The Rs 5,000 crore architectural glass industry is on the verge of a revolution. Popularly used in facades and windows, glass on Saturday has found its way to doors, stair treads, balustrades, walkways, bridges and floorings due to its high flexural stiffness.
With a tough interlayer that is 100 times stiffer and five times stronger than traditional safety glass, this new material is becoming a preferred choice. Glass, without doubt, is the 'material of the millenium' and like every new material it needs to be used sensibly.
Glass industry bigwigs claim that opaque, soft-coat and hard-coat glass cuts down sound transmissions by as much as 10-decibel points. This makes it a preferred material for entertainment venues, medical clinics and counselling rooms. "Studies indicate that less noise means less stress. Glass tends to reduce unwanted noise and people become more creative, productive, even healthier," says Rakesh Awasthi of AIS Glass Solutions, Okhla.
On the health and hygiene front too, glass is easy to clean and maintain. Says Dr Ashwani Singh, a medical practitioner with Kailash Hospital and Research Centre, Noida. "Glass is a non-porous and inert surface, which does not support the growth of mould, mildew, and bacteria. It is therefore, ideal for the healthcare, hospitality and home segments.''
Glass chambers are also good for the environment as they take care of the greenhouse effect by reflecting the infrared waves that build up heat. But, there should always be adequate ventilation, says Sunita Kohli of Sunita Kohli Interior Designs Private Ltd.
While sophisticated hi-tech appearance, zero maintenance, weather resistance and transparency are cited as the major advantages of using glass, the increasing use of the material has also triggered a debate on the desirability of adopting this 'Western' architectural element into the Indian tropical landscape where it is often seen as a conspicuous energy consumption symbol, unsuitable for hot and humid climes.
Says architect Rajiv Narain of Rajiv Narain Design Inc, "Unfortunately a majority of buildings that dot the Indian skyline use glass. This has not only led to increased monotony in the urban landscape but has also given rise to millions of square feet of environmentally deficient space."
However, laminated safety/sentry glass has good-tactical resistance, is burglar proof as well as scratch-resistant. It can meet specified wind loads or structural requirements with low mechanical strain under loads and has outstanding post-breakage resistance to creep and collapse after quakes.
Many architects say that the popularity of glass is a classic case of a product dictating architectural styles. Builders and architects in tropical countries usually ignore the reasons behind the extensive use of the all-pervasive glass facades in the Western world, where natural sunlight is rare and the primary reason for using more glass in buildings is to trap the sunlight.
"In the Indian context and in places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Chennai, where the sun shines all year round and the climate is already too hot, what is needed is shade to improve energy efficiency and not an unhindered exposure to more scorching heat. Air conditioning becomes unavoidable, even mandatory in glass-clad high-rises, where the beaming sun enters the room but the dissipation of heat is almost negligible."
Architects also point out that glass exteriors can lead to a greenhouse effect, trapping heat within the office. The heat generated by computers along with other office equipment, results in extra load on the air conditioners, which translates into increased power consumption and hefty bills.
However, despite all the drawbacks, glass seems to have found many takers, especially those desirous of giving their homes and offices a classy and hi-tech appearance. Even experts are fine with it as long as it is used sparingly and judiciously.
"It becomes necessary to orient buildings so as to minimise solar radiation. This can be done by using elements such as courtyards and verandahs. The imaginative use of traditional elements such as jaalis and screens over glass surfaces can also be used to create that aesthetic and environmentally friendly look," says Narain.
But as of now, crystalline glass continues to exert its tenacious grip on the Indian architectural landscape.