A Glass Act

Older than recorded history, glass is one of the most fascinating materials in the history of mankind. Its complex nature has intrigued man since ancient times, leading to an almost mystical status being afforded to this unique substance.

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By  Monika Grzesik Published  September 4, 2006

|~|Glass-body-1.gif|~||~|Older than recorded history, glass is one of the most fascinating materials in the history of mankind. Its complex nature has intrigued man since ancient times, leading to an almost mystical status being afforded to this unique substance.

Today, glass is used for a myriad of different functions. Modern advances in glass production have ensured that its lightness and clarity, and slender translucent forms can be put to use in all manner of design applications. Fragile yet resistant, solid yet light, beautiful yet functional, glass has evolved into a captivating and highly desirable addition to the contemporary interior.

Elizabeth A. Lawrence, vice president and director of marketing and business development at La Murrina U.S says: “Glass is prevalent in almost all commercial and residential interiors because of its flexibility and reflective nature. Glass has the ability to unify a space by reflecting its surrounding colours and shapes, creating a movement and flow that other substrates do not have the ability to generate.”

Shabir Kabasi, project manager, Mirage Glass agrees: “Any material reflecting the light will stand out. This is the vital element of glass, it lights up the place. The interplay of glass with light and colour is its magic attraction — these three things go hand in hand.”

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A cursory glance at the Dubai skyline reveals how glass structures are beginning to dominate the architectural landscape. Its environmentally friendly properties and ability to cope in the heat make it an ideal building material.

Glass is also making a big impact in the region’s interiors. A leading UK decorative glass company, Fusion Glass, recently opened its first Middle Eastern branch in Abu Dhabi (Danway Fusion Glass) after fitting out Emirates Palace Hotel, and will soon open a factory three times the size of their UK one.
“The market in this region is predominantly for glass facades as the climate is ideal,” says Hylton Mockler, sales manager, Danway Fusion Glass. “However, glass as a decorative material is becoming more popular as companies are able to offer solutions locally. Dubai has reached a point where, because of the sheer number of projects going on designers need to be more creative.”

In terms of creativity, the potential of glass appears limitless. Fusion Glass offers a vast range of processes in-house including laminating, sandblasting and kiln casting. Their designers innovatively combine any number of these to generate endless decorative options.

“Glass is a material where the possibilities are endless. The only restrictions rest on how far the designer wants to go with it. A lot of our projects have been driven by the creativity of the client,” says Mockler. “A popular trend now is for kiln cast glass. There is very little restriction to how the texture of the glass can be designed — you could go geometric or organic. Glass is essentially transparent, and this look is popular as it can have a very cool, liquidy quality.”

Mockler also points to laminated glass as an exciting option for designers: “Our latest innovation is to use laminated glass with Swarovski crystals to create stunning, backlit panels. We can also integrate digital printed layers into the glass, or incorporate any colours, fabrics, veneers or meshes.”

||**|||~|glass-body-3.gif|~||~|Kabasi, from Mirage Glass also highlights the growing trend for glass in interiors: “Glass is becoming very popular. The last 10-15 years have seen a revolution in the industry. Glass can be used in anything from ceilings to floors to walls. It all depends on the interior designer. There is a particular trend for glass tiles right now. We design these in any colour and texture.”

Mirage Glass offers techniques including acid etching, ceramic painting, stained and fused glass to create amalgamations of traditional and contemporary glass art. Kabasi insists that in glass design, safety is paramount. “Safety is our number one policy. We always put our glass through the correct processes to make it safe for interior use such as tempering or laminating, depending on the application.”

With the industry booming, interior designers are now able to find creative solutions in glass design, on larger manufacturing scales, which were previously only available in small design studios. As the capacity for glass production has developed, cost has decreased.

