The Transparent Future of Glass in Apartment Communities

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New uses for glass can add unique effects to apartment design

Picture a common area in an apartment. Now examine the construction of the room you’ve envisioned. Chances are, you imagined four opaque, textured walls – maybe in colors beyond the standard eggshell if you got creative. However, glass industry innovators and entrepreneurs are shattering the look of those four walls, as well as the finishes in the rooms they enclose. From eco-friendly glass countertops to folding glass walls that provide a seamless transition from the interior to outdoors, new technology and applications are changing the way the multifamily industry sees glass.

A clear look into glass industry trends

With the increased demand for glass in home and commercial construction, manufacturers and dealers are handling the once fragile commodity with gusto and offering options beyond the kitchen and bathroom. Due in no small part to new processes and equipment for making and handling sheets of glass, industry professionals have a renewed interest in pushing the envelope for what’s possible with one of the oldest materials on earth.

According to insiders at 2016’s GlassBuild America, an annual show featuring global glass manufacturers and suppliers, focus on price points alone has fallen to pre-recession levels, and interest in quality and innovation has surged. Glass Magazine reported that many companies have even added employees and expanded to new markets in the last two years to meet demand.

“Glass is an ever more utilized construction material,” said Kyle Lamb, vice president of Universal Glass Company in Dallas and president of the Texas Glass Association. “There is definitely a trend in that direction.”

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Glass folding door systems open interiors to the outdoors

Moveable glass walls illustrate one of the more stunning and dramatic trends. Once a luxury limited to high-end homes, new machinery and processes for producing and installing thicker, larger sheets of glass have lowered costs and made bi-fold doors and folding wall systems increasingly popular choices to open and close spaces to the outdoors.

Tyler Washburn, an architect at Dallas-based PRDG Architects, explained that folding systems like those produced by Nanawall add unique touches to multifamily structures by connecting common areas to the outdoors through a combination of folding glass walls. In recent years, apartment communities have opened spaces, particularly in common areas, to incorporate the indoors with outdoors. Replacing conventional walls or big windows with moveable glass doors increases the perception of space and provides the best of both worlds.

“Primarily it allows you to immediately connect to the outdoors when conditions permit,” Washburn said. “If the weather is nice, your room can be both indoor and outdoor. If the weather is bad, or you need to close up for the evening, you still get the expansive views of the exterior but are able to maintain the indoor climate and security.”

Washburn pointed out that folding systems aren’t the only option when it comes to glass walls either. Garage-style glass overhead doors can add a distinctive twist on the concept. Though slightly more cost effective than a bi-fold glass wall, he still estimates that this alternative will run around $20,000 each.

Regarding the price points of working with the material, Lamb admitted that glass is still expensive. But he also noted that by maintaining relatively steady pricing over the years, glass has gotten more competitive alongside the growing costs of construction staples such as lumber, masonry and asphalt. He also stressed that glass can seal a building’s outer envelope better and faster with more control, economy and energy efficiency than a blend of other construction materials.

‘It’s a great way to make building exteriors and interiors look amazing’

Complementing the structural applications, decorative uses of glass add creative touches to interiors and exteriors alike, replacing staples – such as countertops, shower walls and handrails – typically made from other materials. Glass also permits a wider range of effects than wood or stone. You can change the warmth or texture of glass with under-mounted lighting, make it turn opaque with the flip of a switch or even reduce solar heat gain by making it darken or lighten based on the amount of natural light exposure.

While glass countertops have existed for years, new designs rival granite, marble and other surfaces both aesthetically and for practicality. According to ThinkGlass, non-porous pure glass countertops don’t stain, don’t require sealing and represent the most hygienic countertop surface on the market. They also don’t crack or scorch under high heat, and textured finishes will mask everything from fingerprints to scratches. Countertops can also be made from recycled glass, adding an eco-friendly component.

And the applications don’t stop there. Lamb suggested the need for designers and consumers to stop regarding glass as fragile or delicate, citing newer commercial buildings in Dallas that even have large glass staircases.

“There is a luxury to glass; there’s something about it,” Lamb said. “It’s clean and has a good look to it. When everybody sees it, they are kind of in awe about it. From a design standpoint, it’s a great way to make building exteriors and interiors look amazing.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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