Volume 27, Issue 3 - May/June 2013

No Boundaries
Interior Glass Is Set to Play an Ever-Growing Role in Architecture
by Jenna Reed

In a learning institution you’re creating building blocks that will set the future in motion, where you can not only see what is in front of you, but what lies beyond the walls, and when you look up you see pockets of blue sky. Imagine a place where glass plays a subtle yet vital role in the architecture and drives the learning experience.

Glass was infused throughout the layout of the Berkeley Law School addition in the form of skylights, walking planks and even transparent/semi-transparent wall systems that allow light to filter into two below grade levels.

And the use of glass in interior architecture goes further. At Villanova’s Falvey Library, a glass partition system takes center stage to offer a visual connection to a nearby tutoring and conference space. And in the Seidman University Hospitals Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, glass takes on a more practical purpose since it is much more difficult for germs to survive on its non-porous surface.

The use of interior glass in architecture can help bring the outdoors inside as well as increase the spread of natural light throughout a building, which can help bolster social interaction.

“The primary benefit in our work [in interior glass] is the extended connections to shared daylight,” says Michel L. Prifti, FAIA, of Philadelphia-based BLT Architects. “Beyond the glazed walls, we are more frequently including transom or sidelites in office construction.”

Sherman C. Aronson, AIA, LEED AP, also of BLT Architects, adds, “Glass has so many facets—the design can exploit its transparency, so that there is both an image or color, and the ability to see through to borrow daylight and to create interior effects. Through the use of translucency, we can obscure vision to areas that are more private, while allowing a sense of connection and perception of lighting.

“It may also provide an opaque finish on a wall, counter or interior finished facing material,” he continues. “And the use of textured glass, with a three-dimensional surface, adds activity and life to the situation and catches light in a variety of ways.”
Meanwhile, Joseph Nicola, associate principal and director of academic practice at Ratcliff in Emeryville, Calif., says the use of interior glass can help lend an atmosphere of social interaction.

“At the UC Berkeley Law School project, we were able to foster social interaction, enhance the quality of the surroundings, unifying the indoor and outdoor elements, while strengthening connections with the surrounding courtyards and campus,” says Nicola. “Interior glass enabled exciting views between the new addition and the existing building’s classrooms, creating visual interest and cohesion to students’ experiences.”

Also extolling the benefits of interior glass in architecture are officials with Paulsboro, N.J.-based McGrory Glass, a flat glass fabricator and consultant to the architectural glass industry.

“Glass provides unlimited options in colors and patterns, encases beauty and visibility, and contributes to the aesthetic disposition of the environment,” says Gary McGrory, vice president of McGrory Glass. “Warm colors and subdued tones set a mood for business in a more consultative and creative architecture, whereas bright, bold shades in health care settings can help build a positive attitude and sense of well-being,” he adds.

Projects Turning to Interior Glass
There are numerous options for incorporating interior glazing into projects. For instance, at Villanova’s Falvey Library BLT used the DIRRT glass partition system in a renovation of an entire floor into a new learning commons, according to Kevin W. Aires, AIA, LEED, BD + C of BLT Architects. DIRRT is a company that makes demountable glass partition wall systems.

“A central ‘street’ concept was developed with floor-to-ceiling glazed partitions along both sides of an entire lounge corridor providing visual connection to adjacent tutoring services and conference spaces,” says Aires. “This has created a stronger community among the different programs located in the learning commons and enlivens the whole facility.”
The company also utilized interior glazing at Revel Resort in all the office administration areas.
“With the use of film, we were able to create a sense of an open office, yet still maintain privacy within,” adds David M. Smallets, AIA, LEED AP, of BLT.

As for multi-family housing projects, Aires says, “We see growing potential for interior glazing within the club room facilities, where smaller breakout spaces can be created for private gatherings, while still allowing them to be experienced as part of the larger amenity facilities.”

Prifti, also of BLT, notes, “We are incorporating glazed walls where a visual connection—yet acoustical privacy—is required and where perimeter daylighting is intended to penetrate into the building core. This is occurring in commercial, educational and institutional market sectors.”

Further discussing what his company used in the Berkeley Law School project, Nicola, says, “The ability to bring light to the two below grade levels was paramount to the success of the project. By providing glass skylights, glass walking planks, transoms, sidelites and transparent/semi-transparent wall systems, natural light was able to filter through the occupied spaces to provide a connection to the outdoors.

“Novum was the main supplier of all the building glass systems and Teknion provided the movable interior partition system,” he adds. “We also created a dynamic and kinetic glass-enclosed central staircase that creates vertical sight-lines between floors and when illuminated, casts a lantern’s glow within and without.”

While interior glass has been utilized in warm weather climates for quite some time, Nicola says that over the last 10 to 15 years, with the advances in high-performance glass and exterior enclosures, interior glass is becoming more prevalent in cold weather climates.

McGrory Glass officials are seeing the most interior glass usage with health care facilities.

“Seidman University Hospitals Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, utilized back-coated wall cladding glass for the lobby and elevator areas,” McGrory says. “Translucent acid-etched glass [was used] for the stairwells and custom-laminated glass [was used] for the offices and patient rooms to provide privacy.”

He adds, “Every architect and designer has his or her custom signature that is applied to their creations. The common thread is a uniqueness derived from years of creative endeavor. Prestigious walls with depth and clarity are punctuated by textures and shapes. Safety and beauty are enveloped in thrilling and mesmerizing interiors where glass becomes the background for a foreground of grouped function centers.”

Interior Glass a Growing Trend Going Forward
All the officials agree that looking to the future, the usage of interior glazing in architecture is likely to continue growing.
“In our academic projects, we have proposed interior glazing systems much more often of late, especially for areas that are looking to create an open feeling to the campus community, while still maintaining an ability to close up after hours,” says Aires.
Aronson adds, “We see more use of interior glass, especially in hospitality projects, with no end in sight. And the inventiveness of the manufacturers is always astounding, leading to more unconventional uses. In particular, the ability to create custom images set into laminated glass offers endless options for creativity.”

Nicola also says he sees interior glass usage continuing to gain ground.

“With the advent of technology to offer high performance and efficient glass systems and manufacturing ability to produce glass systems which are both aesthetically beautiful, energy efficient and cost effective, there are fewer limitations and a wider array of opportunities to bring light and connectivity into buildings,” he says.

McGrory says he expects even more health care facilities to turn to interior glass in the near future.

“There is a trend to use more glass in health care facilities due to the inability of bacteria to survive on the hard, non-porous surface of glass, especially in applications such as wall cladding and marker boards,” he explains.

So whether being used for more practical purposes in health care, or to bring the outdoors in and foster an increased sense of natural light, it appears the trend toward utilizing interior glazing in architecture is poised for further growth.

Jenna Reed is a contributing editor for Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal magazine. She can be reached at and followed on LinkedIn.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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