Volume 25, Issue 5 - September/October 2011


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 as possible.

“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,” says Finn.

As far as other trends, Australia is also moving to more energy-efficient glazing.

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 America.

“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 & Metal magazine.


Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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