Why Glazing Is So Effective In Traditional & Historic Buildings

August 06, 2018
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For contractors working on historical or traditional buildings, particularly those in the UK, choosing the right materials can be a real challenge. Building regulations and the scrupulous eyes of local conservation officers can present stumbling blocks in both the design and construction process: you’ll usually be instructed to only use materials that don’t detract from the original structure, which can leave you with precious few options.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, to learn that glass is now widely recognised as one of the most effective construction materials for renovations and similar alterations to historic buildings. In the modern world of construction, this once-restrictive substance now offers almost limitless potential. But what exactly makes it such an effective material for use in listed properties?

Conservation officers love it

In the UK, the conservation officer is the first and last line of defence in the preservation of listed buildings. These local council officials protect structures identified for their cultural and/or historical significance from being marred by unsympathetic architects -- and if there’s one thing that is sure to put a bee in their bonnet when it comes to renovation, it’s an aesthetic that clashes.

Glass, however, seems to have become something of a secret weapon for the forward-thinking architect or contractor. The use of a transparent material effectively negates the visual dichotomy that metal or stone can create, allowing the original qualities of the structure to - quite literally - shine through. When it comes to receiving that all-important ‘accepted’ stamp, glass is often the most effective option.

Modern touches with classic designs

Importantly, glass isn’t just a means of pleasing the conservation officer, but the homeowner too. Part of the difficulty with making changes to older buildings is that the materials used in the original construction aren’t necessarily the most practical - certainly not by modern standards.

In particular, single glazing and thin windows don’t usually make for pleasant interior environments, and the need to preserve the original character of the structure means that simply installing a double-glazed sash window can be notoriously difficult.

Fortunately, when it comes to structural renovations, glass brings more than just aesthetic balance to the table; it can also augment a home with modern conveniences and luxuries that might otherwise be ‘stuck in the past’.

Innovative forms of insulation such as film coatings can now be included in the design of an extension or addition without any negative visual impact. It’s even possible to include some more unusual additions, such as switchable privacy glass, to add another layer of practicality to the space being created. The result is a renovation that offers all the conveniences of modern design, without the brutalistic visual impact that materials such as stone and metal can create.

There’s no need to use additional materials

Huge leaps forward in glazing technology have also enabled architects and contractors to treat glass as a construction material in its own right. Large-scale glazing no longer requires elaborate or cumbersome structural support, with new techniques in production allowing specialists to design stand-alone structures using nothing but glass - meaning there’s no need use materials that are likely to raise eyebrows when proposed to the local authority.

Silicone bonding and other fusing techniques can be implemented in designs for a totally frameless and visually unobtrusive finish. Low-iron glass is also now a popular choice, as it doesn’t feature the green tint often associated with thick glass panels. Used in combination, these features can create fully independent living spaces, without blocking or obstructing any part of the original structure.

These kinds of ‘glass box’ designs have become increasingly popular as a means of adding new living spaces to traditional homes. And for the home or property owner looking to increase the usable space in their listed building, all-glass extensions have become something of a go-to recommendation.

Glazing can bring out the best in a building

The neutral aesthetic impact afforded by glass doesn’t just preserve the original qualities of a structure: it can even enhance them. While undoubtedly a viable option for a practical extension, creative architects and glazing specialists can also use the material as an artistic medium, improving period windows to bring out the very best in an historic home. 

Using elements such as curved glass and frameless glazing as part of a wider renovation design, architects can find ways to create a sense of visual ‘flow’, drawing the eye to certain features of a structure and away from others. Glass can also be used to manipulate light, which can in turn be used to ‘paint’ a visual image in the three-dimensional space of the property. This sense of visual narrative is a hugely effective way of showing an authentic appreciation for the building’s original qualities.

Glass can be used to create links between buildings

In many historical or listed properties, outbuildings are a common feature, and there are often situations when two adjacent structures are separated with an outdoor space. Naturally there are practical limitations to this (particularly if it happens to be raining), and this is another area in which glazing can be a highly effective choice.

Rather than adding a dedicated additional space to a listed building, glass can also be used to link two structures together seamlessly, allowing inhabitants or visitors to benefit from an extended interior environment. These spaces can act as simple walkways, or can even be used as multi-functional living or working space.

Glass can actively protect a structure

Many historic buildings are inherently fragile due to their age. As a result, preservation can be about more than just looks, particularly for those locations which receive a large amount of footfall (e.g. stately homes, or other public sites of historic culture)

Glass can act as a multi-purpose barrier, shielding older structures from people and the elements. It can insulate a space and preserve its visual quality, but it can also ensure no physical damage occurs to buildings that are particularly vulnerable. Strengthened and toughened glazing solutions are frequently used in such projects, and can ensure the structural integrity of the property remains undamaged by the patrons who often fund its survival.

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