Designers at the forefront of glass technology spoke at the recent ‘Glass in Architecture’ conference, organised by Architecture Today with sponsors AGC and Halio

In association with


James O’Callaghan – Eckersley O’Callaghan
Having developed an expertise in structural glass, first highlighting its transparent qualities, the structural engineer’s focus has shifted latterly to also embrace energy performance. The practice sees the introduction of new technology as a step-by-step process, learning from each project, while its thread of innovation is developed in accordance with the particular brief.


The Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park in Cupertino, California, was recently completed for Apple by Foster & Partners and engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan. A transparent 6.6-metre-tall, 41-metre-diameter glass cylinder supports a lens-shaped carbon-fibre roof weighing 73 tonnes, making the theatre lobby the world’s largest glass-supported structure. The roof is supported inboard of its outer edge by laminated glass panels, each comprising four 12mm-thick plies and joined with structural silicone, without any additional support such as structural fins. Sprinkler pipes, power, data, audio, and security run through conduits concealed in the 44 silicone joints between the radial roof panels. Located in a highly seismic zone, the structural criteria for the Theater were particularly challenging, The weight of the roof was kept to a minimum, and the curved glass panels fixed in steel clamps using structural silicone. The clamps were engineered to deform before the glass breaks, safeguarding the integrity of the overall structure (ph: EOC).

An emphasis on increasing transparency while reducing physical joints and junctions has characterised its work with Apple over the last 15 years. The practice has engineered about 200 projects, from Apple stores to the company’s California headquarters, where there has been a continual thread of employing glass to merge inside and outside with minimal visual interference.


Apple Zorlu Center, Istanbul, by Foster & Partners and Eckersley O’Callaghan (ph: Hufton & Crow).

The more transparent facades become, however, the more challenging the issue of energy performance, so the practice’s attention now is on emerging technologies in this field. These include the post-manufacture processing of glass with coatings, manifestations or printing to reduce solar gain and glare, to cutting-edge innovations such as dynamic glass, for example the incorporation of liquid crystals that can be orientated to moderate energy flow through the glass.


Glass stair at Apple Westlake, Hangzhou, China, by Foster & Partners and Eckersley O’Callaghan (ph: Nigel Young).

The practice believes that current developments in electrochromics and thermochromics (colour change with temperature), when integrated with existing technologies, have significant potential in creating more responsive building envelopes.


Curved glazing at Apple Michigan Avenue, Chicago, by Foster & Partners and Eckersley O’Callaghan (ph: EOC).

Gordon Talbot – Ian Ritchie Architects
Project director at Ian Ritchie Architects, Talbot considered the haptic qualities of glass, particularly in relation to the design of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits & Behaviour at University College London.


Ian Ritchie Architects’ Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is a state-of-the-art neuroscience research facility, capable of adapting to the developing nature of the science. and attracting the world’s best scientists, and with a minimum life-span of 60 years. Located on a tight urban site in Fitzrovia, London, the building incorporates laboratories with a unique spatial configuration, providing double-height areas and natural light (ph: Grant Smith).

The SWC’s innovative configuration was developed to optimise the opportunity for scientists to collaborate formally and informally, and for maximum adaptability. Its spaces are organised to reflect the latest neuroscientific and biological research into how individuals interact with their environment. This suggests that people prefer designed spaces in which they can see a long way and feel connected to others, with multiple vantage points and visual variety – some intimate and some more open; a multi-scale spatial approach that is similar to the brain’s neural networks. Neuroscientists have also learned that people feel better and stay healthier when they are exposed to natural levels and cycles of daylight.


The substructure and superstructure of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is concrete to reduce vibration transfer, and it is wrapped on three sides with an innovative structural insulated white cast glass wall, incorporating opening windows and louvres. Both the insulated cladding and U-profile glass cladding span floor-to-floor, reducing the amount of secondary structure required (ph: Grant Smith).

Ian Ritchie Architects addressed this issue by making the entire north wall of the SWC out of translucent cast glass. This allows diffused ‘white’ natural light into the building and also allows the gradual change from day to night to register on inner walls.

