BREAKING NEWS: Not just for elevation, glass mosaics for flooring and blocks for walls are also used in corporate buildings. PHOTO: V. GANESAN
Glass as a building material can be as delicate as a flower petal or as strong as steel, depending on the variety chosen. Also, given that glass is one of the few materials that allows light to pass through it can be used in buildings in many ways... for walls, roofs, counter, fittings and more.
Forms of glass
Glass is normally available in the form of sheets varying in thickness from 3mm to 4mm (for windows) to 6 inches (for special openings in submarines). They are also available in the form of blocks, tiles and crystals for various applications. They can be easily moulded during the manufacturing itself as well.
Treatment of glass surface
Glass known in its common form is transparent in nature. It can be manufactured in translucent and opaque finishes too. Glass can be treated at surface level by means of frosting at Rs. 40 to Rs.300 (a process by which the glass surface is brushed to create texture) or by etching at Rs. 80 to Rs.400 (depending on the depth of the etching). Stained glass, which has been around for many years now, is very decorative and can be used in doors and windows near the entryway. Stained glass can be created in lead or glass (Rs.1500) or given plastic treatment (Rs.1500). It can be made stronger as well by "toughening the glass."
Glass in walls
Glass partitions are very common these days as they are quite affordable. The maximum size of a single sheet of glass available has also increased. For large curtain walls without any 12' x 8' in the middle, special techniques like `Patch Fittings' are available, which is a small metal clip between the glass panes. Also, glass bricks are a good alternative to the age-old aluminium and glass partitions. Glass bricks are available in sizes from 7.5" x 7.5" x 7.5" to 12" x 12" x 12" (ranging from Rs.80 to Rs.350 per brick) German coloured bricks are nowadays more preferred than the Ceylon white blocks.
Glass in flooring
Thick glass of around 12 mm to 19mm can be used for the flooring, with proper supports by steel wood frames. These glass floors are ideal for commercial spaces but they can be used in residential areas where the children's play area is far away. Then flooring glass has to be specifically toughened and made stronger, while they still are transparent.
Glass in roofing
Wired glass can be combined with shading devices like pergolas to provide an interacting roofing system above courts or even in some double height areas. Care has to be taken in sealing the joints between two glass panes, while they still provide a good view of the sky from below.
Fittings and furniture
Glass nowadays can be used anywhere including washbasin, washbasin counters to fully moulded tea tables. This can be attributed to advanced moulding and better fixing details. Corner treatments like bevelling and rounding of edges are also done easily.
Alternatives to glass
Polycarbonate, fibreglass and acrylic are some of the available alternatives for glass. Polycarbonates are expensive but they are also highly transparent and can be used over large areas, for pyramid-like roofs.
They are so clear that you can look at the stars from below at night and you will realise they help in keeping the interiors cool. Fibreglass, on the other hand, is a cheaper alternative to polycarbonates and is easily mouldable.
They can be used for domes of sizes from 3'0" to 10'0" diameter. Acrylic is another material that has high strength and a good transparency. They are being extensively used in staircase hand-rails, steps, storage and shelters.
If not for security and privacy reasons, glass could easily be an alternative for the brick walls. And for those who can afford and accept it, glass walls could still be possible with a combination of state-of-art burglar alarms fitted to it with proper battery back ups.
The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai