Right on Track: Glass Adds New Meaning to Open Spaces

Glass walls can easily transform a space. They offer a solution to the desire for an area that’s functional while accommodating a range of design and aesthetic preferences. Moveable glass wall systems, however, elevate those qualities. What was once functional and simply accommodating can also be transformative.

Similar to other glass products and applications, moveable walls are not a one-size-fits-all system. Several varieties are available, and they can adjust for different situations. For example, interior versus exterior applications are vastly different, and contract glaziers must be aware of these differences when it comes to installations.

Marrying Different Systems and Design

The decision to incorporate a moveable glass wall system begins during the design phase. Customers, designers and architects have to answer questions regarding where the walls will be and how they will move, as well as the acoustical performance and energy-efficiency requirements of the systems. Even the length of the panels and the type of material used are important considerations when choosing the best option for a given project.

Mirjana Komadina, vice president for product design and development at C.R. Laurence Co. Inc. in Los Angeles, says the lines are blurring between an indoor and outdoor application.

“The application is to kind of merge your interior and exterior … So really, your living room and your balcony become one area. You’ll merge the interior with the exterior on a sliding system and one fixed panel,” she says. “In today’s world, [the goal is to] minimize metal, and maximize glass and get it as large as possible. Ten feet used to be a really high door or system. Today, everyone is looking to go to 12 feet and explore the maximum height for storefront systems. And if you’re minimizing metal and maximizing the glass in those panels, then it really has to be designed structurally to withstand all performances and still have that all-glass look,” Komadina says.

Transwall, based in West Chester, Pa., is a manufacturer and installer of demountable wall systems. The systems feature products that are more than just construction components.

“My view is that glass walls, interior walls, are not construction, but are products we manufacture—whether they’re glass or solid, are movable, or static, or fabric or wood—it’s all sort of fashion related. We’re really in the fashion business,” says Marc Valois, senior executive vice president and principal of Transwall.

However, glass serves so much more than simply achieving aesthetic design—it can also contribute to productibility and physical well-being. Glass windows and walls allow natural daylight to enter a space, and several studies have been done about the positive impacts lighting has on people, their health and being efficient in a school or workplace.

“It [natural light] allows people to see what’s going on in an adjoining office…You’re not looking at solid walls behind the glass walls; it’s glass walls behind the glass walls. And all of that is about light,” says Valois. “We know that light is an important factor to our psychological health. So, this is all designed around letting light into offices. And here’s [a relation to fashion], it goes in waves—it’s a trend … One trend is putting all of the offices in the middle of the floor and having the people sit at benches or in cubicles near the windows to make them feel better and more productive.”

Exterior vs. Interior Uses

When considering where the glass will be in a given project, designers and glaziers need to keep certain elements in mind. Exterior facing systems have to accommodate extreme weather, wildlife, impacts, and, of course, solar heat.

Bryan Welch, managing director at Modernfold, recognizes the differences between interior and exterior applications that should be considered.

“The difference is, if you’re going to have a product that’s going to divide interior and exterior, you need some kind of a thermal break as part of the panel and system design. You need to be able to have much different temperatures on one side of the partition, and you also need to be able to handle storm drain water,” Welch says.

As part of its interior glass systems offerings, Dormakaba offers horizontal and folding sliding wall systems to accommodate designs that call for separation, security, noise or thermal insulation or to remove barriers.

“To ensure proper operation and acceptable life cycle, each system must be installed according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions,” and installation procedures may vary according to the project’s specific details, says Ron Biberdorf, vice president of sales for interior glass systems at dormakaba.

Opening Doors to Possibility

There isn’t a need to completely shut the outside world out when moveable glass walls are in place. When used effectively, the systems can invite natural light and air into a space, blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors. In a world that is constantly reinventing what it means to live sustainably, glass walls build upon a structure’s energy efficiency. Certain glass applications allow for improved insulation and require less energy use.

Biberdorf says the future of glass walls is moving towards flexibility for those using a space, and those who will eventually use it.

“We are seeing movable glass walls that have taller openings and Sound Transmission Class Rating,” he says. “We see the future of glass walls moving towards increased sound mitigation. Flexible spaces, the ability to configure spaces according to need.”

Welch sees other acoustic trends in the future as well.

“We think glass plus acoustics is a serious growth trend going forward. And then, if you combine class acoustics and automation, then I think that speaks to a couple of different growth trends. Over the next five years or so it will become a very important part of the market.”

Luly Hernandez is the assistant editor for USGlass. Email her at lhernandez@glass.com and connect with her on LinkedIn

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