Staying Focused on the Evolving Demands of Glass

Commercial construction never stops evolving—it’s an evolution I have attempted to document in the years I’ve authored this blog. Architects and designers continue to push the boundaries while new building codes and standards push performance demands to new heights.

Indeed, if you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me make these points before. But our industry should always be on the lookout for potential revolutionary changes. This story caught my eye this week: Researchers recently developed an extraordinarily strong and lightweight material by fusing DNA with glass.

Is that example purely experimental? Sure. Here’s another one that could become reality in the shorter term: Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently reported that highly-glazed buildings can reduce their energy consumption and emissions by 40% through photovoltaic glass.

The point is that technological evolution never rests, and it will inevitably impact how we do business in this industry. In light of those changes, it’s worth reminding ourselves of our goal: Delivering high-performance products that contribute to a beautiful and functional whole. Here’s why every part of that sentence is so important:

Performance. Glass products must stand up to the new demands worldwide, which are getting tougher.

Governments everywhere are imposing bolder climate change action plans that will, by necessity, call for new heights in building performance. As a fundamental part of the building envelope, the fenestration community must be ready to meet its end of the bargain. Taking advantage of new components and technologies that deliver on the thermal demands of tomorrow’s buildings will be essential.

Aesthetics. There’s long been some push and pull in the industry over window-to-wall ratios, but as far as looks are concerned, glass is currently winning the battle. Increasingly complex and prominent glass designs are being incorporated into new structures worldwide.

There’s a reason why: it can look stunning. Highly glazed buildings have the potential to remake city skylines, and architects continually employ such design techniques to create modern masterpieces. Those buildings’ ability to maintain such beauty over the long term depends on our industry’s ability to deliver resilient, durable and high-performance glass and glazing.

Functionality. While thermal performance is a top priority, how we think about indoor environments is becoming more comprehensive. Increasingly, commercial glass manufacturers and glaziers must work toward holistic occupancy comfort.

Plenty of data details how efficient buildings can save on energy costs, but now we’re seeing that the benefits are far greater than that. There’s a definite correlation between access to natural light and multiple work and wellness benefits.

Performance, aesthetics and functionality are all intrinsically linked. None would be possible without the other, and it’ll take our industry’s continued commitment to each of those values to ensure we’ll continue to thrive.

Joe Erb is the national account manager for Quanex.