Practically and aesthetically, balustrades are one of the most important features of a staircase, and in commercial environments, they are now frequently being designed to be a focal point of the building’s interior. In terms of materials used, glass is increasingly being used, not only internally but also for building facades.
Able to withstand a great deal of wear and tear due to its sheer durability, glass facades, including ventilated glass facade systems with an open structure, are now quite commonly seen on new buildings and are added to older architecture as an extra layer of protection against the elements.
Internally, one of the biggest challenges faced by architects on commercial buildings is lack of natural light; with lots of rooms within rooms, the flow of light is often halted, leaving the interior dark and uninspiring. Research suggests that the more natural light there is, the greater the wellbeing of the building’s occupants, leaving specifiers with a challenge on their hands in creating a light-filled, inspiring open-plan space with good acoustics. The use of glass enables natural light to flow and a high-end look to be achieved, while acoustics and privacy levels can also be managed effectively.
The cost-effectiveness of glass is another advantage – this very durable material will last a long time and creates a timeless impression, so won’t need to be frequently replaced with any modernisation of a building’s interior. Letting natural light through will also save on energy bills, making glass a very cost-effective resource too.
One of the potential pitfalls of the overuse of glass for commercial buildings though, is the effect of solar heat gain; warming a building with the flow of natural sunlight certainly increases energy efficiency and makes for sustainable construction, but too much uncontrollable heat will make the interior uncomfortable.
Glass balustrades and facades were, therefore, the preferred choice for specifiers working on the new United States Courthouse in Los Angeles, a 10-storey, 633,000ft2 facility with 24 courtrooms and 32 justice chambers. The structure features a distinct cube-shaped design, with a serrated glass and aluminium facade that adds aesthetic depth, while effectively mitigating solar heat gain and adding to the overall sustainability of the building.
Contractors faced strict construction schedules due to the building’s central location in Downtown LA, so internally an all-glass dry-wall glazing system was used, practically halving installation time compared to a wet-glazed alternative. Circulating light throughout the building due to its use on stairways, walkways and on floor ledges overlooking the atrium below, the dry-wall system was straightforward to install with the minimum of fuss and downtime while ensuring safety was always given priority, for the installers and ultimately, for the end-users too.
Driven by sustainability, the all-glass aesthetics of the United States Courthouse ensure the flow of daylight is optimised, and energy consumption is reduced while creating an open, collaborative working environment.
From a practical viewpoint for specifiers and installers, toughened glass, wherever it is used in a building needn’t be difficult to install or maintain, as is evident in the above example. With the right systems chosen, glass systems can be straightforward to fit, even retrospectively, enabling the open-plan space to be easily adapted to suit changing requirements. Dry-glazed systems, such as the one used for the United States Courthouse, are particularly effective for modern interior designs as they are quick and easy to install, ultimately providing maximum transparency and an elegant appearance.