Today marked the official launch of the United Nation’s Year of Glass. The ceremonies began at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where 30 speakers and experts are presenting over the next two days—all focused on the importance of glass.

Speakers discuss glass’s role in communication technology, art, healthcare and even quantum optics and atomic physics.

James Carpenter discusses the large wall near the Lincoln Center in New York featuring dichroic glass.

James Carpenter, founder of James Carpenter Design Associates in New York City, was one of today’s speakers who focused on the use of glass in architecture. He discussed the relationship between light and glass, particularly when applied in construction and buildings.

“My lifelong fascination and exploration of glass is grounded in glass being the material of light,” he said. “And light, when captured, reduced, magnified, reflected or refracted by glass, suggests a world beyond itself–a world opening the imagination, expanding knowledge, and allowing a glimpse of the future. Light is information. And glass is its interpreter.”

Carpenter spoke on the use of glass and light in several projects ranging from art installations and video, to homes and bringing daylight into a space in different ways. He also talked about the use of glass in urban environments.

One such project is a large wall near the Lincoln Center in New York, which he said was one of the first projects to ever use dichroic glass in any sort of architectural project.

“We’re looking at a background layer made out of a type of glass used for solar collectors with a reflective coating behind it, and then extending perpendicularly off the surface or these glass fins,” he said. “It’s always a dialogue between the individual’s position of observation and the position of the sun overhead. So there’s this unique thing that everyone sees–not everyone is seeing the same thing. In fact, they’re all seeing something unique for their own experience.”

The fins on the wall also provide onlookers with an optical illusion.

“You’re uncertain whether this wall has a degree of transparency and translucency to it, or is it opaque? It sort of challenges that idea of perception,” Carpenter said.

“And it’s also true that the history of glass is also our engagement with our environment around us. It’s given us this opportunity to enrich and appreciate and sort of engage more deeply with the world around us.”

Carpenter has been recognized with numerous national and international awards, including an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Smithsonian National Environment Design Award.

Immediately following Carpenter’s presentation was Emmanuelle Gouillart, scientific director of Saint-Gobain Research Paris. She discussed glass and glazing’s role in making construction more sustainable and focused on on how thin films and active technologies can optimize the optical and thermal properties of glazing to reduce energy consumption.

Gouillart began her discussion by posing the question: What percentage of the 50 billion tons of CO2 globally emitted every year comes from buildings and construction?

“It is daunting 40%,” she said. Of this number, 12% comes from the construction phase, mostly from the manufacturing of construction materials. Mainly steel and cement, but glass also contributes. “And the remaining 28% comes from the use of buildings, mostly from heating and cooling.”

Glass manufacturing has a large footprint because it requires significant energy, she said. The start of the process begins in a float glass furnace—one plant she referenced in north France is about the size of a suburban neighborhood.

The furnace itself, where the glass becomes molten, operates at temperatures high enough to melt iron, 2,800°F, and can also use natural gas to heat, contributes to the process’s high energy consumption. One way the industry can improve its energy efficiency is the use of active glazing, Gouillart said.

“In active glazing, the performances of films are not static anymore, but can change with some stimuli,” she said. “For example, changing the tint of glass, like in electrochromic glazing… is a better way to control the amount of light and heat which can go out and in your building.”

She also mentioned the continued future use of glass veils, a product manufactured by Saint-Gobain. “It’s a fabric made of quite sturdy glass fibers, which you can coat and ensure excellent mechanical properties, resistance to UV and also water repellency.”

The glass veils can also be used to replace heavy materials to make construction lighter.

She concluded by describing glass as “an essential ingredient of construction in the future… and we are working really hard to make it more sustainable, where when it’s manufactured, and of course, because it’s a great way to control thermal insulation.”

It’s a very useful ad very beautiful material, Gouillart said.

The ceremonies and presentations continue through tomorrow until 11:30 a.m. EST. Viewers can watch here, and stay tuned to USGNN™ for more updates.