With 2022 Deemed the Year of Glass, Here’s Why Some Say the Material is More than Deserving

The International Year of Glass, as designated by the United Nations (UN) last May, has begun. This recognition comes after the International Commission on Glass, the Community of Glass Associations and the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Glass began the journey in 2018. The formal resolution was agreed at the UN General Assembly on May 18, 2021.

Thousands of activities are planned to take place around the world. In the U.S., the North American International Year of Glass Steering Committee is hosting the National Day of Glass event, April 5-7, 2022 at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event will feature technical programming and talks from some of the largest companies in the North American glass industry, among others. Event details are still under development, so look to USGlass magazine and USGNN for updates.

During this year, USGlass will highlight and pay tribute to all the wonders of glass. We begin this month with words from some people who work with and around glass every day in a variety of ways, who have shared their thoughts on why glass is so special.

Robert Heintges

Founding Principal, Heintges

With the 1950 completion of the UN Secretariat—the first glass skyscraper curtainwall—the United Nations itself was the unwitting midwife of a revolution in the use of glass. The original design team of such architects as Le Corbusier, Niemeyer, Wallace Harrison, et al, considered a number of very different designs for the façades, but all incorporated the forward looking and innovative use of large expanses of glass. From Le Corbusier’s early glass double wall “mur respirant” ideas, to glass with exterior sunshades, to insulating glass and “heat absorbing” glass. The ideas all sought to use glass to symbolize the openness and transparency of the United Nations, while celebrating the performance opportunities that
the latest design concepts and glass technologies (at the time) could offer.

Ultimately, Harrison’s proposal to incorporate the then-new insulating glass Thermopane, by Libbey Owens Ford, won out, and the design of the curtainwall was undertaken, not as a stick-built wall but with prefabricated frames. This very first unitized curtainwall incorporated site installed story-height aluminum frames that were then fitted with standard double hung window sashes pre-glazed with insulating glass.

The plot soon thickened, however, when late in the design process it was realized that the additional weight of these relatively large insulating glass units could not be accommodated by the window sash balance hardware. At that point there was no time to develop a new sash hardware or to revise the sash design, so the insulating glass was replaced with monolithic ¼-inch, heat-absorbing blue-green tinted Solex by PPG. All the earlier aspirations for the original performance goals were out the window so to speak, and the troubles soon started after the facades were completed. Since heat-treating was yet to be discovered, the glass was of course annealed, so it could not resist the thermal shock, especially on the East elevation, of sunrise on a cold winter morning. The occupants were also extremely uncomfortable in summer, since the heat-absorbing glass simply
radiated that heat to the interior. A temporary solution was found in the mid-1950s when 3M developed its reflective solar film that could be applied to the interior. Of course, the building was no longer as transparent as originally conceived and the reflective appearance for many decades following was mistakenly thought to be the intended design. With the solar film however, the glass continued to break from thermal shock until later replacements could be heat-strengthened.

When the UN Capital Master Plan was undertaken in 2003, our firm determined that the deteriorated condition of the curtainwall precluded restoration and would require replacement. We proposed replacement “in kind” that would replicate the original 1950 transparent glass façade, but with a unique high-performance design, incorporating the latest in coating technologies in an insulating-laminated design that also met the new security requirements. Th e goal was for this heavy glass to appear as transparent as the original. Over 20 possible alternatives were developed by multiple domestic and international fabricators.

These samples were reviewed for a month under all skydome conditions. Full-sized lites from a shortlist of four products were installed on a viewing chamber on site, and from these the UN selected the Viracon product.

The north elevation of the UN General Assembly building is another interesting glass story. This remarkable façade comprises Vermont Danby marble with alternating vertical windows of a unique “marble-ized” glass intended to blend with the marble. This glass was specially made for the UN by Corning at the urging of Wallace Harrison’s wife, Ellen Milton, to her old friend Armory Houghton, the chairperson of Corning Glass. The marbling effect was created using an experimental technology of UV photo-opacification. (We and others actually considered this technology in the 1980s, based on experimental samples that created diagonal opaque stripes, like mini-louvers encapsulated within the glass. None of us could pursue it because of cost and by the 1990s, Corning was no longer able to consider commercial supply). By 2005, when design options for restoration of the various UN façades were underway, Corning was no longer willing or able to furnish the original glass. Working with various glass manufacturers, and a number of sample trials, Saint-Gobain developed a unique solution to replicate the original monolithic glass, with a laminated insulating glass that incorporated various acid etch and ceramic frit patterns and coatings.

