My article on structural glazing can be found in August's edition of Self Build & Design in a special glazing supplement.
STRUCTURAL BUILDING AND EXTENSIONS
When is a wall not a wall? When you can see through it? Or is it still defined as a wall by the mere fact that it divides or protects a space? Glass is still a physical element; after all we can’t walk through it…..yet!
With glass no longer being the captive of a frame or reliant on the wall it resides in, it has become a walling material in its own right. This is no new thing of course, with the likes of great architects Mies van de Rohe and Philip Johnson using glass in huge expanses to create floating roofs and transparent houses, which seamlessly blended into the landscape. It is, however, only in more recent years that we have seen the growing trend for structural glazing in the UK domestic market both on new build houses and extensions.
The real attraction of glass is its transparency and its ability to bring the outside in. Transparent walls enable you to feel at one with your surroundings unlimited by frames and solid walls they can give a real sense of openness whilst also allowing the maximum amount of daylight into habitable spaces. What better feature wall than the changing skies and seasons!
Structural glazing the long time preserve of the high street shop front or prestigious office has really broken through into the residential market, which has been dominated by UPVC conservatories for far too long. Structural silicone bonding has been around for over 30 years giving architects the freedom to form vast fully glazed facades.
The structural grade silicone effectively acts as glue, which bonds the glass to the structural frame (often glass itself), obviating the need for intrusive mechanical fixings and enabling the design of seamless glass surfaces. It is the unique properties of the silicone that allow this to work being both strong and flexible and also weather resistant.
This clever sticky stuff gives us the opportunity to create transparent masterpieces in our back garden, contemporary glass gems, which sit elegantly alongside our traditional brick dwellings. There are various companies who specialize in structural glazing systems specifically for the residential market, such as www.glasspace.com, www.clearliving.co.uk,
So how do you stay warm behind your walls of glass, or even, how do you stay cool with the sun blazing in? By using a low e glass which is basically a heat resistant glass with a metallic coating applied on one side the sun’s energy is allowed to pass through from the outside whilst heat loss is resisted from the inside. This forms part of a sealed double or triple glazed system, which often has a gas filled cavity to make the unit more efficient.
Solar control can also be in the form of physical shading from overhanging roofs or even trees but for a more regulated approach consider blinds some of which can be neatly incorporated into your double glazed unit.
If this all seems a bit Heath Robinson, research is currently being carried out into glass, which can respond to external conditions. Photochromic glass has been used for some time in sunglasses. As light intensity increases molecules within the glass spread out to prevent sunlight passing through. The disadvantage of this is that on a sunny winters day sunlight will be prevented from passing through the glass and the occupants will not benefit from the solar gain.
Electrochromic glazing is looking like the hot contender to solve this problem as it’s controlled by an electrical current rather than the sun’s rays. This can be manually operated or linked into the buildings management system. The glazing was installed on the House of the Future at the ‘Living Tomorrow’ project in Brussels ( www.livingtomorrow.com ) but it is proving difficult to make these so called ‘smart windows’ affordable and it maybe some time before we see them in the UK domestic marketplace.
One of the biggest attractions of glass, it’s transparency, is also it’s biggest failing when it comes to installations in domestic properties. Whilst it’s very appealing to look out of your home it’s much less appealing for others to be looking in.
A very neat solution to this is switchable privacy glass, which is becoming popular in the retail market place (obscuring shop fronts etc). Often associated with internal applications (Offices, Fitting Rooms, Bathrooms) switchable privacy glass is available for use externally. A PDLC film is sandwiched in the glass and using a tiny electrical current the glass can be switched from clear to opaque and vice versa. The electrical supply causes the liquid crystal molecules to align making the glass transparent.
Fed up with cleaning your windows or paying someone to clean them? Pilkington were the first to introduce a self-cleaning glass with the Pilkinton Activ range, a glass with a dual action coating designed to use the sun’s rays to break down and loosen the dirt and the rain to wash it away.
Various other companies now do similar products so it’s worth shopping around. The glass is around 15-20% more expensive but it’s well worth considering if you are installing new glazing if only to avoid the need for dangerous feats from ladders!
With windows being the biggest source of heat loss in your house surely the logical thing would be to use the windows to provide the heat? Yes, you can really buy glass which acts as a giant heater (www.iqglass.comwww.finglassuk.com). The glass is coated with a transparent metal oxide which is semi-conductive. An electrical current is fed in and the glass acts like a conventional electrical resistor creating radiant heat.
