Glass of the future – a retrospective

Ian Langham from engineering consultant Eckersley O’Callaghan discusses how futuristic 1960s visions of glass buildings have now become reality, and reflects on glass developments present and possibly future

t’s often interesting to reflect on the past to see where we thought technology and material advances would take us in the future. Some ideas were realised within 20 years and others still look to be dreams of the future. Take the 1960s sci-fi futuristic imaginings – freed from technical constraints, authors’ imaginations ran riot and projected visions of our wants and desires. During a time inspired by the rapid and audacious achievements of the Space Age, it was only natural to speculate about what was coming next. Recently, I stumbled across a series of 1960s advertisement illustrations by Charles Schridde for Motorola. The theme was ‘House of the Future’ with transparent structures and glass enclo- sures featuring prominently, typical of many other sci-fi futuristic musings of this era. This led me to wonder how far-fetched some of these ideas were. It’s perhaps no coincidence that around this time the possibilities for glass on buildings advanced significantly through the revolu- tionary float glass process developed by Pilkington. This meant that large volumes of high-quality glass could be produced for the baby boomer generation. This innovation must have stimulated great inspiration for what the future might hold for glass technologies – but has there been a revolution on the same scale since? There are two illustrations in the ‘House of the Future’ series which offer retrospective reference. The first shows a luxury apartment overlooking a city below, shown from the outside through large, curved glass panels of approximately 6 metres height and 3 metres width. With today’s fabrication capabilities in large format and curved


glazing, this vision of the future is now a reality. In fact, Schridde could have been more ambitious – some manufacturers can now fabricate curved panels up to 18 metres tall. Thanks to current interlayer technologies such as SentryGlas, the mullions could also be omitted with the glass spanning without additional supports. Today’s interests in challenging transparent envelope geometries are inspired by advances in curved glass processing and progression in computational design. Doubly-curved panels can be manufactured with high optical quality, either using hot bending over moulds or the more recently developed cold bending that allows flat glass to be ‘pushed’ into shape and then mechanically restrained either by the interlayer during lamination, or clamping on site.


Sky Pool, planned for Embassy Gardens development, London ©Ballymore

The other Schridde illustration shows a futuristic glass enclosure, possibly a lakeside outhouse, that evokes the green- houses of old, such as The Crystal Palace. As an enclosure, it has parallels to Apple 5th Avenue Cube in New York (2011), which Eckersley O’Callaghan engineered to utilise glass as both structure and facade.

I am drawn to the image’s depiction of shading. It acknowledges a human need for comfort but probably not the issue of energy consumption, there may have been less consideration for solar gain and its associated sustainability impact in the 1960s. Since then, high performance coatings and other glass treatments, including solar control and low-e, have developed considerably, in

ADF MAY 2017


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