In many ways, the UN’s New York headquarters today embodies the entire development of modern architectural glass technology that has been an inspiration to architects ever since 1950.

Birgit Horn

Director, glasstec 2022, Messe Düsseldorf

Even though I do not work “hands-on” with glass, this wonderful material has very special meaning to me. As the director of glasstec, the world’s leading trade fair for the glass industry, I am always amazed by the versatility of glass, how it contributes to our daily lives and well-being and how it can help address pressing issues such as climate change and increasing urbanization.

Seeing glasstec being set up and then walking through the show gives me such a wide overview of the latest innovations and ideas from around the world. Be it production, processing and finishing or new products and applications, it is always incredible to experience the many facets of glass at our trade fair. Glass is one of the world’s oldest and most versatile human-created materials. It is adaptable, wide-ranging and can be used for complex glass structures that enable, for example, augmented reality. Th e wonders of glass are limitless.

Socially and politically, climate change is increasingly coming into focus and at glasstec this year we will address how the glass industry can reduce emissions and what improved energy concepts and solutions are available.

And that goes along with the use of glass in architecture when it comes to energy efficiency, resource-saving construction and new multifunctional façade glass. More and more people are moving into the cities, but there is less and less space available. Glass helps to create the cities of tomorrow as well as new living and working concepts for a growing population.

I like to use the term “well-being” when I describe the many positive properties of glass and the contribution glass products make to improve our quality of life, from safety, comfort and health to convenience and functionality. But not just for industrial use; glass used in art creates magnificent masterpieces and I always enjoy visiting the “glassart” segment at glasstec.

Gordon Huether

Glass Artist

From my studio in Napa, Calif., I’ve created large-scale, site-specific permanent art installations for years, primarily from glass, so it’s part of my design ethos. In my teens, I was exploring what to do with my life and my dad gave me a frame and some glass pieces, and I created the ugliest stain-glass art you’ve ever seen. But I was hooked. I’ve studied under artisans in Germany and the U.S., and over the years really dug into the innovations that came along, from dichroic, to laminates, glass enamel and more. My gosh, even my entire house is just walls of glass.

The glass-arts field has been transformed by what this amazing material can do, its amazing versatility and beauty, and its ability to capture imagination and wonder.

Artist’s contributions can change and improve our experience of the world around us; glass has a unique ability to tell those stories in a vast array of techniques and iterations. I’ve always embraced new techniques and ways to tell a client’s story, especially in glass. I look forward to learning about new things the industry is developing. It’s fascinating to me that glass is both a creative tool for artists, and is one of the great workhorses of the modern age, and continues to evolve. For example, windows that produce power or automatically shade themselves based on sunlight, and the architecture and structural design that integrates glass to provide unusual surfaces and product performance.

Glass will always be for me a vehicle for expressing most any idea or story—light, nature, energy, and all ranges of human emotions, anything. It’s only limited by one’s imagination.

Lisa Lamberson

Glass Research Associate, Glass Research, Corning Inc.

As a glass research associate, I apply my skills and curiosity to a variety of glass research programs at Corning. These include designing new glass compositions for our Display Technologies business, the development of specialty glasses for use in 5G smart antennas, as well as frit glass technology, which uses glass as a sealant material to bind two different glasses or materials together. I also work on exploratory programs in glass looking at new ways in which we can exploit the unique nature or features of glass.

After working in glass research for 20 years, I still find working with glass to be exciting and challenging. Whether we notice it or not, we interact with glass in our everyday lives, from the screens on our cell phones and TVs, to the windows in our cars and homes as well as glass storage vials that help protect and deliver life-saving medicines and vaccines, and fiber optic cables that allow us to communicate and receive information at faster speeds and larger amounts of data.

