Although today it might be difficult to imagine our buildings without windows or our balustrades without glass, it’s easy to forget that throughout most of human history glass hasn’t actually seen much use as a building material. This week, we’re taking a quick look back at the journey of this fascinating material, and how it came to be used in today’s glass balustrades.
Before the 1st Century, glass had only a couple of uses to ancient civilisations. It was used to tip spears, and make attractive containers, but it was far too precious to be used on any sort of scale as a building material. The ancient Romans were the first people to discover the technique of glass blowing, which created colourless glass for the first time ever. The technique quickly spread throughout the Empire, and soon the wealthy elite were having glass windows installed – glass balustrades were still a long way off!
The Romans kept these techniques close to their chests, but when the Empire fell apart, the secrets spread across Europe. By the 7th Century, glass was being used in European churches and cathedrals, and the first ever sheet of glass was manufactured in the 11th Century – a practice later perfected by the Venetians.
We’re proud to say that it was actually the British that changed the game of glassmaking in architecture – and only a few hundred years ago, too! London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 saw the construction of the Crystal Palace; a huge structure built from glass and cast iron. It signalled some major breakthroughs in the use of glass as a building material. Another of these breakthroughs happened at the beginning of the 20th Century, which saw the first fully automated glassmaking machine invented by American Michael Owens. It was around this time that back in England, the growing popularity of French windows in Victorian England led to the development of the very first Juliet balconies, which would develop into the balustrades we know today. By the 1950s, glass was already being used on much larger scales across the world, such as with the Seagram skyscraper in New York City. London’s Shard is another modern example of impressive glassy architecture.
Today, glass is a versatile and valuable building material that’s a huge part of the contemporary architectural movement. We can produce it in hundreds of thousands of different shades and colours, not to mention various transparencies. It also comes in various types; decorative, stained and toughened are just a few.
At Elite Balustrade, we use specially formulated toughened glass to guarantee safety and quality when it comes to our own balustrade systems. You can read our blog post about how we ensure our products are up to standard, or you can click here to keep finding out more about the history of our balustrades. If you have any questions or need any help and advice, you can always call us on 01254 825 594.
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Published: 17th March 2017