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Dieter Janssen, associate architect at Diamond Schmitt answered our questions on his perspective of glass and its various uses in his projects.

What concepts does glass as a building material evoke in your imagination?
The legacy of glass in modern architecture’s history remains a deep well for inspiration. To see the glass as more than a transparent surface -as fascinating as that can be- but as something that can make buildings hover in defiance of gravity, or reflect the life of a street or campus, or become itself a source of light as a cast, embossed mass, or as an undulating curved surface, or as a kaleidoscopic colored view. These are all qualities that have a role to play in defining architecture. The structural possibilities continue this experimentation further still, from Peter Rice’s early work with delicate steel frames and nettings supporting vast walls of glass, or Professors Sigrid Adriaenssens and Stefana Parascho’s glass brick arches. Ongoing research into energy capture and light regulation goes further still with possibilities for tall buildings or long-span glazed surfaces.

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

All those considerations have a role to play, and the dexterity of the material to be used in a variety of applications is one of the glass’ major advantages. However, beyond the play of light, there is the social dimension of what glass can offer. The large glass elevation of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, for example, serves to fold the public sphere of the street vertically up the façade, broadcasting the interior space of the lobby back out into the street life of University Avenue. Similarly, with the black-box theatre space for the ImprovLab at the University of Guelph’s MacKinnon Building, a glazed wall extends the performance venue of this mid-size theatre out onto the adjacent green forming a dialogue with the larger MacKinnon Building and campus. Facilitating that kind of conversation, with all the technical criteria of thermal, acoustic, and light level performance requirements is essential to the success of those spaces for the institutions they serve. 

Which building do you find the most impressive in its usage of glass, why?

Several buildings stand out as benchmarks of innovation and architectural possibility: the windows of Sigurd Lewerentz’s flower shop just outside Malmö, Sweden is a personal favorite for how seemingly simple they are, complimenting an otherwise modest building for its context. At the other end of the spectrum, the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art is a technological marvel that defers all experience to its complex transparencies while using the glass as load-bearing walls. In addition to those two inspiring examples, we had the opportunity to work with several talented artists for the Canadian Senate in Ottawa to produce a series of unique, demountable, slump glass cast walls as part of the main chamber. Combining the skills of a glass artist, a ceramicist, and the Dominion Sculptor for Canada’s Parliament buildings offered unique insights on the design, manufacture, and execution of glass that has completely changed my thinking about what can be done with glass. 

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

For all the possibilities of glass, access to daylight and a real connection to context remain an essential value to the design thinking of any building. Making the most of that, however, means the ongoing research into glass technologies for acoustics, thermal performance, bird-friendly considerations, and the greater spectrum of effects are vital to the performance of architectural projects. Continuing research into Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) technology presents a promising future for glass and energy independence.

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

Diamond Schmitt’s commitment to best practices for building design informed by standards such as LEED or Passivhaus and other similar models is an active priority for us. 

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

There is a world of difference between the details of a project like the Farnsworth House and a project like Foster’s Apple Michigan Avenue Store in Chicago. Both are examples of the trajectory of innovation which appears to be continuing a steep curve in what certain glass technologies are possible. Development in the facilities that process larger and larger pieces of flat and curved profile glass is one branch. A growing understanding of the structural possibilities of laminates and glass blocks, greater thermal performance to bring glazing closer to the realm of conventional insulated wall assemblies, and energy capture technologies all promise to expand the potential for glass in architecture and that’s exciting.

Photography: Tom Arban, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, with the courtesy of Diamond Schmitt