Glass in Modern Exterior Architectural Applications: Insights of How an Industry Has Evolved to Create the Most Fascinating Building Material in Engineering and Design Contexts

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  • Topic: Glass, Float glass, Architectural glass
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  • Published : January 9, 2011
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Glass in Modern Exterior Architectural Applications: Insights of how an industry has evolved to create the most fascinating building material in engineering and design contexts Prashanth Venkataramana

MPhil Student-Engineering for Sustainable Development
Department of Engineering – University of Cambridge

Introduction
Soda-lime Silicate Glass or ‘Glass’ as we commonly know it has become increasingly indispensable to modern architecture. Buildings today use a significantly higher percentage of glass in its construction. Glass as a material has evolved from being a mere component of a window to the most important component that defines the character of the new-age building. This can be attributed to certain key drivers which will be discussed in detail in this paper explaining the evolution of the industry and the future of glass in buildings. Apart from the obvious growth in construction and refurbishment markets, the other interesting key drivers can be broadly named as: I. Aesthetics – Modern Architecture

II. People - Building Usage
III. Energy – Environment & Sustainable design contexts These have been answered by developments in the Architectural Glass Industry such as in: Manufacturing:
* Coating Technology: Pyrolytic Magnetron Sputter Coatings * Safety : Heat Treatment processes
Design:
* Design: Structural Engineering
* Construction: Insulated Glass Units
A Brief History of Glass: From a Craft to an Industry (3500 BC – 1959 AD) Man made glass in the form of glass beads dates back to 3500 BC in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia with findings on pots and vases. Egyptian hollow glassware has been found circa 1500 BC believed to be brought from Asia. The first glassmaking manual dates back to around 650 BC in tablets from the library of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal. Sheet Glass, the primary form of glass in buildings, was developed by German craftsmen in the 11th century AD and further enhanced by Venetian craftsmen in the 13th century AD by blowing a molten ball hollow on one end, and then spinning the ball causing it to flatten and increase in size to limited dimensions. (Glassonline, 2010) Frequent fires in the furnaces forced the government to restriction to Murano, an island where by the end of the 16th century 3000 of the 7000 inhabitants were involved in the manufacture making it the global hub for this craft. France, wanting to develop an industry of its own, offered several incentives for craftsmen from Murano to move to France and produce sheet glass and glassware. In 1665, Saint-Gobain was founded with the first task of glazing the ‘Galerie des Glaces’ or Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles for King Louis XIV. (Saint Gobain, 2010) The French mastered the art of ‘plate’ glass manufacture by cooling molten glass on flat tables and further polishing and grinding it with cast iron discs and fine abrasive sands and finished with felt disks resulting in good optical transmission properties. The Industrial revolution heralded scientists like Otto Schott (1851-1935) who teamed up with Ernst Abbe (1840-1905) and joint owner of Carl Zeiss with significant advances in technology and mechanisation in the production of glass. Friedrich Siemens famously replaced the ancient pot furnace with a tank furnace to allow improved continuous production. From the 1900’s a few significant innovations came into the production of glass, allowing an industry to be firmly in place: 1905: Belgian Innovator Foucalt devised a method of vertically drawing glass continuously from a tank and this process was standardized and called the ‘Foucalt Process’ producing ‘Sheet glass’ with superior finish from 1914. This was developed and further improved by American engineer Colburn with the support of US firm Libbey-Owens in 1917. 1910: The process of ‘laminating’ glass by inserting a celluloid layer between two sheets of glass and subjecting it to high temperature and pressure causing it to integrate...
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