Small Scale, Big Effect

Location, location, location—those are the three magic words in real estate. So when a home opens to the breathtaking views of the Flatiron Mountains, blocking that landscape is the last thing anyone would want. But that was the problem for one Boulder, Colo., residence, as its views were hindered by an old wood awning above the front door. Jenda Michl, principal, Vertu Studio in Los Angeles, designed and created an all-glass, suspended sculpture that provides clear views, offers protection from water/snow, and is relevant to the early 1960s façade of the home while still being current. Michl proved that glass architecture does not have to be big to have a major impact; in creating the awning he used a mere three lites of glass and off-the-shelf hardware, yet the resulting aesthetics are profound.

Having grown up in Boulder, Michl, whose firm does a variety of projects, from architecture to furniture, was aware of the client.

“The client contacted me and asked for some creative ideas,” says Michl. “The house had a sagging, old 1960s wood awning over an all-glass façade and it blocked the views. The homeowners were certain they needed to replace it and they did not want to lose the views; they wanted to be able to see the Flatirons from the living room, while still maintaining the function of the awning,” says Michl.

Michl decided to create a functional glass sculpture that would replace the awning.

“We used 3/8-inch tempered glass in varying colors. We did run into some difficulty in sourcing the unique glass colors, and found that to be surprisingly limited for a small order. As for the hardware, we used primarily off-the-shelf products from the hardware store along with a custom metal bracket and a shower door hinge. High-tension airline cable holds the glass nearly 5 feet off the house. This cable was sheathed in stainless steel tubing to prevent any lift in high wind conditions.” The PPG glass was supplied by Boulder Stained Glass Studio and Vitraform in Denver did the final fabrication work.

Michl explains they wanted to make sure the views were not obstructed, yet also wanted the design to tie in with the contemporary façade.

“Using three pieces of glass suspended one over the other allowed me to cover a large area at the front door, keep even the glass out of the primary sight lines, and still direct precipitation off the front door and walkway,” he says. “The project was very successful; water cascades from one sheet to the next before falling harmlessly into the garden.”

For the installation Michl worked with a local contractor, Apex Builders.

“First we had to remove the existing awning and trim back the beam. Next we opened up the soffit and fascia to reveal what we were working with to support the whole thing,” says Michl. “Hidden behind the fascia now is an elegant, adjustable anchoring system that I worked with the builder to design on the spot—a few trips to the hardware store and a lot of fun.”

Working with glass, however, was new for Michl, who says this project was essentially his first experience working with the substrate.

“I look forward to working with it more; it lends itself to unconventional uses, which excites me,” he says, adding, though, there were some challenges along the way.

“The research portion and determining what products to use, what was available, and the budget for these options was challenging,” he says. “Given the timeframe I had, I found that there was not a lot available; if I had had longer I could have been more creative.”

He adds, “I know there is a lot going on right now in the glass industry and [with the timeframe I had] I could not quickly tap into it all. I had to rely on the knowledge and ability of my local suppliers.”

Michl also says he is looking forward to learning more about other glass options out there to allow more flexibility in design and new opportunities.

A functional glass sculpture, such as the one featured on the Boulder house, may seem a somewhat new concept, but for Michl it’s one he’d like to do more of.

“Doing more projects that add a functional sculpture such as this one greatly interests me. I think it’s a good possibility/direction and something that can quickly add to the presence of a building,” he says. “I’d also like to explore cutting-edge materials and technologies. Could a larger version generate solar power? What about lighting the glass from within to make the edges really pop at night? I’d like to work on this at a larger scale, such as giving a storefront awning some real character and grabbing attention.”

And while this project itself was a small one, it was one that provided a lot of opportunities and possibilities for the future.

“The small scope allowed for more experimentation and artistry than a larger scope would have,” says Michl. “It’s important to keep those creative juices alive and have projects that are fun.”

Photos by Daniel O’Connor Photography