Mockler adds: “Designers are continually excited by new ideas. The fact that the decorative and structural glass industry is making new possibilities will always provide inspiration. This industry didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. The future is only restricted by how far architects and designers are willing to push it. I don’t think we have yet gone very far down the road of exploration in glass design.”

||**|||~|Glass-body-art.gif|~||~|GLASS DESIGN

Leading Italian manufacturers, including Glas Italia, Tonelli and Fiam Italia are continually experimenting with new techniques to produce the latest in glass furniture design.
Flavio Parlato from Glas Italia comments on the innovations currently entering the glass furnishings market, “We are continuously experimenting with new manufacturing techniques and glass finishes. Lacquered glass is now popular in the market — we anticipated this trend years ago. At the moment we are proposing laminated and screen printed glass for low tables and room dividers. We have also introduced reflective glass (either smoked or coloured) for selected products in our collection as well as developing different possibilities in the use of extra clear glass.”

Fiam Italia is internationally renowned as the manufacturer of curved crystal glass design. Its aim is to free glass from its historical role as an ornamental accessory. The company achieves this through an innovative technology whereby glass is heated in a curving chamber to approximately 700 degrees at which point it can be moulded like wet clay. Despite the delicacy and purity of its designs, Fiam tabletops can in fact withstand weights of up to 200 kilos. The strength of the glass is achieved through a heating-cooling process, fusing elegant design with advanced technology.
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The most famous Fiam piece is undoubtedly the ‘Ghost Chair’. Designed by Cini Boeri and Tomu Katayanagi, ‘Ghost’ is an elegant streamlined armchair cut from a thick sheet of curved crystal glass, created to feel as though you are sitting on an invisible chair.

Parlato explains the popularity of glass in furniture design: “In current interior design, glass as a component finds a large application everywhere, and is well exploited adding a touch of style and class. Undoubtedly the introduction of lacquered glass has played a big role in that. The refined elements of glass add elegance and grace to the space, enhancing the other furniture of the interior.”

According to Sandra Diaz from Glaverbel: “There are different types of decorative glasses depending on the applications. If you want a glass floor, you will have to use a laminated, security glass, which is quite thick. If you need glass for a sliding door — a painted glass is perfect and quite trendy. If you need glass for a door or a partition (for example to provide privacy in an office area), an acid-etched glass provides a smart solution. If you want glass in a kitchen cupboard, patterned glass is often used.”

||**||Guide to Glass|~|glass-body-misc..gif|~||~|Aesthetic, functional and safety reasons all ensure that it is vital to select the correct type of glass for each use. The various options on the market seem limitless — here is a quick guide to glass:

Float Glass
Perfectly flat, clear glass. The term derives from the production method, introduced in the UK by Sir Alastair Pilkington in the late 1950’s, by which 90% of today’s flat glass is manufactured.

Laminated Glass
A safety glass made up of a sandwich of glass sheets bonded by a flexible plastic layer. If the glass is cracked or broken, the plastic holds the fragments together and keeps them from flying off in all directions. Ideal for use in interior railings, balustrades, partitions and pedestrian bridges etc. As well as safety advantages laminated glass has a wealth of creative possibilities.

Toughened / Tempered Glass
Produced by applying a special thermal treatment, which involves heating the glass to about 620ºC so that it begins to soften, and then rapidly cooling it. Toughened glass is up to five times stronger than ordinary glass. It is extremely hard to break, and when it does it disintegrates into lots of small, blunt pieces making it perfect for doors, low level windows, partitions, showers and table tops (where it can withstand high temperature associated with cooking pots).

||**||Guide to Glass|~|Glass-body-balls.gif|~||~|Patterned Glass
Used for decorative effect or to provide privacy in interiors — patterned glass is imprinted with a design during manufacture. The less transparent the pattern, the more privacy the glass affords.

Wired Glass
Incorporates a wire mesh that gives the glass a raised pattern and holds shards in place if the glass is broken. It often has an industrial look.

Opal Glass
Contains small particles that disperse the light passing through it, making the glass appear milky. This glass is widely used in lighting fixtures and for tableware.

