The modern worlds of architecture and construction look starkly different from the way they did even a few short years ago. Trends, styles, and techniques shift and change in popularity and prominence - which has been the case for centuries. But what’s particularly exciting in the world of 21st century construction is the technology we now have access to. We can create, build, and expand in ways we would once ever have dreamed possible.
One of the fundamental elements of almost any architectural design (particularly those with a modern aesthetic) is glazing. Glass serves both a practical and aesthetic function, and over the past century we’ve developed the ability to construct glass almost completely frameless. This offers an entire host of benefits to contractors, architects, and their clients. We thought we’d take a look at what these are...
The origins of frameless glazing
Before diving headfirst into the finer details, it’s worth noting what frameless glazing actually is, and where it comes from. Although many contractors are likely already aware of the nature of frameless glazing, the specific products which it is used to describe can be varied, and it’s useful to recognise the characteristics that separate it from other forms of glass.
Modern glass has existed in some form (from simple panels to modern float glass) for centuries, and this has led to the invention of things like double glazing, tempered glass, laminated glazing, and heat-strengthened glass. Despite these developments, the frames in which glass is set remained fairly restrictive until the early Twentieth Century.
Once new materials (such as aluminium) became viable options for setting windows and other glass panels, the techniques used to create glazed installations developed rapidly. Throughout the past century, glazing installations with minimal framing have been popular but tricky to produce, and have thus become associated with luxury or high end architecture.
What types of glass installations can be frameless?
In recent years, however, the number of ways we can produce frameless glazing has expanded dramatically. This hasn’t made the use of frameless glazing commonplace exactly, but it’s certainly made it a more viable option for architects looking to design spaces with light in mind and an ‘uninterrupted’ aesthetic.
While initially only applying really to windows (or glass doors), advances in the way panels can be bonded to both frames and other panels mean that frameless glazing can now be used to create all kinds of unusual installations. Depending on the structural glass specialist hired, it’s possible to create anything from a sleek glass wall to a frameless glass floor - while retaining enough strength to bear significant weight. Roofs, glass beams - the list is endless, and even curved glass is now compatible with frameless systems. This means when it comes to glazing, the only real limit is the creativity of the client, the architect, or the contractor.
It’s clear (if you’ll excuse the pun…) that the potential for frameless glazing is vast, but why has it become such a popular solution, and why is it so popular? There are a number of reasons...
Frameless glazing lets in more light
One of the most popular applications for frameless glazing of almost any kind is the additional light it provides to an interior space. The practice of ‘daylighting’ has become extremely popular among architects, particularly as we learn more about the role natural light has to play on our wellbeing.
The amount of natural light we are exposed to has a direct correlation to our circadian rhythms, which in turn govern much of the body’s natural biological timekeeping and regularity. Daylight also provides a host of benefits to our mind as well as our body, allowing us to focus more, and maintain higher energy levels.
With more clients are aware of the importance and role daylight has to play in our lives, it’s little surprise that frameless glazing - which maximises the amount of light let into a space - has become so popular.
While the amount of additional light afforded by frameless glazing isn’t enormous, it’s significant, and these kind of installations better align with designs and structures built with wellness and sustainability in mind. We’re moving towards a world in which we build better, and smarter, and minimal glazing is sure to remain a central pillar of these.
It’s hard to deny the luxury appeal of a completely frameless bespoke glass installation. Whether it’s a floor to ceiling glass wall, a seamless sliding glass door, or a completely obscured glass roof panel, pure glass without any of the ‘clunk’ of a frame is simply beautiful. This alone arguably isn’t a benefit however.
What is beneficial about the aesthetic appeal of frameless glazing is that with modern technology and technique, this beautiful visual quality doesn’t cost anything in terms of practical impact. Low-cost (and often not particularly attractive) double glazing is often chosen for its practical benefits in terms of energy efficiency, but now even completely frameless designs can accommodate all of these things and more.
Using thermally broken materials, laminated glazing, tempered and heat-strengthened glass, frameless glazing is no longer associated with fragility. In fact, while an unobstructed panel of glass might look somewhat delicate, with modern glazing technology even a single pane can be surprisingly resistant to all kinds of weathering and impact.
What these means for architects, designers, and their clients, is that there are almost no limitations on aesthetic creativity when it comes to glass. Frameless glazing, with all its added luxury appeal, is as viable as any other form of glazing. Not only is frameless glass practical, it’s also versatile....
Frameless Glazing Is Versatile
The aforementioned practical benefits of frameless glazing are vast and varied, and this makes it one of the most versatile and widely applicable forms of glass technology. While this is true in terms of practicality, it’s also particularly worth noting the versatility of frameless glazing in its visual quality.
Frameless glazing is inherently minimal. There are hardly any obstructions to the glass, which itself simply provides a viewpoint to an exterior or interior space. What this means is the glass doesn’t influence the overall look of a building or interior space - it enhances it.
This is hugely valuable for a number of reasons, but most poignant is the implication this has for listed buildings and other historical structures. When it comes to renovating, redesigning or extending these kinds of structures - particularly in the UK - there can be a number of restrictions in place that can make it very difficult to receive approval for certain designs.
Glass modifications such as new windows or glass doors are often some of the hardest installations to receive approval for when working on a listed building, as the stipulations for renovations usually involve preserving the original quality or characteristic of the building. Frameless glass, however, is one of the most effective ways to leave the original characteristics of the building unchanged.
Frameless, unobstructed glazing provides a completely seamless view of the original structure behind it, and so solutions such as glass links and extensions have become extremely popular among homeowners renovating listed property.
All in all, as with any construction solution or material, frameless glazing isn’t a magic bullet - but it is clear (pun still intended) that this type of innovative solution does offer a number of benefits over alternatives that have been in standard use for years. It may currently still be comparatively expensive to produce, but frameless glass could be the solution to many problems with planning and construction in years to come, and we expect to see it remain a key feature in countless new builds and renovations.