Post 263 ⇒   by Gautam Shah  →


Glass has been used in architecture in THREE major ways. It has been used as a space moulding surface material, environment controller and for the metaphysical allusions.

Central Library Seattle Washington

Architecture has always been manifestation of surfaces. The surfaces have been predominantly opaque and omnipresent. This aspect has been sought to be dissolved in many different manners. The textural character of the built mass with its varying shadows has enlivened the surface. Structures like the pyramids or the burial chambers of Newgrange were monotonous, because the texturing elements were too small for the extent of the surface. The surfaces of later structures were further surface- modulated with incised with figures, writings or colour variations of materials. Large variegation of gaps, openings and massive impositions of columns and projections further dissolved the monolithic character of the form.

Chichen Itza pyramid Mexico

The diffusion of outer skin of a building was not desirable. In Egyptian or the Indian temples it exposed the inner areas to weather. The surface conversions for texturizing must remain an overt change, and for that reason an envelope was required. The envelope in Parthenon and other buildings were exterior surface composition. The inner core, covered by the outer skin had little need for surface treatment.

Erechtheion of the Acropolis, Athens

The monolithic nature of building and its surface character began to change with additions of functional units, such as wings, blocks, towers, campaniles and ambulatory spaces. The openings were made emphatic with various architectonic elements.

St. Michael’s Church, Hildesheim Architectural elements moulding the form

Abbaye Cerisy le Foret, Normandy, France Architectural elements moulding the form

The building’s exterior surface was fairly complex arrangement of forms. The interior surfaces though remained moderately plain, devoid of any play of architectural features. Interior surfaces of the Santa Sophia, Constantinople, were masked with bends of various materials, tying up openings, columns, etc.


Santa Sophia Interior Surface Treatment > Wikipedia image by Dean Strelau

 The Glass was not yet a force as a space moulding surface material. Its size was small, life short, quality inferior and very costly. It was just an illumination element that allowed, light without rains, winds minus the cold or warmth. It replaced parchment, alabaster, etc. The walls were massive to allow large sized openings. The framing techniques with stone, wood, and lead caulking were poor.

By Romanesque period there was realization that Glass is a good controller of environment. It could simultaneously protect and illuminate the interiors. Other realization was that, glassed openings shone at night, giving a brilliant recognition to the architecture. The same glass during day time, in spite of colour staining had lusterless or dull metallic grey face.

Strasbourg Cathedral, France The glass face during day time from outside was dull metallic grey surface

The interiors of the buildings of religious order were mural painted, but for that to be seen day time illumination was required. The openings seemed narrow in proportionately heavy thickness of walls. The resolution to this was in chamfering the inner edges of sides, sills and in instances lintel heads. This method gave a ‘sense’ of a larger source of illumination. For paintings on both long walls to be visible, the openings had to be on opposite walls. The placement of openings broke the continuity of the story telling board -the murals.

St Malachys Church, Castlewellan, Chamfered edges of windows enhance the brightness

The basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna –For wall art to be seen Windows on opposite face are necessary

Glass had its own tinge of colour which affected the colour scheme of the wall art. One way of diluting the tinge effect was to produce glass as thin as possible. This was done by blowing glass cylinders or bulbs and flattening them. This glass had imperfections that marred the visual clarity. The blown glass panes when placed in lower sections of the building distorted the scenery. Some form of occluding was required. Dwellings began to have sheer curtain masking, and in religious stained and painted glasses were used.