While glass has been used as a building material for centuries, developments in glass production throughout history have made possible structures and designs that were never before imaginable. Even recently, technological novelties in the world of architectural glass have allowed designers to manipulate exterior glass to dazzling effect in masterpieces such as the Bayern State Opera in Munich and the Novartis global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
The type of glass installed in a work of architecture will depend on several factors, among them appearance, levels of strength, and thermal qualities. The following are a few contemporary choices used today for exterior glass:
Decorative Glass in Design
The term decorative glass can refer to the warped or accentuated appearance through a variety of different techniques in order to apply a certain texture or color to the glass. Decorative glasses can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, including various degrees of opaqueness, and they display designs or images, such as the stained glass traditionally seen in churches and cathedrals.
Solar Glass in Design
With today’s rampant concern for energy savings, solar glass has been created to increase heat retention in an architectural structure and thereby cut down on energy bills. This is done with a low-emittance coating that obstructs the transfer of radiant heat. Such a coating is usually composed of a metal or a metallic oxide and is placed between layers of exterior glass. They have been devised for both warmer and colder climates, with glasses with high solar gain being used for colder climates and lower solar gain for warmer climates.
Smart Glass in Design
A glass is considered a “smart” if the way it transmits light is changed when electricity is applied to it. Also known as “switchable”, smart glass works through either a suspended particle, liquid crystal, micro-blind, or electrochromic device that allows the look and function of the glass to be changed with the flick of a switch. Smart glass can be changed from transparent to opaque, or the amount of heat allowed to pass through can be controlled as well.
Additionally, designers sometimes decide on a smart glass merely for visual effects, as in the Magira LightPoints LED glass placed in the World Expo Pavilion in Shanghai.
New techniques in exterior glass constantly present designers with more options. Innovators continue to create glasses that allow architects ever greater freedom in terms of both aesthetics and energy efficiency.
Hopefully this breakdown will help you understand the variance in materials.