If the glass industry needed a good reason to travel to Finland, it found one with the return of Glass Performance Days (GPD) 2023. Normally held every other year in Tampere, Finland, the conference last took place in 2019, then went on hold due to the COVID pandemic. Now, with the theme “Way to Grow,” more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries have gathered in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” for abundant learning and networking opportunities.

Christoph Timm from SOM spoke during the GPD opening about the need to reduce both the operational and embodied carbon of buildings.

The newly built Nokia Arena is the venue for their year’s GPD. Opening ceremonies welcomed participants on the evening of June 14, bringing music, entertainment and in-depth discussions about how glass can contribute to a sustainable future.

Alf Rehn, professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark, led the dialogue during the evening. Other keynote presenters included Bertrand Cazes, secretary general for Glass for Europe; Yasmin Al-Ani Spence, director with WilkinsonEyre Architects; and Christoph Timm, principal with Skidmore Owings & Merrill Architects (SOM). All provided insight into some of the challenges and opportunities for the future of architectural glass.

Spence encouraged everyone to “do less” and work with readily available resources. In her presentation, she looked at some of her firm’s highly glazed projects, including the new construction of One Barangaroo in Sydney, also featured in the September 2021 issue of USGlass magazine. She described the project’s design as glass pedals moving up a building and noted that 8,000 different glass cuts were used to achieve the building’s waving turning facade.

Also important to her discussion are the renovation and reuse of projects. These include the Citigroup Center in London. Spence said through COVID, they learned the importance of giving people space, which is featured throughout Citigroup Center, offering bright, open spaces for people to connect.

When asked about the types of glass most important for the future, she pointed to adaptive glass “That helps us control the buildings better. We will always need glass … the glass needs to work with us more, with buildings …” she said.

Next, Timm started with a look back to GPD 2013 when he shared his “architect’s dream list.”

“I wanted to check in and see where we are with these,” he said.

He found that work still needs to be done on some of his dream list items, such as edge deletion and glass flatness. However, great advances have been made in areas such as glass strength, hot bent glass, information technology, vacuum insulating glass and life cycle.

Timm discussed the importance of both the operational and embodied carbon of a building. He said that SOM is analyzing operational carbon on all its buildings, seeking to address not only operational carbon but also the whole life carbon of the building.

He shared a design concept called Urban Sequoia, looking at buildings as living organisms and ways to reduce their carbon footprint. He described this as a reductive design approach. For example, a false ceiling just adds more carbon to a project and isn’t necessary.

“Less is more,” he said.

Bertrand Cazes from Glass for Europe discussed carbon reduction in glass manufacturing, recycling and other ways glass can contribute to sustainability.

Cazes wrapped up the keynotes with a discussion about the future of glass and the role it can play in terms of sustainability.

“We have to address the issue of climate change and take our role in it,” he said.

Europe is already working to do its part, with a goal of being climate neutral by 2050, he added.

Cazes also pointed out that the glass industry has a responsibility “because we are part of the solutions.”

He looked at some of the industry’s efforts, such as producing glass with minimal carbon emissions. Decarbonizing the energy sources used to produce glass is part of the solution the industry is actively working on.

Another avenue, he said, is decarbonizing raw materials.

“Now we have Environmental Product Declarations from the manufacturers … we have low carbon glass … but many difficulties still exist to overcome. It will take time [before this is fully ready].”

Recycling is another key component. He said that 26% of the European batch is made of cullet, mostly pre-consumer glass.

He also reminded everyone, as did other presenters throughout the evening, that the reason we build buildings is people. That makes light and comfort critical components.

“Light and transparency are why we install glass in buildings,” he said.

And speaking of “ways to grow,” he reminded participants that the human element has to stay at the center of the design as the industry continues to work toward delivering sustainability and value across the sector.

The evening’s final event was the Jorma Vitkala Award of Merit presentation. First given in 2017 to Jorma Vitkala, founder of GPD, the award recognizes an individual who has contributed to the growth of the international glass industry. This year’s winner was Francis Serruys from Saint-Gobain, who has been in the glass industry for more than 30 years.

GPD continues through Friday, June 16. Follow USGlass magazine on social media for news and updates throughout the event.