The trend of glass facades in construction

What you need to know:

Glass is widely used in construction projects because it provides a sleek, clean, and modern aesthetic when used in building facades, giving architects a wide range of design possibilities.

The use of glass as a structural element is becoming more popular in mainstream building projects. More and more buildings in Uganda now have their exteriors wrapped up by glass (glass facade) and further into interior elements, such as table tops, shower cabins, railings, walkways and stairs. This is because of the simplicity of the material and invention of modern construction methods.

Glass is a versatile material, manufactured by applying intense heat to sand or quartz. It is widely used in construction projects because it provides a sleek, clean, and modern aesthetic when used in building facades, giving architects a wide range of design possibilities.

According to Moses Kinobe, an architect with Kinobe and Partners, glass buildings are a celebration of new technology, reveal modernity and their value is maintained as time goes by.

He says, “Laminated and tempered glass are important elements in structural glass design. Due to the growing appeal of using glass as a structural element, demand for tempered and laminated glass is on the rise and the glass industry is growing so fast. You can choose to either have a curtain wall or storefront glass façade; framed or frameless.”

Glass is rust free and dust proof, requiring minimal cleaning. PHOTO/

Frameless facades

A frameless façade is mostly designed to have minimal structural elements, except for the glass, according to Julius Twinamatsiko, a glass expert at Twaja Partners in Kololo.  It is a more modern alternative to curtain walls and the frameless structural glass walls eliminate continuous glass supports, greatly decreasing the visible lines within the system.

Frameless glass facades give your building an attractive look because it has a neat, uncluttered appearance that gives it a good image of a workplace building.

Frameless interior automated doors are required to be under silent operation. Therefore, it is important that you select mechanisms that control and regulate closing speed to prevent the distraction of the sliding door slamming, or opening and closing too quickly.

“However, the limitation of the frameless facades is that they tend to be weak and unable to stand harsh weather conditions since they lack the supporting frames,”Twinamatsiko says. 

He recommends the use of 10 mm -12 mm tampered glass because it is10 times stronger than other glass types of the same thickness. It is stress resistant and very versatile and can be incorporated into interiors. Tempered glass costs between $200 (Shs 749,747)  and $300 (Shs1,125,784) per square metre.

Framed facades

The framed designs allow the use of aluminum, steel, concrete or wood frames which offer extra support to the glass buildings. They also require the use of glass hardware accessories. These include spider fittings, spigots, studs, walled glass brackets, floor springs and hinges especially for doors.

“They offer a higher level of security and sound mitigation than frameless designs. You need framed installations for spaces that require greater sound control, such as offices and conference rooms because they effectively dampen sound transmission,” Twinamatsiko says.

In situations with uneven floors that make installing glass walls difficult, full framing makes an effective solution.

Twinamatsiko recommends using laminated glass between 6mm -8mm thickness which costs between $150 (Shs 562,968) and $ 200 (Shs 749,747)  per square metre.

“Once the decision is made to use a framed or frameless design, you and the technical team can discuss other options, including pivot or sliding doors, automated or manual operation, and standard or designer glass,” says Twinamatsiko.

Glass allows more natural light into the room. PHOTO/FILE

Versatility of glass

If you want to reduce the amount of noise that gets into the building, Twinamatsiko recommends double glazing or using acoustic laminated glass which naturally comes with a PVB layer that insulates the building from noise.

All glass naturally has an element of acoustic depending on the thickness and lamination process.

He says, “This gives them the advantage of reducing the amount of noise getting into the building. This is a requirement for city churches. The double glazed glass and acoustic glass have a thin PVB layer within the glass that controls noise.”

With glass as a building material, you can also choose to have bullet proofed areas or even the entire building.

“Depending on the type and purpose of the building, glass gives you the option to choose to have a sound proofed building, bullet proof glasses that are very common in bank teller counters and embassies,” Kinobe says.

Besides having large glass windows to infuse more light into your house, glass can be also used for any kind of furniture, flooring, wall partition, ceiling design and to enhance the beauty of architectural construction.  Glass architecture due to its versatility uses natural light to make a room look airy and luxurious.

