Beyond Energy: How Glass in Architecture Contributes to Occupant Well-Being and Comfort

Glass as a multifaceted solution for post-pandemic commercial and residential construction
Sponsored by National Glass Association
By Erika Fredrickson
1 AIA LU/HSW; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain how new glass technologies can help support wildlife and bird safety through new anti-collision design.
  2. Describe new trends using glass for artistic and decorative expression in workspaces and commercial buildings that promote well-being and comfort.
  3. List some ways that daylighting has contributed to the health and well-being of students and workers.
  4. Discuss vacuum-insulating glazing and how it is used in various applications for the benefit of occupant safety, comfort, and well-being.

This course is part of the Glass and Glazing Design Academy

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Daylighting Homes in an Era of Remote Work

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 17 percent of U.S. employees worked from home five days or more per week. During the pandemic, this number increased to 44 percent as quarantines and lockdowns made commuting and office work nearly impossible. Remote work became a solution that proved in many cases to be a benefit rather than an impediment to both work productivity and quality of life—which go hand in hand.

As the pandemic winds down, more companies are looking to continue a hybrid or remote work model, which means more workers are seeing their homes and work spaces merge and sometimes collide. The architecture industry has picked up on this trend and in response has developed some home-office solutions that meet the needs of workers looking for permanent workspaces in their homes. A major focus of these trends is how to both designate workspaces—no more just sitting on couches or clearing off dining room tables—and provide the kind of daylighting that will promote health and well-being. Following are a few glass design trends resulting from this new era.

Transom Windows

A transom indoor window above a door adds a way to borrow light without sacrificing precious wall space. They were popular in the Victorian period as a way to add light when electricity was not available. When electricity did come into use, transom windows provided enough natural light during the day to keep lights off in some rooms, reducing energy use. The same concept is appealing today. Transom windows are aesthetically pleasing and can provide natural light into a designated office space inside the home even when the door is shut, allowing for privacy. Some transom windows are designed to open, which also allows for ventilation. A lightweight chain is attached so the window does not open too far. In other designs, the window can be hinged at the top so that it opens at the bottom.


Stairs are an overlooked opportunity for transporting light, but a stairwell is a good place to borrow light from an upper story. Surrounding stairs with glass and white walls facilitates this process, especially if a stairwell is oriented to capture afternoon sunlight upstairs. The orientation of glass and the type of glass—whether it is a panel or blocks—can provide different ways of capturing light while also creating an aesthetically pleasing design.

Interior Windows

Frosted interior windows borrow light from adjacent rooms while still providing privacy. They also increase ventilation, and since interior windows do not require the same insulation, they are generally much cheaper. Open floor plans have been a trend for a while, but the need for a designated workspace is bringing architects back to compartmental design. Interior windows are a way to get the best of both worlds.


Skylights can provide light into a closed office space. If the office space is on a lower level, skylights paired with light wells can carry light even farther to other stories. Because daylighting is a system, architects also think about other characteristics of rooms in conjunction with glass. For instance, white tile walls will especially help sunlight travel from a skylight to other parts of the room.

Glass Partitions

Glass partitions and other glass interior structural elements can be used to pull sunlight deeper inside a building. Extremely transparent, low-iron glazing with highly visible light transmission allows light from the outside to filter further into a room while also providing aesthetic structural elements.

Glass as a Protective Barrier against Environmental Forces

Glass is a strong material with the ability to hold up against even extreme environmental forces, such as hurricanes. The selection of glass for these extreme environments is key, and the options are wide ranging. When compressed, glass is in the same order of magnitude as steel when it comes to strength. This allows designers to incorporate glass into highly ambitious structural applications. Large glass panels can be fabricated up to 3.6 meters in width and 20 meters in length. The large glass panels can be laminated, hot bent, and cold bent, among other things.

This section will look at the durability of glass and how it is used as a protective structure against weather and other forces. While weather is the focus of this section, safety glass is obviously used for protection against break-ins and active-shooter scenarios, among other things. Selection of glass can be based on multiple objectives, and for security and safety in schools and other facilities—which you can read about in the sidebar on the next page—are other ways that safety glass can be used.

Safety Glass

As stated earlier, safety glass is glass with additional features that make it less likely to break or pose a threat when broken. Common designs include toughened glass (also known as tempered glass), laminated glass, and wired-mesh glass. Following are some examples of those types.

Monolithic Safety-Tempered Glass

Monolithic safety-tempered glass is a single glass lite or pane, but it is also safety tempered. Safety-tempered glass is approximately four times stronger than regular annealed glass and is called “safety glass” because when fractured, it breaks into smaller pieces, making it less likely to cause serious injury. Monolithic safety-tempered glass is also great for daylighting because it allows sunlight to penetrate into the building. This glass is best suited for areas that are not prone to forced entry, such as windows on upper floors.

A single glass lite with an applied film or plastic is also considered safety glass because it is safety tempered and will therefore break into smaller pieces when fractured. A single glass lite with film or plastic also allows for proper daylighting. This glass is more secure than standard single safety-tempered glass lites.

Laminated Glass

Laminated glass is made up of two or more lites that are permanently bonded by heat or pressure with one or more plastic interlayers to provide extra protection. This type of glass is great for areas that need added protection, such as entry doors or glass areas in banks, waiting areas, or other public spaces where safety is a concern. Another safety feature is that when broken, the glass stays contained instead of shattering. This is especially important in the event of forced entry or weather events that could cause flying debris. In addition to safety, laminated glass provides enhanced acoustics by keeping sound in areas where it belongs and out of places where it does not belong. It also provides daylighting for areas where glass may not have been an option before.

Laminated Insulating Glass Unit (IGU)

Laminated glass within an insulating glass unit (IGU) provides all of the benefits previously discussed for laminated glass but brings the added benefit of energy efficiency and resistance to adverse weather. Laminated IGU glass is also made up of two or more lites that are permanently bonded by heat or pressure with one or more plastic interlayers. However, laminated IGU glass provides an extra layer of protection thanks to the spacer that is placed between the two panes. Sometimes a laminated IGU is two laminated pieces of glass, and other times it is a single lite with a spacer and then laminated glass on the other side. This space between the two panes provides extra thermal protection and can limit unwanted heat transfer. This type of glass also can protect against impact from wind and rain in strong storms, such as hurricanes.

Multi-Ply Glass

Multi-ply glass is a high-quality fiberglass sheet that contains multiple inner layers and/or plastic glazing for added protection to withstand extreme conditions, including forced entry, blasts, ballistics, hurricanes, and tornadoes. As with laminated glass, it also can provide enhanced acoustics, keeping sound in areas where appropriate and out where not appropriate. In addition, it offers daylighting options for secure areas that may not otherwise have the chance at daylighting; for example, an area surrounded by a concrete wall for protection.

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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2021