Surface Decorated Glass e.g. Acid Etched / Sandblast Glass
Acid etched glass has a distinctive, uniformly smooth and satin-like appearance. It admits light while providing softening and vision control.
Sandblast glass has a matt finish. Effects range from simple frosting to complex deep carved three-dimensional glass.

Varnished Glass
Coated on one side with an opaque varnish.

Kiln Cast Textured Glass
During the kiln casting the surface of the glass can be transformed to have any number of textures, designs and graphics. A wide range of applied finishes including sandblasting, translucent and opaque colouring and mirroring can further enhance these textures.
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Elizabeth A. Lawrence, vice president and director of marketing and business development, La Murrina U.S. talks about the world’s most famous glass.

CID: What are the origins of Murano glass?
Glass Blowing is an art form, made famous centuries ago in Venice. In the 13th Century, the artisans moved to the neighbouring island of Murano so as not to risk fire in the furnaces burning down the wooden structures of Venice. At the time, Murano glass was only accessible to royalty and prestigious European families. Although now more accessible,
Murano glass actually increases in value over the years. It is for this reason that Murano glass has long been considered a precious and valuable acquisition.

CID: How have production methods changed over the years?
Glass blowing is a traditional art form whose core process has not changed since its initial rise to popularity in the 10th or 11th century. Once glass blowers evolved from being seen as technical labourers to being revered as skilled artisans, they were afforded the ability to grow their skill to ever-increasing levels. The past two centuries, in particular, have seen Master Glass Blowers create works with intense intricacy and colour.

CID: Why is Murano glass so famous and of such high quality?
Unlike other decor products, Murano glass can only be made by a select group of artisans. Glass blowers study and hone their skills for generations and the greater the skill and precision of the glass blower, the more valuable his pieces become. Each handmade piece is one-of-a-kind, available in very limited quantities, which makes it an exclusive and desirable product.
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CID: Is the term ‘Murano’ ever inappropriately applied?
The most common misconception with regard to Murano glass is that some believe Murano to be a ‘style’ of glass as opposed to the name of the only place in the world that these pieces can be made. Anything explained as ‘Murano-style’ or ‘Venetian-style’ is merely a copy or replica.

CID: What are the latest styles and trends in Murano glass?
The challenge of Murano glass manufacturers today is to adapt this ancient art to contemporary needs, while maintaining true to the integrity of the process. Our designers are faced with creating works in every genre and colour to satisfy the needs of today’s vast range of interior styles. We are constantly retraining ourselves, and pushing the limits of the art form to see how it can evolve and yield innovative works of art. At the same time, we must train modern-day glass blowers in the thousand-year-old Venetian design techniques. Maintaining the old and inventing the new is a challenge we must rise to meet.
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Frequently credited for revolutionising the Studio Glass movement, Dale Chihuly has transformed the art form from the premise of a solitary artist working alone in a studio environment to using vast teams to create complex, multi-part installations which have had immeasurable influence in the field of contemporary glass art.

Beginning in the late 20th Century, Chihuly established the concept of using blown glass as an accepted material for sculpture and installation of dramatic beauty. His work is marked by intense, vibrant colour. Chihuly explores the interaction of glass with light, and often selects sites for his interior compositions within buildings that are dominated by large walls of glass.

Housed in the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas, “Fiori di Como” is still the largest glass sculpture ever made. The work showcases the qualities Chihuly is best known for: grandness of scale, vividness of colour, and scope of imagination. The stunning piece of art, which weighs over 40,000lbs hangs over the hotel’s main lobby from an intricate armature of metal branches. This colourful installation contains around 2000 pieces of hand-blown glass and covers approximately 2,000 square feet of ceiling. Over 100 professionals were involved in creating the work including glassblowers, architects, engineers, shippers and installers. “Fiori di Como” forms a striking example how glass can add a spectacular touch to interior design. ||**||

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