The scientists were keen to be able to write anywhere and everywhere as ideas occur to them, so the entire inside face of the cast glass envelope and all the internal glass partitions can be put to use as writing surfaces. In circulation areas and spaces without glazed walls, glass whiteboards are provided to encourage the immediate exchange of ideas. Although the scientists did not want occupants of offices opposite to be able to look in, they did want windows that opened, so the building has narrow, triple-glazed windows set flush with the facade, with mechanically-operated and adjustable cast-glass louvres that can be rotated to suit individual requirements for privacy or clear views, or to reflect afternoon sunlight into the building.


The north-facing street facade undulates at two wavelengths and two amplitudes. The light transmission of 11 per cent provides diffused ‘white’ natural illumination to the interior, and allows the building to glow at night. The clients were the Gatsby Charitable Trust, Wellcome Trust and University College London (phs: Grant Smith).

The architects worked with a glass manufacturer and installer to develop a unique structural cast-glass assembly that was prefabricated in large modules, combining speed of installation with a high standard of workmanship. The glass envelope has a high thermal performance, despite the demands of a highly serviced research building with three distinct environmentally-controlled zones. The SWC has the first new-build installation in the UK of a demand-control ventilation system, and it achieved an EPC rating of 28 and a BREEAM Excellent rating.

Giles Martin – Wilkinson Eyre
Wilkinson Eyre has worked on a series of glazed diagrid and gridshell structures, including Guangzhou International Finance Centre, the Alpine House at Kew, and the double-gridshell, 20,000 square-metre Cooled Conservatory Complex at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (below), which houses plants that are otherwise unsustainable in Singapore’s tropical climate. Martin has seen glass get bigger, better, clearer and brighter but suggests it now needs to become more durable, reusable and recyclable, and in this respect working with all-glass facades will bring greater challenges, but also greater rewards.


Wilkinson Eyre’s Cooled Conservatory Complex at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (ph: Craig Sheppard).

Rob Peebles – PLP
Recalling that “30 years ago, architects such as Mike Davies imagined polyvalent facades that did everything – heat gain, heat loss, light level”, Peebles suggested that “now we can do each of these but not yet all together”. Anticipating glass facades that do everything at once, he predicts “they’ll be your television screen, insulating blanket, solar collector, security, privacy – but you can switch them on and off”. PLP’s 22 Bishopsgate, a 60-storey building under construction in the City of London features a pressurised closed-cavity facade that can provide maximum transparency and total glare control.

22 Bishopsgate, City of London, by PLP (ph: PLP).

Nick Owen – Simpson Haugh Architects
Owen is working on Circus West at the Battersea Power Station development (below), where a double-skin facade balances transparency, depth, articulation and reflection against performance. The outer skin comprises fixed and sliding glass panels with cantilevered internal glazed balustrades, providing a user-controllable, protected balcony space or winter garden. The inner skin has fixed and sliding glass panels and solid shadow box panels on a three-track arrangement, allowing large sections of facade to be opened up to the winter gardens.

Circus West in Battersea, London, by Simpson Haugh Architects  (ph: Karen Fuchs).

Martin Grinnell – SOM
Grinnell anticipates that the next five years will bring small developments in performance change through coatings, but beyond that technologies from sectors such as IT, personal devices and the automotive industry will be applied to buildings. The potential of thin glass technologies – as used for mobile phone screens – will be significant in terms of transparency and environmental performance, but its structural properties could allow a facade to be folded like a curtain. Conventionally static facades could become dynamic, which would open up exciting possibilities in building design.

Benoit Domercq – Halio
Domercq, general manager at Halio Europe and Middle East, has a strong experience in leading-edge technologies and in growth-stage technology companies. He believes the new company can help develop products that employ electronic intelligence to deal with both transparency and energy issues. Thanks to its smart management algorithms, Halio is designed to maintain the atmosphere inside a room year-round, but controlling the glare level and the energy that enters the building while maintaining transparency for views out.