Originally designed 23 years ago, the Vertical Glass House – which contains no windows but has glass floors and a glass roof – has finally been built and has become a permanent pavilion at the West Bund Biennale of Architecture and Contemporary Art in Shanghai.
The house was designed in 1991 by Architect Yung Ho Chang from Chinese architecture firm Atelier FCJZ. The original design was created as an urban housing prototype for the annual Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition.
The project utilizes key elements of Chinese traditional architecture: enclosure and separation, which are well represented by the walls that define Chinese cities and traditional homes. These walls were built to separate and protect the internal community from the world outside, providing privacy and retreat for those living within.
The Vertical Glass House, which was completed at the end of 2013, introduces the notion of vertical transparency, as opposed to modern horizontal transparency, which provides no privacy.
Enclosed by rough concrete blank walls, the transparent floors and roof open the interior spaces to the sky, connecting its inhabitants with the outdoors. According to Chang, in modern cities like Beijing, the connection between nature and interior spaces no longer comes through trees or street level elements because most people live and work in high-rises.
“Trees are all there somewhere below. If you can, somehow, make a connection with a window to the sky, then you will still have a dialogue with the nature,” he said.
With a footprint of less than 40 square metres, the rises three levels. Each level is only six metres by six metres, and the floors are connected by a metal spiral staircase which leads all the way up to a double-height atrium facing the sky.
The floor slabs and the roof are built of seven-centimetre thick tempered glass, allowing natural light to flow to every floor. Slit openings in the facades allow the glass floor to break through the exterior concrete wall, and create natural illumination for the floor planes.
A singular steel post is at the centre of the structure, with steel beams dividing the floor space in quarters that frame each domestic activity.
Although this project differs greatly from the traditional concept of a house, the idea of transparent slabs and roof could have various interesting applications, for example, in underground architecture, which is a growing trend as designers look for sustainable options.
With population rates growing all over the world and city centres, and residential neighbourhood and suburbs becoming denser everyday, privacy preservation is already an increasing demand among home owners. In Japanese cities, a number of new houses are being constructed with blank facades and the fewer possible openings to the street and surroundings.