Glass – The Answer to a Renovator’s Prayer

Glass is probably one of the most ancient of building materials, but it is in its most advanced forms that it having a significant role to play in the refurbishment of historic properties, as Susan Sinden, Commercial Manager of leading glass processor ESG Group Ltd, explains.

Glass has some very useful properties when it comes to renovating and preserving historic properties such as churches and listed buildings. Many churches, in particular, are evolving to be community centres, providing hubs in which people can meet and share interests, as well as providing warm hubs and spaces for counselling and befriending.

This means that there is a delicate balancing act to be achieved between preserving and celebrating the architecture of these older buildings, while making them more practical, open, transparent and welcoming.

Glass is particularly useful in these settings as it is remarkably hardwearing, practical and versatile. Switchable glass in particular is proving very popular; although it can certainly prove challenging for the installer. Toughened laminated glass is frequently used to blend the old with the new, leading from a listed or historic property to a newer, more practical extension, such as a gift shop, or offices. The resilience of toughened laminated glass, particularly used as a divider or an external wall, also helps to ensure that ongoing maintenance is not a significant problem and the installation can generally be regarded as a completed one-off task.

Toughened laminated glass can be used effectively in dividing up and zoning spaces inside a property. Well known for its use in commercial settings, it can also provide partitions in historic buildings transitioning to a community focused purpose. For example, many churches were designed without such practical modern necessities as offices, counselling rooms and creches. They were designed largely for visual beauty, with a variety of non-standard shapes. Offices – or their contents – are not generally deemed attractive in comparison with the gothic arches or elegant aisles of a historic church building. But modern necessities can be screened very simply by using switchable glass panels, which can be transparent or opaque at the touch of a button.

However, the elegance and intricate design of the property often means that each panel must be cut to a precise and unusual shape, fitting into an arch or framing a pillar. Each panel will invariably have unique shapes and measurements and the switchable interlayer must also be cut to the precise specification without sacrificing any of its functionality. In these historic settings, wiring can also be a challenge, as it must be routed as unobtrusively as possible. This again, means that care must be taken with creating each panel. Fortunately, modern glass processing technology allows us to meet strict criteria and work to precisely fit highly individual plans, shapes and dimensions.

In some applications, noise reduction can be a real benefit. In a church, for example, a glazed creche can be provided, allowing children, quite literally, to be seen but not heard. By using sound attenuating interlayers, screened off areas can be created to keep children and parents in comfortable seclusion. Adults can easily view proceedings, and a service can be lived streamed into the glass fronted room, while children can play without disturbing the congregation.

These zoning principles, learned in corporate and boardroom contexts, are now proving invaluable for stately homes, places of worship and even partially ruined properties. A glass wall can be created to separate a still usable section of an ancient building, while allowing a clear view of a ruined exterior, for example.

Glass has a huge advantage in heritage renovation projects due to its origins. The earliest archaeological examples of man-made glass date from around 3500BC, so it would be difficult to argue that it could ever be an inappropriate material to use in historic contexts. As a highly sustainable material, it also has much to offer the contemporary architect.

The lessons of history tell us that glass, once an ancient, but versatile material, has a very bright and enduring future in construction and renovation. It is perhaps ironic to find that it is the most futuristic and cutting-edge glass technology that is helping to ensure that some of our most beloved historic properties can also look forward to many more centuries to come.

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