While architects, designers, and property managers might be familiar with phrases like ‘glazing solutions’, the average homeowner isn’t always fluent in the language of design. For newcomers to the world of architectural design, armed with nothing but a vision of their dream aesthetic for their home or property, it can be hard to know which glass product would suit their needs best.
If you’re planning to reinvent your property, home, or business, and glass is going to play a part in the project - and if you have no idea where to start - then here’s a guide to glazing solutions: what they are, and how to choose the right glass product for your project.
What are glazing solutions?
Before you start putting pen to paper, or perusing catalogues and websites for the perfect glazing solution, it’s important to understand what the term actually means. The word ‘glazing’ is fairly self explanatory - these installations inevitably and inherently involve glass, in a big way. Whether it’s a window, a glass door, or an elaborate fixture like a walk-on floor, glass is the essential ingredient of this element of architecture and design.
This is fairly self evident, but what’s more significant is the word ‘solutions’. If you’re approaching a new project, this is a term you might hear bounced around frequently by designers, suppliers, and architects - but why is the word ‘solutions’ used, and not just ‘products’ or ‘installations’?
Essentially, this comes down to semantics: glazing solutions aren’t simply products, they’re something more. They’re the solution to a problem, the answer to a question of design - whether it’s aesthetic or practical. When we talk about glazing solutions, we’re referring to glass not just as a material used to make windows and other products, but as a powerful artistic and constructive tool that - used well - can completely transform a home, property, or design.
What different solutions are available?
As modern technology and techniques in construction and engineering have developed, and new advances in things like nanotechnology have emerged, the scope of what can be achieved with glazing has widened significantly.
Mere decades ago, there were a number of limitations on design and construction when it came to glass. Many homeowners looking to extend or alter their home had to make do with a fairly unambitious catalogue of options. Simple windows, cumbersome glass extensions, and uninspiring glass doors were a common sight; double glazing didn’t even become widely used in the UK until the mid 1970s (this was due to new limitations on U-Values - the measurement used to determine insulation quality).
As the years have gone by, a new age of design has emerged. There has been a dramatic shift in the way designs are approached: rather than creating plans based around the limitations of available installations, glazing solutions themselves are designed around each individual project.
This shift in attitude owes itself largely to technology. Glass can now be bent, creating stunning solutions like the Sky-Frame Arc; panes of intelligent switchable glass can be charged with electric currents to alter opacity; panels can even be walked on, bearing considerable loads; and strengthening techniques mean that glass is now entirely viable as a construction material in architecture. Structural glazing is no longer confined to the realm of futuristic science fiction -- it’s very much a reality, and a staple building block of the best and most innovative projects and designs.
What does this mean for me?
This might be inspiring, but for many home and property owners, what it comes down to is how all this potential can be channelled into your actual designs. The takeaway from all of this is that if you’re planning a project, building, or home improvement that will involve a glazing solution, it’s now possible to approach a designer, architect, or supplier, with everything from a well-thought-out concept to a scribbled down idea on a napkin (think ‘flux capacitor from Back To The Future’).
Your needs may be simple, and you may already know what type of solution you’ll require - if all you want to do is change the type of framing of one of your windows, or upgrade from double to triple glazing, then you won’t have to pore over designs and ideas for too long. If, however, you’re unsure what type of glazing solution would best suit your plans in the first place, then there are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. What will it be used for?
It may seem like a basic starting point, but necessity is the mother of invention. Whatever the scope, size, and scale of your project, when it comes to your glazing installations, you’ll need to know the main purpose for which they will be used.
With much larger and impressive glazing now available, one popular and timeless use for glazing is to increase the available levels of natural light in an interior space. Natural light has all kinds of benefits, both in visual and practical terms, and glass is the primary way to invite it indoors.
Naturally, the larger the glass installation, the more light will enter the space. If this is the main purpose of your installation, then take some time to consider the space itself, and whether something like a glass window - or a frameless glass wall - is the right option. In certain situations, particularly if obstructions like trees or walls are present, a glass roof may even be better.
Glazing solutions can serve many other purposes too, one of which being they make excellent and visually appealing access points to a building. If you’re looking for a glass installation that can serve as a point of entry, then there are a wide range of glass doors available, from sliding, to bifold and even pivoting options. Glass skylights can also be used as entry points, so if you’re planning a rooftop space, you could also consider a glazing solution as an elegant and impressive way in and out.
