It can be easy to forget, with the mind-boggling array of technology and construction that surrounds us in the modern world, that human beings are as much a product of the natural world as any animal. We’ve built the world into something that our ancestors would never have dreamed of, but in doing so, have we lost touch with the natural world - and could innovative construction solutions hold the key to reforging this connection?
Specifically, the materials with which we construct our houses, workplaces, and other buildings could be the central issue. Throughout our history, we’ve developed countless new technologies to build structures that physically separate us from the world outside - but what if we could build a home from glass?
If science fiction films are anything to go by, then glass is very much the material of the future, and recent developments in design suggest that it could become a primary construction material for an inhabitable space. Glass homes could be the future, but is this likely, and if so, would it actually benefit us?
Why live in a glass home?
To many, the idea of living in a glass home probably seems a little strange. Greenhouses, conservatories, and even orangeries have been a popular fixture in the home for centuries, but these have traditionally been extensions to a property - not a space in which we live our day to day lives.
But there is substantial evidence to suggest that time spent inside a glass space could actually be hugely beneficial, and there is one key ingredient to this: natural light. Our bodies are configured in such a way that we’re biologically programmed to go about our routines in line with the rising and setting of the sun.
Our ‘circadian rhythms’ (i.e our body clocks) are configured in such a way that we perform at our best when we live by the cycle of day and night. If we rise with the sun, go to bed as night falls, research has found that our wellbeing is improved in a shocking number of ways. Everything from our concentration to our energy levels and libido increase, we’re more productive, and psychologically speaking we’re happier and generally feel better.
This is the driving hypothesis behind the notion of living in a glass home. We spend a staggering 90% of our lives indoors, and if this time was spent predominantly in daylight, our wellbeing would likely receive a significant boost. If the buildings in which we spend so much time didn’t disconnect us from the natural world, life would be very different indeed.
Are glass homes possible?
Before we get carried away, it’s important to address what is probably the most important question - are glass homes even a possibility? It’s true that we’ve been able to construct enclosed spaces from glass for some time, but living in a greenhouse doesn’t sound particularly appealing. If glass dwellings were to become a part of the modern world of construction, then we’d need to find a way to create a space that was habitable, comfortable, and secure.
This might sound a long way off - but it actually already exists.
Using cutting edge structural glazing technology, UK-based architectural glass firm Cantifix created ‘The Photon Space’ in 2014. This innovative all-glass living structure utilises industry-leading glazing technology to provide a glass environment that is consistently habitable, and that features all of the comforts and benefits of any other modern day dwelling.
The majority of the building is structurally bonded to curved beams (also made from glass), using highly advanced silicones. The panels themselves feature a combination of coatings, interlayers, and nano-treatments, all of which are assembled in a semi-modular format onto a steel base.
In purely practical, constructive terms - yes a glass home is a possibility. But being able to build one is only one piece of the puzzle... what about actually living in one?
What would life be like in a glass home?
The primary concern for most inhabitants of a structure like this will lie in comfort, and when it comes to glass, this is understandable. Many of us are familiar with the oven-emulating heat of a glass conservatory on a warm summer’s day, juxtaposed with the ice-caverns these extensions can become during the winter.
There are other comforts and conveniences that are also called into question, such as security and privacy (it’s one thing to propose a house made out of glass, but another entirely to consider living comfortably and securely in one!) Fortunately, advances in construction technology negate most of these concerns.
Using treated glass panels and insulative films and coatings, u-values (the measurement of how much heat glass allows in/out) can be greatly lowered, meaning the interiors of this glass environment would be pleasantly consistent. Heat is retained inside, providing ample warmth, but solar gain is regulated to ensure the space doesn’t overheat. This also acts as a buffer for increased energy-efficiency, meaning heating costs would be dramatically reduced.
Another key element of this concept is security. As the old saying goes ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’, and this seems pretty apt when discussing the prospect of actually living in such a house. Glass isn’t traditionally the strongest material, and it’s only comparatively recently it’s become a truly viable option in architectural and structural design - which has big implications for glass houses.
Tempered, laminated, bullet-proof, and even bomb-proofglazing is now a possibility, which can all be integrated within other glass installations easily. In other words, with modern glazing, people in glass houses will be able to throw all the stones they like!
While the notion of living in a home made of glass might be appealing, it also raises questions of privacy. The entire premise of living in such an environment - and reaping all the aforementioned benefits - is centred around crystal clear glazing, which in turn means an inherent lack of concealment.
This is one of the biggest points of debate around whether dwellings like this could ever be embraced by people as a way of living. We’re an innately private society, and the concept of 24/7 exposure is likely to present the biggest hurdle if these structures were to be proposed as fixtures in public spaces.
There are some alternatives, however. Rather than attempting to adopt these buildings into our bustling cityscapes, it might make more sense for them to be constructed on private land, or in more secluded areas, to present an alternative living choice. Innovative technology also could have a part to play, with solutions such as switchable glazing potentially offering a ‘smart’ way to circumvent the issue of privacy.
Is it likely that they’ll become the norm?
While the benefits of living in a glass home are apparent, it’s important to be realistic and pragmatic about their potential future within the worlds of construction and architecture. The built world is certainly changing, but it’s difficult to know precisely if and how structures such as these will fit into the world of tomorrow. While possible to build, will they become the new norm?
To provide a bit of context, it’s useful to analyse how the building design and construction industry is shifting. Take, for instance, the rising popularity of dwelling homes and prefabricated structures. Techniques including 3D printing are having a noticeable impact on the ways we’re able to produce homes, and this in turn is having a tangible impact on how we perceive architecture and construction more broadly.
People are more willing to embrace the notion of a ‘flat pack’ property, and as the global population increases, there’s a new ‘race for space’ that we’re having to navigate practically. These things, coupled with an increased awareness of the significance of things such as climate change, could potentially shift perception sufficiently that alternatives we would have once deemed extreme could enter the architectural vernacular. Could this include glass homes?
On the other hand, it’s essential not to disregard practicality. The construction of an all-glazed living space is currently expensive, and requires a high degree of design and manufacturing precision and expertise. This doesn’t align particularly well with the need for simplicity, and cost-effectiveness that things including the aforementioned ‘prefab’ homes offer the consumer.
As with so many elements of design and construction however, the rate at which the techniques involved with this kind of manufacturing develop is rapid. It’s difficult to know precisely if or how this will change, but if we look to the past, then in a comparatively short time we could reach the stage where these practical hurdles are no longer an issue.
For now, it’s probably fair to say that the notion of clear glass homes becoming a popular way of living - particularly in the urban landscape - seems a long way off. But what’s exciting is the fact that this is no longer due to practical restriction: we can construct buildings like this, there simply needs to be the right demand.
This, in all likelihood, will depend on public perception. As a global population, and particularly in the west, we are becoming increasingly knowledgeable of and concerned with wellbeing. We know more than ever about the things that have the most significant impact on how we feel and live, and as our understanding of how the built world makes us feel increases, the evidence of the benefits of living in a glass structure could become the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.
Naturally, this is currently (to use an admittedly weak pun) ‘blue-sky thinking’. But it’s certainly an exciting and reaffirming prospect. It’s reassuring to know that as we move forwards, there are so many businesses and experts looking to reconfigure and improve how we live in the world - and who knows? In a few short years, contractors may need to start brushing up on their glazing know-how...