Architectural Theory, Construction Materials

Glass as a Building Material – Applications and Advantages

Modern architecture is characterised by geometric form, blank facades, and white exteriors. However, a salient feature of modern architecture is the use of large glass facades. 

Be it skyscrapers, that create a city’s iconic skyline, or simple homes, glass is a material that is predominantly used today.

The question does arise: What draws the architects of today towards glass? 

The answer is simple. Glass has an intrinsic quality of being able to adapt and fit into any design style and add its beautiful touch to any building. The play between light and glass can create unique and eye-catching designs and interests. 

Properties of Glass

  1. Transparency – It can be transparent from one or both sides.
  1. Workability – It can be moulded into any shape.
  1. Strength – It is generally brittle but can be made stronger through the addition of admixtures.
  1. Transmittance – Glass allows light through, the amount depends on the type.
  1. U Value – Treated glass has a low U value, and does not allow much heat to enter.

Types and Application of Glass

Glass comes in different types, designed for specific purposes. Each with its unique properties, they are the following:

  1. Flat Glass
  2. Toughened Glass
  3. Patterned Glass
  4. Laminated Glass
  5. Mirrored Glass
  6. Coated Glass
  7. Tinted Glass
  8. Sandblasted Glass

 The properties and uses are better understood with a detailed look into each type of glass:

1. Flat Glass

  • It is made out of silica sand, limestone, soda ash, dolomite, and glass cullet.
  • It can be easily cut using glass cutters, drilled, and polished.
  • It allows an optimum amount of light.
  • Used for residential windows.
  • It is recyclable and easy to maintain.
Flat Glass Used for Residential Windows
Flat Glass Used for Residential Windows 

2. Toughened Glass

  • It is flat glass heated to a higher temperature.
  • It is resistant to breaking. If it does, it breaks into smaller, safer pieces.
  • It is used for balconies, building facades, and partition walls.
Toughened Glass Used as Facade for Commercial Building
Toughened Glass Used as Facade for Commercial Building

3. Patterned Glass

  • A pattern is made by rolling molten glass between rollers.
  • It is translucent.
  • It is used in places where privacy is required such as partition walls, and kitchen walls.
Patterned Glass Used as Interior Partition Wall
Patterned Glass Used as Interior Partition Wall

4. Laminated Glass 

  • Ordinary glass is layered and bonded using a flexible adhesive.
  • It is UV ray proof and soundproof.
  • It is mainly used in the construction of bridges and aquariums.
  • It can also be used as canopies to prevent harmful rays.
Laminated Glass Used for Clear Bridges
Laminated Glass Used for Clear Bridges 

5. Mirrored Glass

  • As the name suggests, it is a glass with a reflective coating, to serve as a mirror.
  • In architecture, this mirror can be used as a decorative element, on countertops and or tabletops.
Mirrored Glass Used as Exterior Facade for an Illusionistic Appearance
Mirrored Glass Used as Exterior Facade for an Illusionistic Appearance

6. Coated Glass

  • It has a special coating of metal oxides with unique properties such as insulation, resistance to harmful rays, etc.
  • In architecture, this glass can be used on facades to prevent harmful rays from entering. It also reduces the internal heat gain due to its insulative properties.
Coated Glass Treated to be Reflective against Harsh Sunlight
Coated Glass Treated to be Reflective against Harsh Sunlight

7. Tinted Glass

  • Ions are added to molten glass to give colour to it. The addition of ions does not affect the properties of the glass.
  • Tinted glass can be used as a decorative element to add interest to the space.
Green Tinted Glass Used as Aesthetic Roofing
Green Tinted Glass Used as Aesthetic Roofing

8. Sandblasted Glass

  • Sand is blasted onto the glass surface to etch the glass. This reduces the transparency of the glass.
  • It is used in places where privacy is required, such as bathrooms, restaurants, and offices.
Sandblasted Glass Used as Facade to Add Interest
Sandblasted Glass Used as Facade to Add Interest

Designing and constructing a building using materials always involves research. It is important to know the types and wide area of application to choose the material for our purpose. 

However, an important aspect to understand is the advantages and disadvantages of the material to truly assess and choose the right material.

Advantages of Glass

1. Transparency

  • The transparent nature of glass is useful to connect enclosed spaces with the outside world.
  • It also allows natural light in, which reduces the need for artificial lighting and thus, usage of electricity.

2. Easy Maintainance

  • Glass is dustproof and waterproof and can thus be cleaned and maintained easily.
  • It can be used in sandy and dusty regions too.

3. Aesthetic Appeal

  • It is a tool to show off the grandeur and beauty of a building’s design such as in skyscrapers.
  • The reflective and glassy effect makes the design look stunning.

4. Colour

  • Glass can be tinted to any specific colour to create the desired effect.\

5. Resistant to External Factors

  • It is resistant to UV rays, most corrosive chemical attacks, and weather.
  • It can retain its integrity and appearance in most conditions.

6. Workable 

  • It can be moulded into any required shape by applying heat.

7. Insulator

  • It is an insulator of electricity and protests from electric hazards.
  • It can be used for lighting and electric appliances.

Disadvantages of Glass

1. Cost

  • The cost of glass is high due to the highly energy-consuming manufacturing process.
  • The transparent nature requires the addition of security, which is costly.

2. Brittle

  • It is a rigid, and brittle material. It breaks under stress, which can cause injury.
  • It cannot resist impact loads and will break immediately.

3. Prone to Corrosion

  • It is prone to alkali corrosion, which dilutes the glass surface and over time, will corrode away the glass surface.

4. Non-Resistant to Earthquakes

  • In earthquake-prone areas, special attention has to be given to support the glass from horizontal load and movement.
  • These movements can break the glass.

5. High Maintenance Cost

  • Though glass is dustproof, the dust sticks to the glass surface in high dust-prone zones and humid areas.
  • The glass thus has to be cleaned regularly to maintain its appearance and transparency.

Glass, in all its forms, is a suitable material for creative fields such as architecture. The beauty that glass offers is iconic and using it correctly, makes the design stand out. There is much more untapped potential that glass has to offer.

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