In some science fiction films smart glass is already a reality. In the morning as soon as you get up major news is displayed on bathroom mirrors, in showers or on glass kitchen fronts. The images are controlled by swiping or voice commands. Glazed building façades are now also becoming vehicles for news and advertising messages – projecting moving images, obviously. Once at the office, you no longer need keys to enter the workplace because the scanner built into the screen authorises anyone arriving and opens the door – or denies them access. Many of these features are still fiction but various exhibitors at glasstec 2018 in Düsseldorf are specialising in the smart glass theme and showcasing interesting developments.
The fact is, smart glass is currently still often neglected in architecture and buildings even though so many functions would already be technically feasible today.
Various types of smart glass are known from smartphones. An article published by the Huffington Post in 2014 predicted that smartphones and tablets could very soon be completely transparent thanks to the glass technology used in them. This would have the advantage of just looking through the smartphone to scan all the streets around rather than having to use Google Maps to select a restaurant. The software then reveals where matching restaurants are located in the vicinity.
Smart glass can today already be found in many premium or luxury automobiles. Here the data generated by measuring sensors and the cameras built into the vehicle is interactively projected onto windscreens or side windows. Connection with passengers’ smartphones and tablets is, of course, also possible. And the light transmission of automotive glass can also be changed when subjected to sunlight (photo- chromic glass), heat (thermo-chromic glass) and electrical voltage (electro-chromic glass).
Glass partition walls used in offices can often be switched between transparent and opaque. Photos: Dorma Hüppe Raumtrennsysteme
Naturally, all of these features can also be used in the building sector. But when it comes to smart glass in buildings we often only think of the possibility of switching partition walls from transparent to translucent (meaning opaque). Especially in office architecture – where above all in expensive mega-cities mobile partition walls are needed to delimit new spaces in relatively small areas – glass with these properties becomes an increasingly important design tool. With the help of wall-mounted switches or remote controls users can select between transparent and nontransparent. This effect can be repeated any number of times because it is produced by liquid crystals in a conductive layer of these sheets. As soon as electrical current is applied the glass changes from opaque to transparent. This means, at a touch of a button, private or public conference situations, customer talks or working group meetings are possible on demand. After switching off the power supply the crystals re-arrange themselves and the glass returns to its opaque state.
Glass Surfaces to act as Light Sources
Another topic also related to this area is lighting. After all, efficient and quality lighting eases our everyday routines. This not only applies to corridors and staircases but also to premises as a whole. With OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) new lighting technology is making increasing inroads in buildings.
Unlike conventional LEDs and all other light sources OLEDs emit their light across the entire surface. This feature makes them the first real flat area light sources that make completely new design options possible. Their light is roughly comparable to natural sky light while the light emitted by conventional light sources resembles sunlight. And what is more: their light is glare-free.