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The History of Glass

Glass is one of the most beautiful and technologically adaptable materials used in architecture and has been for nearly 2000 years.

It is one of the oldest, continually used technologies in human history. Despite this long history, glass is still constantly experiencing technological breakthroughs that make it a defining and indispensable feature of the modern workplace.

Of course, the aesthetic beauty of glass as an architectural material is obvious, as it allows for impactful design choices like central atriums and naturally lit common spaces in the hearts of what were once dim buildings, lit with unflattering yellow lights that hummed incessantly. But the functional benefits of glass shouldn’t be lost while focusing on aesthetics. Glass as both an interior and exterior architectural element has a shockingly relevant impact on the productivity, profitability, and long-term sustainability of any business. Before we detail the myriad ways in which glass, particularly demountable glass walls, can benefit your organization, let’s take a look at how we got here.

According to the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools, artisans in the Roman Empire made the first significant glass windows nearly 2000 years ago. They were mostly opaque, but they offered the ability to protect a building against the annoyances of nature while still allowing some natural light through. The fall of the Roman Empire set glass, and many other technologies back, but by the middle ages, glass had once again become a major architectural and decorative design element. The grand size of Gothic churches led to the use of larger windows, including complex stained glass which depicted scenes from the Bible for a largely illiterate populace. 

The next major step forward came in the 19th century when advances in metal technology and mass production allowed windows to be larger and more affordable. Trussed steel arches and finger fixings enabled entire walls to be made of glass for the first time. Structures that looked like greenhouses built for giants were now possible. The most famous example is the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1851. Built-in London, this nearly one million square foot marvel was made of 300,000 individual panes of glass. The design used modular sections, allowing it to be built faster and cheaper than anything else that size could be with contemporary building materials.

Throughout the 20th Century, this modular approach evolved as materials science did. The Fagus Shoe Factory built in Germany in 1911 was one of the earliest examples of the building style that would lead to the massive modern skyscrapers that adorn nearly every city skyline on earth. Walter Gropius designed the factory to incorporate large panes of glass into a thin steel frame that answered aesthetic as well as practical needs. Today, that building style, including curtain walls, is visible every you look.

But, the ubiquity of glass as a building material doesn’t mean that it has purely functional uses. The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan uses glass to blend form and function. The steel ball of the building which seems to float in a giant cube of glass inspires awe before one enters, thus preparing visitors for the wonders they’ll see inside. 

Today, glass in modern architecture is less about exteriors and more about the limitless uses of glass, particularly demountable glass walls, to create the kind of flexible interiors that thriving companies need in a constantly changing world.  Architects and designers are realizing that exterior walls letting in natural light don’t accomplish enough if that light is blocked by opaque interior walls.

Natural light isn’t just for aesthetics, it has well-documented benefits for the physical and mental health of your employees. Beyond health, demountable glass walls accommodate changes, both planned and unexpected as your business changes size, scope, and structure. With technological advances in materials science and construction methods, glass walls offer innovative options. When you need privacy, glass walls have excellent STC ratings and even the ability to become opaque at the push of a button. When you need your larger space back, walls like the EXPOv2 from Muraflex will automatically retract at your command. 

For nearly two thousand years, glass as an architectural element was about finding new ways to create the perfect blend of form and function in exterior construction. But today, glass is about revolutionizing interiors for modern needs. Glass walls that let light flow freely and provide the option for privacy or large open spaces with a single touch have become essential. They allow you to change the purpose and shape of a room to accommodate multiple needs in a single space. 

2000 years ago, glass let light into the dark hearts of cold buildings. Today, glass offers the confidence that your office space is flexible enough to meet tomorrow’s challenges, even if you can’t predict them today. 

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