For those looking to extend their property, a glazing solution could also be the perfect choice. Gone are the days of the dreary glass extensions mentioned previously; glazed extensions can now be aesthetically stunning, and have broad practical uses. Again, if this is your plan, you’ll need to think about how to make the most of your glass extension - as this will determine the types of designs that will best suit your needs.
For some, it’s all about the visuals. There’s certainly nothing wrong with taking real pride in your project or plans, particularly if you’re a homeowner looking to construct or improve the perfect home. Glass technology means that we can now use glazing as an aesthetic or artistic tool. And if all you’re planning to use your glass installation for is a source of visual appeal and inspiration, this is also a perfectly viable option.
Whatever you plan to use your glazing solution for, think about how often you plan to use it, and the potential risks associated (e.g will it be at potential risk for wear and tear?), as this will help you rule out some inappropriate options.
2. Consider the practical limitations
When you have established a good understanding of what you intend to use your glass for - and before you get carried away planning elaborate and futuristic boundary-pushing designs - you’ll need to be realistic about addressing any practical limitations that could restrict the options available to you.
This doesn’t need to be a negative thing. In fact, it can help you to refine the list of options you’re considering, and push you towards some more astute design decisions.
One of the most important limitations to bear in mind is space. How much room you have available for your installation will inevitably dictate the options available to you. Different glazing solutions have different requirements - for instance, if you have an abundance of room you plan to capitalise on by adding a large glazed installation, there will be structural implications, such as the inclusion of beams or framework, that you’ll need to consider.
How much space you have, and in turn the size of your planned glazing installations, will also determine whether certain functional options will be possible. If your interior space is restrictive, then something like a bifold or pivot door may not be suitable, whereas a sliding glass door would be perfect.
There are also some extraneous practical considerations, such as weather, to think about. If you’re unfortunate enough to live somewhere that experiences a lot of rainfall, then rooflights and other installations might benefit from certain types of glass, or a waterproof coating to ensure longevity.
3. How secure does it need to be?
This one might seem a little trite. Of course, any glass installation in a home or commercial property will need to be secure, but it would also be fair to note that sometimes specific circumstances mean that additional levels of security are required.
There a plenty of options available, but if, for instance, your project is in an area which might experience crime - such as a busy city - then glazing solutions can have things like electronic security systems implemented as part of the design. Similarly, bullet-proof and bandit-proof options are also possible, and for some projects may be worth considering.
With these few questions checked off the planning to-do list, you can turn to the slightly more creative (and arguably more enjoyable) side of picking a glass solution: the design.
Knowing how to choose the right glass product has a lot to do with aesthetic. Fundamentally, different glazing solutions bring unique visual elements to the property or project in which they are installed; a frameless glass window, or invisible corner, for instance, adds a completely different aesthetic quality to something like an opaque walk on glass floor. Think of it in terms of ‘horses for courses’: some glazing solutions will lend themselves to certain projects more than others, from a visual perspective.
You’ll need to factor in how your glass installation will contribute to the overall aesthetic of your project. If you’re planning to brighten the interior space of a listed or historical building, for example, then a minimal and visually unobtrusive design would likely be more suitable than a bold, colourful, or tinted finish.
Think about everything from colour and material schemes, to the potential shape of your planned installation. These will all dictate the options available to you, and having a good idea of how you want your installation to look - even vaguely - can be a useful starting point for deciding which solution will work best.
How to get started?
Even equipped with plenty of premeditated intent, knowing where to begin with a new project - let alone deciding which glazing solutions are the best for your plans - can be difficult. So where should you begin?
Having worked with countless homeowners, architects, and designers, we would strongly recommend that you share a little of the load when it comes to approaching a new project, certainly initially. By enlisting the help of an expert architect, designer, or supplier, you’ll be able to work through each stage of the planning process, which will make choosing the right glazing solution far less onerous.
Once you’re a few steps down the path of the design process, it’s a good idea to speak to a structural glazing supplier like Cantifix in person. We created our First Tuesday drop in sessions (held on the first Tuesday of every month) to serve this very purpose -- attending a session like this, and talking through your ideas with an expert can help turn your plans into a well-thought-out and practically viable reality.
If in doubt, you can always opt for a more traditional route, and simply seek some inspiration. Taking a look at some of the previous projects that suppliers, architects, and designers have worked on before can be a fantastic source of ideas, which can in turn help you to decide upon the best glazing solution for you.