Moveable Glass Walls Offer Flexibility and Aesthetic Appeal

By Joshua Huff

Moveable glass walls expand living spaces and enhance the workspace. Thanks to their versatility, property owners can enjoy an abundance of light and enhanced flexibility while preserving privacy and incorporating stylish design elements.

“Moveable walls have been sought-after architectural systems for some time,” says Laura Aguiniga, director of the Architectural Products Group at Los Angeles-based C.R. Laurence (CRL). “Their unique ability to transform floor-plans and create seamless transitions from interior to exterior spaces remains an attractive feature for residential and commercial applications. Homeowners, business owners, designers and architects value the versatility and flexibility they provide.”

Moveable glass walls help create a dynamic space that embraces flexibility thanks to their ability to be rearranged. In schools, for instance, glass walls can turn a static classroom into an airy and engaging environment that can be adapted to fit the teacher’s needs.

The walls can be used in various locations, including offices or residential towers, to take advantage of the view. In restaurants, they are often used to connect indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Other applications include hotels, museums and stadiums—any place where the desire is to define spaces when closed and create expansive floorplans when opened.

What Can Moveable Glass Walls Offer?

Versatility: Movable walls can be opened to take advantage of great weather or closed when it’s cold or windy.
Views: When opened, movable walls place striking views center stage.
Increased light: Because moveable walls often feature large glass spans, they allow ample daylight to create vibrant interiors.
Ease of use: Despite their large scale, movable walls often only require one person to operate.
Sound absorption: Several movable wall categories have excellent sound attenuation properties to keep areas such as conference rooms quiet.

Advantages of Moveable Glass Walls

Bryan Welch, managing director of Indiana-based Modernfold, a manufacturer of custom wall solutions, says that one unique benefit of glass wall systems is security, especially in schools.

“Unfortunately, having ‘line of sight’ safety options is now necessary for schools,” he says.

Jay Brotman is familiar with the need for school safety. The managing partner at Svigals + Partners, in New Haven, Conn., helped design the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. Brotman says his company gained a deeper understanding of security principles after that tragedy. It was apparent that the more open the school, the safer the environment is.

“Using natural observation and a significant amount of exterior glass, the building would provide the children access to natural daylight and views of nature, which have been shown to improve learning outcomes while also providing a higher level of safety,” says Brotman.

Matt Thomas agrees. The marketing manager at California-based Nanawall, a developer of moveable glass walls, adds that along with the advantages of sightlines, certain types of moveable glass walls, such as folding doors, can be designed with locking systems. These locking systems set steel locks into the seal and head jam on each panel set. You would have to try and break the glass to get in, which is not an easy feat, says Thomas.

Moveable glass walls provide ample flexibility while still offering protection. Welch says that architects and interior designers find them appealing due to their elegant look yet strong functionality.

“Clear, uninterrupted sightlines leave spaces feeling modern and state-of-the-art,” he says. “Customization options are endless. Glass walls can also be lightweight, thereby increasing the ease of operation for the average user.”

Types of Moveable Glass Walls

There are three fundamental types of moveable glass walls, explains Aguiniga. These include bi-folding doors, sliding doors and stacking partition systems. They each vary in size and performance.

Bi-folding doors can be top-hung or bottom-rolling, which places less strain on overhead beams. Bi-folding panels can swing in or out; typically, up to nine panels can be specified per jamb.

Sliding doors often feature the largest glass panels of the three. Independent panels are bottom rolling and can slide left or right on one, two or three tracks, depending on the number of panels. They offer ease of operation, multipoint locking devices and flush or raised sills.

Stacking partitions are top-hung and offer all-glass visuals. Glass panels stack neatly to the side to create expansive openings. Because they are frameless, they are better suited for interior applications.

Moveable glass walls typically are designed with monolithic tempered and laminated tempered glass. Insulating glass is also an option for exterior applications. Interior glass walls use monolithic glass unless the glass panels are large. If the panels are too big, says Aguiniga, laminated glass is preferred to maintain structural integrity. Exterior moveable glass walls are designed with laminated glass to provide security.

Climate change also plays a role in the type of glass used. Aguiniga says that 1-inch insulating glass is often used because it helps “reduce solar heat gain in the summer and acts as a barrier against cold exterior temperatures in the winter.”

Moveable Glass Wall Trends

Moveable glass walls have been coveted for some time, states Aguiniga. Their unique ability to transform floor plans and create seamless transitions from interior to exterior spaces remains an attractive feature for commercial and residential applications. However, architects and customers still seek out the latest and greatest. This includes large glass, less metal and personalization options.

Aguiniga says CRL has seen a surge in demand for large panel sizes and thinner frames. Customers want to preserve views and incorporate a minimalist look. For example, Aguiniga says that the latest sliding doors can reach system heights of up to 13 feet with panel widths of 7 feet.

Thomas’ company has also seen a shift to wider openings and more glass. That shift became more pronounced during the pandemic as people learned about the benefits of fresh-air ventilation.

“The pandemic has taught people the benefits of flushing your home no matter where you live,” says Thomas. “Moveable glass walls make it really easy to flush their homes and close those panels.”

While glass walls become larger, Modernfold discovered that designers desire noteworthy touches. This includes personalization through the use of designer glass, custom design etching, appliques, mullion offerings, glass markerboards, and more. Welch says combining glass partitions with colorful powder coat options has also grown in popularity.

Future of Moveable Glass Walls

The future is bright for moveable glass walls. Companies continuously innovate to meet the needs of customers. As a result, exciting new technologies have emerged in recent years, says Aguiniga, particularly with sliding doors.

“Pocket installation allows sliding glass panels to be completely concealed within an adjacent wall delivering a truly unobstructed view,” she says. “With automation, sliding panels are motorized so that with the touch of a button, the movable wall opens to reveal the view and provide a seamless transition to exteriors.”

According to Thomas, the market for moveable glass walls has ample room to grow. People want to be comfortable and healthy, he says. Moveable glass walls provide that.

“This market has immense room to grow,” he says. “The market is just now gaining traction. A lot of it is driven by the permanent nature of what came out of the pandemic.”

Joshua Huff is the assistant editor of USGlass magazine. Email him at jhuff@glass.com and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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