The presentation by James O’Callaghan, director of Eckersley O’Callaghan at the Glass Association of North America’s Building Envelope Contractors Conference in March was both enlightening and exasperating, and it detailed the inspirational and the insurmountable.
In a thought-provoking presentation, O’Callaghan chronicled the growth trajectory of some of the projects he has done. He discussed the creation of the first Apple stores and the advancement of technology, which evolved from structures made of many panels of glass to the Apple store in Istanbul made of just nine lites.
Now, I was a late convert to Apple, but they are so good, and their products so amazingly sturdy and intuitive, that I am stupid for being so late to realize it. And there are two things I love about the Steve Jobs-now-Tim Cook enterprise: Apple’s products and how the company has continued to challenge the glass industry.
Apple challenged the specialty glass manufacturers, and this eventually led to the advancement of Gorilla Glass—Corning’s thin yet electrically-conductive glass. Apple has done so with the architectural glass industry, too, and O’Callaghan explained the process.
The company wanted massive continuous expanses of glass—both for the Apple stores and for its new headquarters in Palo Alto (an effort, by the way, that is going to require more than 400 glaziers working
simultaneously to complete).
Anyway, Apple wanted what didn’t exist. And when a company with $178 billion in its bank account wants something, someone is sure to try and get it for them. Yet, creating the machinery for a float line that could churn out these large lites on spec was something no American or European company was willing to tackle. Evidently, the “if you build it, they will come” mentality does not extend to incredibly huge investments.
So who did it? O’Callaghan explained that a Chinese company he did not name created the machinery, got it running and produced the ginormous lites successfully. That machinery was eventually sold to seele, which is using it to this day. Apple’s CEO Cook even made a field trip to Germany to see the manufacturing in action.
The fact that no other companies are looking at creating these large panels is partially a sign of the financial times, but also, I fear, a myopic view. “Why aren’t we making big glass here?” asked Mic Patterson, vice president of strategic development for the Enclos Advanced Technology Studio, during his presentation at Glass Expo West ’15 in Irvine, Calif. (turn to page 56 to read more).
Pretty good question. Here’s my theory: Most game-changing technology is incredibly expensive when it first comes to market. Think back to telephones, VHS, Betamax and high-definition television—all new technologies are expensive, and early adaptors pay more, like Apple undoubtedly is for its massive glass.
But a funny thing happens once such a product is introduced. New products begat new users in an unending cycle of more users, leading to lower prices, leading to more users. And eventually these technologies are used by almost everyone until they are replaced.
People like O’Callaghan and Patterson believe there is a pent-up demand for this type of glass and that, free from the constraints of obtaining it, many architects will use it in designs. Just having a plant here would decrease the cost that comes from shipping significantly.
Apple has been a harbinger of both industrial and architectural design since its beginnings. Let’s not be short-lited. Large glass is coming as sure as the iPhone 7 is already on the drawing board.
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