Volume 35, Number 4, April 2000


Going Against the Grain

Architects and Designers Approach Glass Through a New Light

by Ellen Giard


For hundreds of years, windows have helped open up and shed light into rooms and surroundings. As the industry has become more advanced technologically, design and uses for glass have seen considerable growth in recent years. Rather than a simple square window for the kitchen and a mirror for the bathroom, architects and designers are finding innovative ways to add glass to residential and commercial projects.


Shedding Some Light

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Glass blocks can be used in a variety of both commercial and residential projects, such as kitchen counters and islands.

Jim Burton, an architect and partner with Carter + Burton Architecture P.L.C., in Berryville, Va., has used glass techniques in several contemporary projects. Large panoramic windows, custom shapes, such as triangles and trapezoids, as well as patterned glass, are a few design techniques requested by clients. Page Carter designed one such project from the firm, the Lilly of the Valley Cottage. In the house, a ‘gallery’ that serves as a transition space between the inside and outside is enclosed in floor length windows. “People want to connect with nature, to bring the outside inside,” says Burton. “If you offer big windows and run them from the floor to
the ceiling, you can create this connection.”

Burton also points out that he finds more and more of his clients searching for ways to cut back on high-energy costs and utilize natural light. Low-E glass and argon-filled insulating glass are two common choices to help cut costs. One such effort by the firm is the Baltimore Row House. Designed with the clients’ love for natural light in mind, the house will be the first of its kind on the East Coast, with the back wall and roof remodeled into a structural glass wall system by Pilkington. In addition, a glass ceiling allows light to reach well into the middle of the house. Suspended glass shelves in the kitchen and pivoting, translucent privacy screens are other features that enhance natural light in a home.

Robert Harrison, an architect from Seattle, also uses glass in avant-garde fashions in the homes of his clients. Harrison explains that since about six months out of the year are rainy in Seattle, clients are searching continuously for ways to bring in more light. One way of doing this is to create glass floors and stairs. Creating floors with plank glass by Circle Redmont Inc. allows the light to reach more areas of the home. Harrison has also designed a glass cupola. In addition to the roof and ceiling, all four sides are entirely glass, allowing more light to reflect down onto the home’s central hallway.

“I also like projects that use glass in double ways,” says Harrison. “For example, solar panels integrated with clear glass can be used as a skylight.”


Beyond the Window

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Plank glass can be used to create stairs and floors, allowing more natural light to reach rooms below.

Architectural Glass Design Inc. (AGD), located in Napa, Calif., specializes in art glass designs, searching for innovative ways to use light, color, texture and form in architecture. Founded by Gordon Huether in 1987, the company caters to residential and commercial projects including work for the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. and the Entertainment Partners Building in Burbank, Calif.

“People use glass when they want to create a focal point or enhance and beautify their environment,” explains Huether. “Glass can be used [commercially and residentially] in many areas, including sculptures, walls and doors.” For example, the outside of the Entertain-ment Partners Building, features an art glass mural. The piece integrates art, glass and commercial glazing to visually reinforce the building’s

Both residential and commercial projects can feature glass in many unique styles. For the Oracle Corporation in Redwood City, Calif., AGD encased the lobby in glass, and added decorative winding, glass towers through the lobby. Christine Stone, the AGD Design Director, designed the towers reminiscent of the nearby San Francisco Bay tides. One San Francisco residence displays several decorated windows much like the homes interior. Sand-etched panes, for instance, provide natural light, yet still maintain privacy. Sand blasted glass patterns and textures eliminate the need for window blinds and drapes. “Textured glass can be used anywhere glass is used, and it helps to add visual interest. Textured glass also manipulates light, so you can play with natural light patterns as well,” says Huether.

Making a Statement

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The Entertainment Partners Building features an art glass panel seen from both the inside and outside.

Commercial projects, however, don’t necessarily incorporate glass into their design schemes for the same purposes as a residence. A company’s foyer or atrium, for instance, represents a first impression to new clients and visitors. Huether points out that businesses often include glass in these areas in order to make a statement out of the impression it offers. “There have been so many commercial glass advancements, such as tinting and glazing, that more businesses are using it in their office schemes,” says Huether. “It also allows for more light.”


New Ideas

Another architectural design technique involving glass, is the use of glass blocks. Commercially, glass blocks are often used in partitions, walls and handrails. “For one project, we used glass blocks as a portion of a conference room,” says Brian Wright, president of Seattle Glass Block. “Glass blocks are good for areas like that, because they are good noise barriers,” he adds. Glass blocks have also been used to create exterior building walls as well. In homes, they can be used to create shower walls, kitchen counters and foyers. “Clients like glass blocks, because they not only allow and enhance natural light, but at the same time ensure privacy,” adds Wright.


Lighting Things Up

wpe19.jpg (10176 bytes)Ruby triangles suspended in etched glass create a clear pattern of light and also maintain privacy.

The incorporation of glass in architecture is pushing its way to the head of the design line. One reason is that individuals continuously seek ways to conserve energy. Thanks to concepts such as glass walls, floors and ceilings, thousands of people are choosing natural light as an energy alternative. Interior decorators and artists are taking simple windows and doors and using glass to add creativity, color and fresh ideas to homes and offices. In addition, commercial and residential buildings are using the uniqueness of glass to express a visual statement. According to Huether, the popularity of glass will continue to grow.

“As more and more people become aware of it [glass design] they too will use it and more possibilities will be available.” Imagine that, the simple element of glass, yet so much more.


Copyright 2000 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.