The advantages of this are clear, no obtrusive radiators, no condensation, no wasted heat, minimal maintenance etc. The catch is that to effectively heat a space you will need ¼ of the area of a room to be in glass. However, it can be connected into other heating systems and you can even have heated mirrors or ‘glass radiators’ in rooms where the amount of glazing is insufficient.
So what price do you pay for this level of innovation? The glass is approximately £700 per square metre, so far from cheap. However, the running costs are substantially lower than a standard gas or electrical heating system.
With solar power coming out as the driving force of the renewable technologies the race is on to incorporate photovoltaic cells into as many building elements as possible. Much research has been carried out into generating electricity from the sun’s rays on glass. The main stumbling block for this has been the level of transparency able to be achieved. After all the main attraction of glass is a clear uninterrupted view.
The latest development is an ultra-thin coating of spray-on liquid consisting of ultra-small solar cells, which despite their size, have been proven to successfully generate electricity. This in combination with heated glass could result in some really exciting products reaching the domestic marketplace, which will delight architects and eco-warriors alike.
Glass may no longer be an indulgent inclusion in your home with its meager thermal performance needing to be balanced by more substantial counterparts. Imagine looking at the world through walls which not only let light in and allow views out, but which react to their surroundings and are truly integrated into the way the building functions and the way the occupants live.
Glass is one of the rare materials which sits comfortably against all other materials; traditional and contemporary. It is unique in its ability to blur boundaries, capture light and soak up the sun. It is these qualities that enable it to truly enhance the spaces we inhabit.
·Follow the solid surfaces from inside to outside to help blur the boundaries whether it be a seamless sandstone floor, a run of Kitchen units or an exposed brickwork wall.
·Consider where you want light to fall within a space and the effect that will have. For example a simple rooflight centered over a dining area or rooflighting over Kitchen worktops.
·Explore internal layouts carefully as everything is ‘on show’ if you choose to construct a glass box. Solid walls can hide a multitude of sins (storage, electrics, radiators etc)
·Glass is expensive but is long-lasting and can completely alter and transform a space
·A little goes a long way as glass helps to create the illusion of space.
·Consider using a specialist glass engineer to really push the boundaries of what is achievable (eg. www.fluidstructures.com)
·Using glass is a clever way to appease Planning Authorities particularly in conservation areas or with listed or historic buildings due to its translucent and reflective qualities.
My tips on design and inspiration have been published in the May 2011 edition of Self Build & Design magazine:
I think the secret to the success of any self-build project is to understand what is behind the motivation to self-build, ie. what is the driving force that makes a person want to design and build their own home?
For most this is a desire to build a home which is not a red brick mirror of next door’s house but a bespoke solution; a dream to create a unique building which is designed around your own personal needs and which ultimately reflects your personality and lifestyle.
As a population we spend increasing amounts of time at home whether it be working, entertaining, exercising, listening to music or browsing the web, there is simply less need for us to go out of the house.
Determining the functions of the spaces within your home is therefore crucial at the early design stage. Is it a formal or informal space? Is it a multipurpose or single purpose room? Is it a private or communal area? Is there a focal point? And most important of all how do all the spaces inter-connect?
It is not just, however, the functions of the spaces within a house which should be considered it is how the house functions as a whole. I strongly believe that buildings should function as living things responsive to events both internally and externally, to their occupants and their environment.
The success story of the German model, ‘Passivhaus’ has helped to bring all things ‘green’ into the mainstream of self-building and with a direct link between saving energy and saving money all self-builds should be designed to do just that. It is no longer a design compromise to build an eco-home, in fact, I wonder whether there will even be such a term, as we push towards zero carbon homes in 2016.
Comfort is something which is often overlooked in the frenzy of sifting through glossy magazines, stashing of material samples and inputting of costs into spreadsheets. Comfort is difficult to quantify and what individuals consider to be comfortable is variable. However, a home by its very definition, should be comfortable for its inhabitants.
It is often by keeping things simple that comfort can be achieved through design. Think about how you want your home to feel, and design in materials, colours and sounds (the tranquil splash of a water feature perhaps?) which please the senses. Of course convenience is a big factor in enabling a home to be comfortable which in turn takes us back to the importance of the fluidity of spaces.
