Volume 29, Issue 1 - Spring 2015

From the Editor

Art’s Heart for Glass
by Nick St. Denis

Just minutes before settling in to write this very column, it hit me while I was flipping through a new book. The book, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, had found its way to my inbox earlier in the week. Written by architect Marc Kushner, it is a compilation of 100 very unique architectural structures from around the world, with pictures and short descriptions of the respective projects.

While thumbing through the pages quickly, my glass-seeking radar was tuned up to about a 9.5. I soon came across what appeared to be the glassiest project in the book—the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, by the firm Sanaa. All of the building’s exterior walls, and most of its interior walls, are made up of large lites of glass.

My eye first caught the photo. Then, reading the description, something clicked. A certain word popped off the page. The word was “museum.” And I realized I had been hearing (and reading) that word all too often lately.

In January, I had a chance to speak with architect Bjarke Ingels after a press preview of the “Hot to Cold” exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. That museum is currently displaying 60 of his firm BIG’s projects.

Upon asking about some of BIG’s unique applications of glass, he pointed me to a recently completed project of a Swiss watch museum that utilized large, column-less glass walls. These glass walls acted both as a visual element, due to their transparency, and a structural one, due to their strength and curvature. It was a really neat project.

A month later, I began working on a feature story about an expansion of the Corning Museum of Glass, which added a large, opaque glass box to house a new exhibition. The new wing utilized massive lites of glass weighing as much as 5,000 pounds apiece. Skylights were carefully specified to safely distribute the right amount of light to the art inside. The architect, Thomas Phifer, told me the glass façade served as a “vitrine” to frame the art inside.

I recently completed another feature about the Harvard Art Museums, which added a massive skylight to bring light into its courtyard, and glass walls surrounding the courtyard itself pull the light further into the building. Again, the glass used for this museum project—particularly on the roof—was fine-tuned, and tuned some more, until the project team found just the right combination that would allow for the perfect lighting, and also protection, of the art on display.

Payette principal Charles Klee, whose firm teamed with Renzo Piano Buiding Workshop for the design, told me glass was “a natural choice” for the museum and “breathed new life” in it.

And finally, in this issue, you’ll see that our project focus is on glass stairs and walkways. The project that ended up getting featured? You guessed it: a museum. Grimshaw Architects was on that project, the Queens Museum in New York.

Each of the architects to whom I spoke personally about these projects stressed how crucial a role the glass played. Whether it was providing just the right amount of natural light, creating a sense of “openness” for visitors, providing a certain aesthetic, or serving as a decorative element—the glass made it happen.

I admit, I don’t have much of a background in art, and I still have a whole lot to learn about glass. But I’m starting to think that, maybe more often than not, the two go hand-in-hand.


Nick St. Denis is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal. He can be reached at nstdenis@glass.com.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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