finished products into
the market,” says Finn. “This is not only happening within the industry,
but also by our traditional customers now importing glass themselves.”
Rankin adds, “Other trends which aren’t so good for local industry include
the level of import competition for large-scale building projects where
a lot of work has been lost overseas due in part to a very high Australian
dollar. This even extends to façades. This is why local manufacturers
are working hard to bring greater value to the market place, enabling
higher performance products into market segments such as residential.”
And just as the devastation and, ultimately, awareness brought on in North
America as a result of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, glazing
codes and requirements in Australia have also been impacted as a result
of similar occurrences.
“Recent cyclones in northern coastal areas of Australia have seen a review
of the glazing requirements of these areas,” says Finn. “At present, this
is causing debate and I would expect more stringent glazing requirements
to come into effect in the short to medium term.”
He adds, “Bushfires, which affected many homes, have also seen a review
of the glazing requirements for areas prone to these events. We have seen
the development of new products and the increased use of safety glass
to help protect homes in the event of a bushfire.”
And when it comes to aesthetics, architects in Australia have the same
interests as those here—they all want to add visual appeal. Decorative
glazing is one way they are doing just that.
“There has been a growing trend for encapsulating decorative materials
within glass: natural materials, such as flowers and bark; man-made materials,
such as metal meshes, fabric and paper; graphics, such as digital images
and photographic images; as well as colors,” says Finn. “These allow the
functional qualities of glass—safety, durability and buildability—to be
combined with the decorative application.”
He says the current growth for this market is in commercial applications
as well as high-end residential. Not unlike the North American environment,
though, he adds, “These trends inevitably filter down to more widespread
use as market awareness grows and manufacturers become more comfortable
with new techniques and methods.”
Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass &
Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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