And yet, there is still more to learn and discover. I’m in awe of our ability to
make glass containing almost any element on the periodic table and use the elements’ interactions with each other in the glass structure to create a multitude of glasses with different technical properties.

I’m excited to see where glass goes in the future. We’re now moving glass into high technology spaces such as satellites for 5G communications, as well as touch screens in vehicles. I think it’s very exciting to see all the new places glass fits into our everyday lives and how glass enables much more vibrant and interactive experiences.

Doug Noble

University of Southern California School of Architecture

Understanding the science and technology of building enclosures is critical for the education of architects. Accelerated advancements in glazing materials, systems, design and delivery can outpace our abilities to transfer new knowledge to students. Our university has added three new courses focused on building facades. These are in addition to our regular courses on materials and methods of construction. We have added a new graduate certificate track to allow architecture students to specialize in a deeper understanding of the building envelope. Architecture schools are addressing
issues of sustainability and resilience, thermal bridging, prefabrication, daylighting, glare, and more. Students are even learning about the impacts of coatings on the recyclability of glazing. The good old days of architects holding up a small glass sample to the light and simply designing a façade by selecting their favorite color have always been more myth than reality, but now the design and analysis of glazing systems has reached remarkable levels of detail and care. Glass education starts early in the architecture curriculum as students are given the opportunity to get hands-on learning physically making simple storefront assemblies. The study of glass is integrated throughout our curriculum and continues through the graduate research programs, with recent students examining thermal comfort and electrochromic glazing, bending ultra-thin glass, and daylight/glare.

Bernard J. Savaëte

Retired Glass Researcher and Consultant

Glass is a very old material, first generated by our planet during eruption of volcanos providing the black obsidian, which was widely utilized as a tool to cut meat, animal skin and wood, starting likely 10,000 years ago. Around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, likely in Mesopotamia, glass started to be used as jewelry, mainly as pearls. Glass was, at that time, very expensive, and these products remained a luxury for two to three millenaries.

Different processes were used to produce vases, cups or even flat glass (found at Pompei, Italy)

2,000 years ago. Glass blowing was created, providing a new development, and later on, flat glass was produced by cylinder of window glass or crown glass.

Colored glass has been utilized for European cathedral windows since the 10th century, providing decoration and light for the interior. Large windows were very useful for countries with poor amounts of sun.

During the 13th century eye glasses were invented, giving humans even more years to read and work.

During the European Renaissance, Murano and Venetian glass makers developed ways to produce very clear glass, facilitating the development of mirrors.

Then chemistry and physics saw the benefits, with wide use of glass for microscopes, telescopes, thermometers, barometers (17th century), chemical reactors and many other objects contributing to the development of scientific knowledge.

The 19th century with artificial soda ash, the Industrial Revolution, and the continuous furnace, followed by Fourcault and then the continuous vertical draw process (early 20th century), helped provide large quantities of glass at a more affordable price.

The year 1851 brought the Crystal Palace, a cast iron and plate glass structure for the London exhibition designed by Joseph Paxton. This structure became a corner stone, and glazed windows essential components of buildings.

By the late 19th century, lamps were using electricity.

During the 20th century, laminated glass and tempered glass, thanks to the automobile industry, gave the glass industry necessary safety and security properties.

During the 1920s and 1930s glass became a modern material, despite its old age, and was used for Art Deco interior decoration and the renovation of stained glass.

Later, coatings gave new properties to the glass surface, which was especially good insulation for glazing.

In the late 1950s Pilkington revolutionized the glass industry with the float process, which eliminated the sheet glass process to become practically the only way to produce transparent flat glass for buildings and transportation.

Late 20th century and early 21st century have seen developments in thin glass (with the support of Corning) for communication devices (TVs, telephones, tablets, computers …). Glass has been a key material in the development of sciences and the well-being improvement of humanity.

Glass is everywhere in our houses, on our tables, on our lounge with the TV screen, on our desk with the computer, in our pocket with our telephone … try to imagine how would life be without glass! Try to imagine buildings without windows providing light and outside views, protecting occupants with the appropriate insulation and security.

We move that old material, which is also so young, from luxury to necessity. Nowadays, glass is facing new challenges to become a green material and to become, for everybody, an acceptable necessity.

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