Tomas Ghisellini, founder of Tomas Ghisellini Architetti answered our questions on his perspective of glass and its various uses in their projects.
What concepts does glass as a building material evoke in your imagination?
I have always thought of glass as a material able to recall not so much the usual concepts of transparency and lightness, but rather those of rarefaction, dissimulation, and ambiguity, concepts that I find of immense charm when referring to architecture. Moreover, I fell in love with glass at the age of 8, when for the first time, without any fear, I got lost, banging my face several times, in a maze of mirrors.
Which criteria determine your preference in using glass (insulation, reflectivity, color, etc.) in the design process of your projects?
It is precisely the concepts of rarefaction, dissimulation, and ambiguity that I pursue in my projects when the use of glass seems to me to be of particular strategic utility. I have always found irresistible the possibility of duplicating, expanding, overwriting, hiding, altering, or even mystifying the visual perception of space only through the diversified use of glass, just like in a sleight of hand. It is the atmospheric qualities that interest me, it is the possibility to weave a dialogue in some ways "esoteric" with the observer that will win me over.
Which building do you find the most impressive in its use of glass, why?
Even today, although a long time has passed since its construction, I am impressed by the genius of Jean Nouvel's Fondation Cartier. That changing, evanescent, ambiguous, fragile, and fascinating building precisely because of the layered transparencies and the masterful use of glass not so much as a building material but rather as an element of scenic representation, has paved the way for the idea of an architectural body as an unstable, precarious, not definitive reality. It prepared the genetic set-up for much of the later contemporary architecture, for which more than rooting can be called urban "scenery".
What are the attributes of glass that add value to building design?
According to my point of view, the most important opportunities offered by the use of glass in architecture lie in the perceptual stratification of spaces in a typically contemporary sort of liquid and seamless use, in the "depth" attributable not only physically to the envelopes of spaces but also conceptually to the symbolic and representative dimension of the project, in the possibility of transparency as an instrument of communicative "truth" towards the world and the city.
How do these values reflect on your projects, how do you prefer to use glass?
I rarely use glass in its most common form, the one perfectly agreeable to the eye; because I seldom use glass as a simple element of protection from air, water, or more generally external aggressions. I like to use it instead as a real expressive tool. I like to experience a different "attitude" every time, depending on the design intentions and perceptual needs. Above all, I like to test its tactile qualities, every time as if it were a skin, a fabric, a living body and directly playing its role in the process of visual communication with the observer. So, I let myself be fascinated by the translucencies, by the reflections of mirrors, by glazes saturated with color, by sandblasting that make it rough yet almost soft. Each time it is a question of having a new experience, not of replicating the previous ones.
Could you share your vision for the creative use of glass in architecture?
It is very difficult to say today, in an age for which everything already exists or has already been invented, how glass can be used innovatively in architecture. Perhaps the smartest and most honest answer might be "I certainly can't add anything to what's been creative so far over the centuries." If you think about it, however, there is another possible answer. In fact, I believe that the creativity of the next few years in the use of glass can focus on the logic of its destruction! That's right. Death and rebirth. Glass is one of the very few materials that can be fully recycled and regenerated. The most interesting creative horizons, I believe, will come from the possibilities of re-use in ways and outcomes hitherto unknown. Because we now know: whether we like it or not, we have to deal with the future of our planet.