The role that glass plays in architecture

While the use of glass has been recorded as far back as 4000BC, the use of glass in architecture was popularised in iconic style by Joseph Paxton in the creation of the Crystal Palace during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Over years, the process of using glass in the construction of buildings has been refined and here is a guide to how the material continues to play an important part of British architecture.

The Pilkington Process

Another major innovation in the use of glass in construction was formed by Pilkington and Bickerstaff in 1958. This process allowed them to create glass sheets with a uniform thickness and a flat surface, something that continues to be a crucial part in the design of most modern windows.

Why use glass?

There are a number of benefits in using glass in architectural design.  It can be made to be transparent, tinted or reflective. It can be formed in a number of ways such as blowing, drawing and pressing. Furthermore, the material is 100 per cent recyclable (such as being used as aggregate in manufacturing concrete) and it doesn’t lose its strength or functionality regardless of how many times it has been recycled.

In the UK, over a million tonnes of glass is used every year. It is often used in contrast to working with concrete, which can sometimes seem a bit more imposing. The material is also more lightweight, allowing for less pressure on the structure.

Unlike some metals, it is more resistant to the environment, so the glass won’t rust or degrade from environmental impact.

Why use it in the home?

One of the best reasons to incorporate glass in to your home design is the way it lets in natural light. It is estimated that the material lets in 80 per cent of available natural light. Aside from making a room feel more welcoming, there is also the energy saving benefit due to the fact you do not need as much electricity in order to keep rooms looking bright during the day.

There is also the fact that because glass doesn’t discolour, it is lower maintenance than other materials. While you do need to be wary of any dust or grime building up, this can be simple enough to clean either yourself or with a commercial cleaner on a regular basis.

In recent times, glass walls has been an effective way of making the interior space of a home appear larger. Interior glazing can also be used to add light to walkways and hallways within your home. Heated glass can be used as a hidden heat source, removing the need for extra heaters and potentially make your home more energy efficient.

While people typically think of windows when it comes to using glass in a house’s design, this is just one aspect where the material can be used. Functions in a house’s design that incorporate glass can include glass flooring, creating a more focal point for your home.  A glass tread on the stairs can add to the light flow and add more of a feeling of space (as well as being  very strong and durable).

Glass balconies can also be a great addition to your home, with the added benefit that you won’t obscure the view.

How to make it work

Glass can be an effective material for your design. However, it is important to have a design that considers a number of factors, such as the properties of the glass, safety and load bearings and thermal properties.

An architect needs to work closely with the client and the construction team, considering both the aesthetic quality and the practical function of the design. It is also important that the design meets UK building standards as well as meeting energy efficiency requirements. Like a lot of things, it is a balance- you want a design that has the look and style that you want, while at the same time being safe and practical.

Talk to us

To find out more about how we can incorporate glass into your home design, contact Agora Architects today and we will be happy to discuss your needs in more detail.