"Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon."
When the veteran broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough sounded this compelling call to action at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Poland in December 2018, he didn’t necessarily have architectural glass at the forefront of his mind. However, as the architecture industry joins worldwide efforts to combat climate change, it is important that we look – with our newly opened, environmentally responsible eyes – at the eco-friendly design possibilities afforded by structural glazing as a building material.
Why is now the time to explore the eco-friendly possibilities of structural glazing?
The first six months of 2019 have played host to an important groundswell in terms of humanity’s collective awareness of the ecological crisis that we are facing. Heralded by the pivotal peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion, which sowed the vital seeds of change in multiple European cities in April 2019, the UK Parliament has declared a Climate Emergency.
Not a moment too soon, the connection between global warming and the prevalent, deadly weather conditions worldwide (which include increasingly frequent floods and flash fires, droughts and rising sea levels) is now being widely acknowledged. Global warming is an intensifying problem which 97% of scientists attribute entirely to human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels. Practically speaking, if we want to ensure that the Earth remains hospitable to life, dynamic changes to the way we live are urgently needed. This extends to the materials we use to build the homes we live in.
Architects Declare: an industry pledge to fight global warming
Charged with a new understanding of the urgency of the problem, constituencies, organisations and entire industries are turning over new leaves and embracing a new era of eco-consciousness.
In architectural terms, fighting climate change means reducing both the carbon emissions produced by buildings and the emissions produced while manufacturing the materials needed to create them. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has lent its voice to the global chorus calling for action against climate change, issuing a five-year plan to “turn warm words into impactful actions” and make sustainable practice standard within the British architecture industry.
A collective of over 480 world-class, UK-based architecture firms have come together to issue the joint statement, ‘UK Architects Declare Climate Change and Biodiversity Emergency.’ Their mission statement, (which can be read in full here) includes pledges to:
- Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice
- Adopt more regenerative design principles, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use
- Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work
As such, we look forward to paradigm-shattering innovations in terms of both forthcoming design proposals, and the ways in which the construction industry sources the materials that they’re built with.
Glass half full: how architectural glazing can overcome common pitfalls in home design
Global warming and ozone depletion are the two main environmental threats facing our planet which we can help to counter by revolutionising the way we design our living spaces. According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), 40 percent of the UK’s carbon emissions come from households. This means that reinventing its domestic spaces is one of the most impactful and important ways in which our country can work to redress climate change.
Some of the key areas for home improvement which the CCC identify in this regard include heating optimisation, reducing electricity consumption and improving energy efficiency. Although this may sound surprising, well-applied architectural glazing could deliver an eco-friendly improvement in each of these areas.
Worlds beyond windows: architectural glass as a building material
A far cry from the easily shattered, energy-leaking windows of yesteryear, high performance, low emissivity triple glazing is such a good insulator that it can significantly reduce winter heating energy use. For this reason, with the reduction of the UK’s net carbon emissions in mind, all houses being built or remodelled over the coming years will feature triple glazing – an optional underlying characteristic of all models of Cantifix glass.
And with CO2 emissions from concrete manufacture responsible for eight percent of global carbon emissions, according to a new report from thinktank Chatham House, it’s time to explore building alternatives to concrete. The glass elements of a home have traditionally been viewed as the means by which most of the wasted heat escapes.
It is therefore a testament to advances in the actual structures at play in structural glazing that designers can start to ditch these preconceptions. With the right design, glass can now be seriously considered as a key element of a home’s infrastructure without the risk of losing crucial energy.
What makes a green build “green”? Introducing the glass houses of right now
The composition of contemporary architectural glass is complexly crafted to be hard-wearing, strong, and an effective insulator. This makes it an ideal material to feature prominently in the construction of a green build, as it can contribute to whole-home energy-saving initiatives in a variety of ways:
- Glass optimizes daylight, saving energy. The more natural light a design lets in, the less electricity is required to light the property. Natural light is better for the health of the residents, and it reduces your energy consumption, and bills too.
- Glass can provide continuous insulation. As whole-home designs like the Photon Space demonstrate, glass can take the form of one continuous skin, which maintains an ambient temperature inside, with minimal additional heating required.
- Glass can be switchable, and optimised for a smart-home. Glass which turns opaque at the swipe of a smartphone is ideal for a property which is designed to maximise access to natural light. And, as we transition from gas and electricity powered heating and ventilation to smart devices running on renewable energy, a transition to switchable glass harmonises with the overall direction of progress.
- Glass is wholly recyclable. As we move firmly into an age of renewable building materials, it is comforting to reflect that that glass houses of today can metamorphose solvently into the glass houses of tomorrow – or indeed into something else entirely, depending on how the architectural landscape evolves.
As technological innovations continually refine its versatility, structural glazing is likely to continue to shine in multiple capacities.
If you would like to find out how your home could be upgraded or optimized to feature an eco-friendly glazing design element, we welcome you to get in touch.