Privacy and Practicality – Clear New Horizons

Susan Sinden, Commercial Manager of leading independent glass processor ESG Group, looks at the ways in which LCD glass technology has changed the face of privacy glass and provided a host of new possibilities for the refurbishment and construction industry as a whole.

Privacy glass used to be all or nothing, you either had frosted or etched opaque glass, and achieved privacy, or you had conventional transparent glass and sacrificed some of your privacy. This is no longer the case, thanks to the advances in the use of interlayer technology by glass processors.

The big breakthrough in privacy glass solutions for both domestic housing and corporate interiors came with the introduction of an innovative type of LCD interlayer, which allows you to switch from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button. Liquid crystals within the interlayer allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds; a clear view when the user wishes to maximise light and a feeling of spaciousness; and privacy and security when it is needed. When an electric current is passed through the interlayer, the liquid crystals align in a pattern to allow light to pass through the glass panel, making it transparent. However, when the current is switched off, the crystals will settle in random patterns which block the light, creating an opaque barrier.

At the touch of a button, therefore, or even at the touch of an app icon, an interior space can be totally changed in appearance and use. Switchable glass is becoming very popular in corporate settings, in board rooms and senior executive offices, to name just one application. When the LCD glass is switched on, the senior team appear accessible and involved, but the moment confidentiality is required, the glass can be switched off to provide privacy for sensitive discussions.

In high value domestic and commercial settings, especially in minimalist interior designs switchable LCD glass can also be used in place of window dressings, and even to help reduce solar gain, providing instant relief from glare. Switchable glass can be used to take full advantage of the view in daylight, but if you need to change clothes or bathe, you simply ‘switch off the view’ and achieve total privacy in an instant.

Switchable LCD glass also provides some key security benefits, as it is usually made by laminating two toughened glass together with a switchable interlayer. Toughened laminated glass is already a good security product which stands up well to wear and tear. Toughened glass on its own will shatter, if broken, into small granular pieces. This is much safer for those nearby than non-toughened glass as it does not create large shards which can cause serious injury.

Toughened laminated glass is safer still. If a toughened laminated glass panel is damaged, the interlayer will hold the majority of glass fragments in place, largely eliminating the hazard of falling glass. There is not usually a complete breach in the glass, so the panel can often remain securely in place until it can be replaced.

We can use more than one interlayer and different thicknesses to create toughened laminated glass panels, so we can also add properties such as fire resistance, sound attenuation, high security and even ballistic resistance against criminal and terrorist attacks.

With the advent of switchable glass, privacy can also be a defence against crime. We can make the contents of showrooms, shops and homes less visible to the potential thief. We have even seen instances of switchable glass being used in banks and building societies to protect the tellers – if you can’t see the bank’s staff during a raid, you can’t easily direct them, or tell if they have sounded a silent alarm.

In luxury city apartments, where space is limited, we are seeing more use of the switchable glass panel to make walls ‘disappear’, giving the illusion of additional space. In loft conversions and refurbishment of older industrial properties for domestic use, architects are making clever use of switchable glass to create rooms while maintaining the illusion of open plan living. Temporary screening of bedrooms, bathrooms and en-suites can be easily achieved using switchable LCD glass, and this is gaining in popularity.

This type of compartmentalising by using switchable glass walls also makes for very low maintenance in future, with no redecoration ever being needed. And with LDC glass technology being so very cool, it’s really never going to get old.

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