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Astrid Piber, partner & senior architect at UNStudio, replied to our questions on her perspective of glass and its various uses for their projects.

What concepts does glass as a building material evoke in your imagination?

Glass is one of the most versatile materials available today. As one of the oldest building materials, its transparent quality has meant that it has long been used as glazing in windows. But today the applications and combinations possible for glass are limitless, including the possibility to use it as part of a structure or for energy production. In this sense, the magical properties of glass are what inspire me in striving to push the boundaries of the possible uses of it as a material.

Which criteria determine your preference in using glass (insulation, reflectivity, color, etc.) in the design processes of your projects?

The most important criteria is its consistency with the concept of the project. For example, we have used glass in combination with iridescent foils, also designed facade elements that play with light, translucency and reflection in order to create special effects on the building’s exterior. We have also been involved in the research and design of printed photovoltaic (PV) glass panels and have integrated PV cells into a facade to generate energy. We have also used crystal clear glass for special showcases and used glass structurally or in bended form in order to underline the exclusivity of the display windows of a high-end store.

Which buildings do you find the most impressive in its use of glass, why?

Historically there have been some amazing designs that really transformed the practice of architecture, such as the 1922 competition entry for a transparent high-rise in Friedrichsstrasse, Berlin by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Although it was not technically possible to build it at the time, the design manifested such a strong vision for the future of high-rise buildings and the use of glass as a transparent building material. Today, it is structural glass solutions that push the boundaries, in the sense that they visually enable glass buildings to “disappear”. This is especially interesting for renovations which create a strong contrast between old and new, or for new designs to stand out on their own.

What are the attributes of glass that add value to building design?

Transparency is the most obvious attribute as it lets daylight into spaces, which is essential. Combinations of glass and technical advances in insulating and applying heat reflecting layers even combine transparency with some physical properties from which the building and its users can benefit. Glass is a long-lasting material that provides opportunities for the development of innovative, energy efficient building envelopes. Furthermore, it has invaluable use in renewable solar energy technologies.

How do these values reflect on your projects, how do you prefer to use glass?

At UNStudio we prefer to use glass in the most technically advanced ways possible, and always in relation to the concept of the design. For example, our research into building integrated PV cells has led us to combine graphic print patterns with PV technology in various ways. In the research for Construct PV, we optimized the print on the glass to balance transparency with energy producing properties. We like to use glass both in its purest state and with a minimum of structural support, and in combination with other materials, such as laminates or prints.

Could you share your vision for the creative use of glass in architecture?

We have seen a wide variety of technically innovative glass solutions, and these have inspired building designs. A broader vision for glass in architecture would be to follow sustainable opportunities for the production of glass, and reuse and recycling of the material. Such developments will surely bring the magical properties of glass to the fore and contribute to a holistic improvement of the building industry at large.

Photography: © Renata Chede (1st), © Viviane Sassen (2nd, La Defense Offices), © Christian Richters (3rd, Galleria Department Store Seoul, © Solar Visuals (4th-7th, Solar Visuals facade panels), © Rohspace (8th & 9th, Hanwha Headquarters Remodelling Seoul), © Evabloem (10th & 11th, 18 Septemberplein Eindhoven), © Evabloem (12th & 13th, P.C. Hooftstraat 138 Amsterdam), © Construct PV Consortium (14th, Research project Construct PV) ​​