Using glass in building facades and interiors enhances the ambience of the space. Interiors appear larger and more open, with abundant natural lighting. You can also have a kitchen backsplash (space between cabins and cooking area) with a digital tampered or printed glass.

The advantages

Twinamatsiko notes that glass gives beauty to your building because it is transparent since it has the ability to take natural light indoors. Glass can transmit about 80 percent of natural light in both directions and no other substitute does.

He says, “More people are opting for glass buildings and interiors because it enhances the ambiance making them look larger with great amounts of natural lighting. They make a building look stunning and modern. A building that has light has life.”

Glass also gives the feeling of openness as it increases visibility since large glass sheets and new fixing systems are enabling designs with almost full transparency.

Glass buildings provide an unobstructed view to the occupants of the building and since glass can be molded and bent into any shape, it is of advantage to the architects and developers in terms of usage.

Twinamatsiko also notes that glass is cheaper, easy and takes a short time to be installed compared to brickwork that needs finishing. When broken, glass is easy to replace because it is more affordable to replace one or a few broken pieces than when a whole building collapses.

Heat insulated glass (reflective glass) controls the amount of heat getting into the building. This helps save money and energy on buying and using Air Conditioners on hot days.  Buildings are an investment that must be protected and nurtured. Proper maintenance, sufficient weather protection, and attention to the appearance of a building all play a role in keeping the structure in peak condition.

He says, “Choosing glass as a structural element is a good choice because glass is weather resistant so it can easily withstand different weather conditions such as rains, sun and wind. It does not lose its shape or shine no matter the weather. Glass is also rust free and dust proof, requiring minimal cleaning.”

Glass, as a structural element is lighter than most building materials which makes the building lighter as compared to brick-walls.

The cons

Glass façades and glass interiors are not without any disadvantages but the advantages outweigh them.

● They easily break when pressure is applied.

● They make a lot of glare which is a major disadvantage of glass.

● They absorb a lot of heat especially if you are using black glass                

● Use of glass in a building may result in higher costs in making the building safe and secure because glass results in a lot of transparency.

● Glass absorbs heat and in the long run can act as a greenhouse and hence, not suitable for countries with hot climates.

● Most glasses are not earthquake resistant and not suitable for countries that witness frequent earthquakes.

Types of glass used in the construction industry

Float glass: Made up of sodium silicate and calcium silicate, these glasses cause glare and are majorly used in the shop fronts and public places.

Shatterproof glass: Such type of glass is used for windows, skylights and floor etc. Due to the presence of plastic polyvinyl butyral, it does not form sharp edges when shattered.

Laminated glass: A combination of several layers of normal glass, laminated glass is thicker as compared to the latter. These are used for the purpose of aquariums and bridges etc.

Extra clean glass: Such type of glass is stain proof with a beautiful appearance and is also easy to maintain.

Chromatic glass: Used in ICUs, meeting room’s etc. chromatic glass has the capability to protect the interiors from daylight.

Tinted glass: This is nothing but a coloured glass, generally used for architectural purposes.

Toughened glass: A strong glass with low visibility is termed as toughened glass. It is also popularly known as tempered glass.

Insulated glazed units: Insulating glass is a glazed unit, separated into two or three layers by air or vacuum. These tend to improve the thermal performance, thereby reducing the heating and air conditioning costs, significantly.

There are many advantages of using glass as a material in building construction. But, the disadvantages of the same cannot be disregarded.  Using glass as an external façade gives better thermal insulation. But, it is more expensive than conventional building materials and is also considered risky for the lower floors due to security reasons.

What to consider

According to Moses Kinobe, an architect with Kinobe & Partners, you should never go for a glass building if the area is not fully secured. While glass facades are becoming a trend, security is a primary concern and many times it will require you to use toughened glass or double glazing for additional security.

To make a building more energy-efficient, he advises that the kind of glass used for a façade should be selected carefully. Energy-efficient glass maximises the amount of light entering the building.

Glass buildings offer a unique architectural design that cannot be achieved with other building materials. However, ensure that you review all the pros, cons and technical requirements needed for glazing. With proper planning, architects, engineers and experts can design a beautiful structure that is environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

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