The future is clear. The future is glass. So say the organisers of this year’s Glasstec exhibition in Dusseldorf as preparations continue for the international trade show which will provide glass processors and finishers, engineers, façade planners and architects with a unique insight into current sector developments and trends.
The combination of new technologies and hybrid components - including hot and cold-bent glass, advanced laminating and adhesive technology - has led to an enormous increase in the efficiency of glass applications.
The exhibition will include a nine-metre bridge made entirely of glass, resting on pre-stressed glass supports with filigree stainless steel cables. This walk-on bridge is part of a current research project being conducted by the Institute of Building Technology, Construction and Design at the Technische Universität Dresden (University of Applied Science). It involves optimising the interfaces of the glass/stainless steel material combination and developing a modular support system for various spanning widths.
The newly built headquarters of gin producer Bombay Sapphire, part of the Bacardi Group, also impressively demonstrates the current possibilities in the area of glass bending and use of glass in highly complex glass structures.
The project’s riverside centrepiece is two glasshouses, which display the 10 plants known in the gin industry as ‘botanicals’ that go into Bombay Sapphire gin.
The two highly transparent glass buildings, designed by Thomas Heatherwick with structural engineering by Graham Schofield Associates, are characterised by ultra-light, folded shell structures using minimalistic steel girders and double-bent glass panels with stabilising function. The design sees the glass come down from the upper level of a neighbouring building, fanning out as it goes downwards before landing in the river bed, creating the effect that the glass has been ‘blown’ out of the building. No two panes of glass are the same size.
Glass is also playing a key role in the development of intelligent building shells. Rapidly advancing technology is enabling modern heat insulation and solar protection glass along with switchable glazing to be installed in building shells very efficiently and with the highest aesthetic standards.
An example of this is the ‘seele iconic skin’ modular structured glass façade, a brand-new development by German company seele, a specialist in glass façades. The external and internal surfaces of the seele iconic skin appear to be completely homogenous, without any visible transoms or pillars, lateral supports or mountings and fastenings.
The double-skin structure with integrated profiles is fitted with a patented, self-conditioning pressure compensation system, which ensures passive ventilation through interaction with the external climate. The new glass sandwich element façade offers excellent heat and sound insulation and enables the integration of sun protection elements.
Josef Gartner GmbH has also developed a different type of functional, standalone façade. Known as CCF-Façade, it features an integrated cavity between the glass elements. The space between the inside and outside skin is completely enclosed. In order to avoid condensation on the façade, dry, clean air is continuously fed in, reducing the energy consumption of the façade.
In terms of facades and energy, Building Integrated Photovoltaics continues to be a hot new technology shaping the future but perhaps more intriguing is the recent development of the bio-reactive façade (algae façade) which sees micro-algae grown in the space between panes exposed to sunlight. The algae's by-products, biomass and biogas are used to produce electricity.
The individual design of glass products is a key component in the glass boom in both building shells and interior design. Today, the latest silk screen technology, digital printing and film laminates enable the realisation of glass designs which were perceived as impossible for a long time.
Ceramic digital printing, for example, offers the advantage of fast and cost-effective reproducibility of designs, making the process attractive for individual façade design. Laser technology, meanwhile, enables highly efficient and extremely precise glass surfaces to be individually designed, and the concentrated light beam can be used for engraving three-dimensional structures and motifs in the glass interior.
New technology is also enabling glass design to integrate light sources. Possible applications extend from illuminated glass shelves, tables and walls up to the large-format media façade with colourful moving images. In combination with glass-integrated fabrics or special films, the innovative light sources can also be used to produce highly attractive 3D effects.
For engineers, architects and interior designers alike, exciting new possibilities lie ahead.