Comfort is often the most difficult to achieve but also the most important.
For most self-builders the aim is to build a beautiful home. Quite often, and wrongly so, the external appearance of a house takes second fiddle to the interior. The size and layout of the floor plan takes precedence.
To achieve a truly beautiful house the floor plan, the exterior, the site and the architectural details should be designed together in harmony. I believe a building should be able to be ‘read’ from the exterior to form a kind of map of what’s within.
I would advise thorough research on materials as there is a huge variety available. Take into consideration the local architectural vernacular, use local materials where possible and think about using different materials to break up the façade giving your home a more human scale. Approach the design of your house holistically and select materials which extend from interior to exterior and vice versa.
The form, proportions, materials, relationships, light, the accord of all the different elements of the building will set you on the path to designing a beautiful and unique home.
It is my belief that a building should connect with both time and place. Your home is not just a ‘space’ to live in, but a ‘place’ and it is your interaction with the space that makes this distinction. Those embarking on a self-build project are invariably trying to improve their lives by designing a place within which they can form a true connection, which harbours fond memories and which allows for meaningful experiences. Good design includes focal points and architectural features which can give the occupant a real sense of place and belonging.
Consider how your house connects with the environment around it. Capitalise on that environment, whether it be orientating your building to capture the sun or building into a hillside to take advantage of the earth as thermal mass. Buildings should be designed to connect with nature, respond to the climate, utilize the topography of their site but above all respect their surroundings.
It is often the little moments in a design which really make it something special. Whether they be accidental or intentional; the clever use of a small space, the way the light falls, a glimpse of a view or exposure of structure. After all, architecture is in the details.
My tips on extensions and remodelling can be found in April's edition of Self Build & Design.
EXTENSIONS & REMODELLING
LET THE LIGHT IN
To my mind the key to any successful architectural design is the manipulation of light. How and where light enters a space is pivotal to the success of that space. When it comes to house extensions it is all too easy to end up with dark gloomy internal spaces, which have been sacrificed for that bright light kitchen or garden room. Clever designs can overcome this through the use of lightwells, high level openings, rooflights, sun pipes and even transparent floors to bring light down through a dwelling.
MAKE SPACE WORK
I am a firm believer in considering the house as a whole when it comes to extensions and renovations. Think about how you are going to live in the house and what you are hoping to achieve from your project. It should be an opportunity to redesign the space you live in, to improve the flow between existing rooms as well as creating new spaces to work in harmony with the original areas.
By simply re-organising your existing layout it may be possible to limit your extension to within the bounds of what is considered permitted development to avoid the planning process. It is, however, important to remember that even if you do this you still need to consider party wall issues and neighbours rights to light.
Future proof your home by designing in flexible spaces which can evolve with changes in your lifestyle, and consider designing electrical and mechanical services which are ready to accept home automation systems or renewable energy sources.
Whilst you may be drawn to, or forced due to planning constraints, into matching existing materials on your house extension consider using contrasting materials to give your house a contemporary edge. Metal cladding such as copper and zinc can sit in harmony with traditional red brick or stone, whilst timber cladding can serve to soften the impact of an extension and provide a visual connection with the landscaping.
Use your extension to bring the outside in and vice versa by extending internal finishes into your outside space or installing sliding folding walls of glass to blur the line between interior and exterior.
In my opinion buildings should be honest with a clearly visible timeline, so I would recommend embracing the opportunity to introduce a new palette of materials to compliment your existing finishes. Why not look beyond the confines of materials typically used in housing and see what the latest cutting edge retail outlets are using?
SMALL PROJECT, BIG DESIGN
It is often the smaller projects that require the greatest amount of design input to achieve their real potential. Most architects are flexible in terms of the services they offer from conducting an initial feasibility study to running the project on site.
Rather than thinking of architects as an unnecessary expense on a small-scale extension or remodelling project consider the use of an architect to make the most of your budget by capitalising on their ability to design clever spaces which may actually save you money in the long term.
I think that many of us still associate home automation and ‘smart’ technology with James Bond style hide-outs complete with velvet curtains which open at the flick of a switch or Jetson’s-style flying machines which conveniently fold up into a suitcase once you arrive at work! Up until more recently home automation has been driven by the desire for convenience, fuelled by advances in technology and paid for by the super-rich.