While you are walking on the street or watching your favorite movie or even while you are working at your work place, it is obvious to see buildings that are covered by curtain wall (Glass and aluminum structures).
You might consider it as a symbol for modernism and impressed by the aesthetics of dazzling reflection from the glass and aluminum or you might feel boredom from redundancy originated from the similarities of numerous glass covered buildings.
First, what is the story of Glass production? When did glass was started to be used for building parts? Why and how was glass became a predominant element for building design and construction?
The place and origin of manufactured glass is not completely known. According to archeological evidence, first man-made glass object was created around 3500BC in Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt. After 1200BC the Egyptians learned to press glass into molds.
On the beginning, glass making was slow and costly, it was luxury item and few people could afford it. Thanks to Syrian craftsmen, discovery of “glass blowing” around end of 1st century made glass production easier, faster, cheaper and glass became available to ordinary citizens.
“The History of Architecture is also the history of Windows” Le Corbusier.
Before glass was used as a material for a window, Early windows were made from materials like flatten animal horn, oiled animal skin, wood, fabric and similar materials. Ancient china, Korea and Japan used paper windows.
The Romans were the first known to use glass for windows around 100AD and Frames were made in timber and windows were small to suit the glass.
After Romans, the use of glass was widely used on architectural pieces of every era especially on spiritual and political buildings. And the primary intention of using glass for buildings was to provide light, ventilation and view for interior spaces.
Later on, in addition to its functional aspect, Glass became a way and medium for artistic expression.
So, it became one of dominant mediums for expression of human Spiritual, Political and Social values. Artists of that time, even for artists of our time, use glass as a medium for their artistic expressions.
Stained-glass is an art form of Glass. One can witness stain glass art on cathedrals of Romanesque, Baroque, Renaissance and other styles.
The role of Glass did not end as an artistic expression of ideas. Glass became a tool for symbolize strong spiritual meanings and messages.
We can mention “ROSE WINDOW” on Gothic architecture as an example for Glass as a symbolic element to convey strong Spiritual messages.
ROSE WINDOW is a circular stained-glass window mostly located on the front face of cathedral building at the top of main entrance. Rose Window carry and intensify a sense of the divine pouring in from above.
The design of geometric shape subdivisions of smaller forms, subdivision in the number of arches and other forms of stain glass work on the rose window has a degree of spiritual meaning. For example, rose window with twelve sections or spokes on the glass design might related to twelve apostles.
When we come closer to our time, we can see the role of glass on the time of modern architecture.
During Modern architecture, an introduction of Skyscrapers along with industrial revolution’s advantage of making the production of glass easy, the use of Glass for architecture was significantly increased.
Since buildings start to grow taller and taller, there was a need for reducing a dead load of a building (a load of structural and materials used to construct a building) to ensure the structure is able to carry a load from multiple stories.
So, in order to achieve relatively lighter load and strong capacity to carry and build very tall, Steel start to became preferable structural material and Glass became a material preferred not only for windows but also as an internal and external wall. Since glass is significantly light weight material, it can reduce the dead load of the building relative to materials like brick, concrete and stone.
So, architects became in love with glass again due to it's mulitple qualities.
By the time of modern architecture, the doctrine of ‘Form follows Function’ was predominantly celebrated idea for the design of buildings of the time. This philosophy stated that, the purpose or function of the building should be the starting point for its design and the form will just follows the purpose. This philosophy very much focuses on the purpose and omitt the external ornamental features of the building and try to give a very simple look. Even architectural critiques of that time took ornamenting the external face of a building as a crime.
So, architects of that time generally try to make functionally purposeful and simple looking buildings. Because of this, architects of this time make glass their first-choice material due to its characteristics since, Glass provides enough natural light for the interiors to make them bright and more functional, it helps to creates a connection to the environment by providing external view into the spaces and it gives clean simple look for the exteriors.
On the following times and styles like International style, Post Modernism, Minimalism and Deconstructivism, Glass remains a favorite material for architects.
So Glass evolves from a luxury item to a light and view providing tool to a form and medium of art to a symbolic element for human spirituality to a structurally convenient material for skyscrapers to a strong functional and formal tool for utilitarian and similar architectural applications.
Written by Biruk Hailu