Material focus: innovation in glass

In the midst of a global pandemic, the architectural and aesthetic qualities of glass are more transparent than ever. We check out five projects showcasing innovative glass features in architecture and interiors.


2011, the annual NBS BIM Report recorded BIM adoption at just 13%, with 43% unaware of the technology’s potential. Today, based on a survey of more than 1,000 industry professionals, some 73% of firms are now using BIM, while just 1% are unsure of what it offers.

While BIM has helped to improve communication and collaboration between stakeholders, there is still room for improvement. According to a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Civil Engineers and ALLPLAN, organisations face a variety of issues when using BIM, including unexpected design changes (55%), exchanging information between parties (45%), and incompatible software (43%).

These problems are, in part, caused by the wide range of software available – according to Newforma’s The State of Technology: AEC Firms report, there are seven BIM applications frequently used across thearchitecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, and many more niche tools. While an architectural firm involved in a project may work in Revit, the structural engineer may prefer to use Tekla, and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineers may use Navisworks, which causes issues to arise when sharing files.

Casa Etérea, Mexico

Credit: Casa Etérea

Casa Etérea, or ‘ethereal house’, is a contemporary, eco-friendly one-bedroom house resting on the slopes of the extinct volcano Palo Huérfano in Mexico, near to the city of San Miguel de Allende. The house was masterminded by owner-designer Prashant Ashoka as a writer’s retreat and – as of November 2020 – a rentable holiday home.

Inspired by the concept of ‘emotional architecture’ coined by Mexican architect Luis Barragán, Ashoka made innovative use of glass to both blend into and form a relationship with the arid landscape around the house.

The house is clad entirely in mirrored glass, allowing the structure to reflect the scenery around it, whether it’s blending into the sky at night or reflecting the surrounding rocky outcrops by day.

Most modern mirrored architectural projects are built using stainless steel sheets, but Ashoka’s choice of glass –in collaboration with local glass and mirror designer Oskar Chertudi Maya – serves a functional as well as aesthetic purpose. While standard mirrored steel sheets pose a collision risk for confused birds, Casa Etérea’s glass sheets are coated in a patterned ultraviolet layer that is visible to birds while undetectable to the human eye.

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Spångapublic art installation, Sweden

Credit: Folkform

Swedish design studio Folkform was commissioned by municipal public art fund Stockholm Konst to create a large mural for an indoor public swimming pool in the Stockholm suburb of Spånga.

The mural is created from more than 1,000 individual pieces including brick, ceramic tile and vintage handmade glass blocks sourced from a nearby glassworks.

The mural presents an abstracted aerial view of Spånga, complete with a tree-line avenue, and the glass elements are designed to mix with the other gleaming materials to create an interplay with the pool below.

"All the different materials have a gentle white or transparent shiny finish, allowing reflected and refracted light from the windows to dance across the surface," Folkform told Dezeen last year.

Sabrab office, Portugal

Credit: Sabrab

Office design is high on the public agenda as organisations rethink working habits amid social distancing requirements. Glass clearly has a great deal to offer here, with its ability to maximise natural light while creating necessary separation.

Although this project was completed before Covid-19 struck, Portuguese architecture and engineering firm Sabrab took this glass advantage to the extreme with the redesign of its own office in Lisbon.

Where the office was previously separated into small rooms with no access to natural light, the redesigned workspace did away with solid walls entirely, leaving an open space divided only by glass panels. Separating spaces with glass helped the company maximise its 108m² floorspace, while the glass panels formed irregularlyshaped meeting rooms, offices and even a game area.

While many companies would balk at implementing an office design as stark and open as this, a post-pandemic futuremay see glass partitions push their boundaries as businesses look to bring the outside in.

Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, US

Credit: Thomas Kirk III | Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl Architects designed the new Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, which opened in November, as part of a wider campus redesign initiative at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

The three-storey, 237,000ft² building, which houses collections of modern and contemporary art, is clad with a façade made of translucent glass tubes, giving it a “soft, alabaster-like texture”, according to the studio. The tubes flow up to the building’s multi-layered roof, which splits light into the interior galleries in distinct ways.

The façade is open at the top and bottom, creating a ‘cold jacket’ around the building and reducing solar gain by 70% as cool air circulates around the building’s exterior.

Glass Block House, Vietnam

Credit: Room+ Design & Build

Glass design trends may come and go, but there’s always time for an old idea to find new life beyond its original era. Glass bricks were a relatively common way to bring translucent light into bathrooms and dentists’ offices in the 1970s and 1980s. While their popularity has waned in the intervening decades, in 2021 glass brick walls are again finding a growing niche in building design, from partitions and windows to entire façades.

Vietnamese design firm Room+ Design & Build showcased the potential of glass brick in 2018 with its ‘glass block house’ in Ho Chi Minh City. The studio completely redesigned a small, three-storey shop and home in the city by replacing the original brick façade with glass blocks.

The material provided a space-efficient and eye-catching shopfront for the retail unit on the ground floor, while providing abundant light and a measure of privacy for the residential spaces above.

Main image: The Kinder Building in Houston features a façade made of translucent glass tubes. Credit: Richard Barnes / Steven Holl Architects