The Function of Design

Projects Show Variety of Uses for Decorative Glass

By Jordan Scott

Decorative glass can be used for artistic expression, branding or to create a space that stands out. It can exist on a building’s façade or in the interior where people can see the glass’ design up close. Decorative glass can even have functions beyond just aesthetics, such as providing energy efficiency or a scratch-resistant surface in a high-traffic area. Here are several projects that demonstrate the many uses of decorative glass.

Aquarium of the Pacific—Long Beach, Calif.

The Aquarium of the Pacific’s design is reminiscent of a whale swimming in the ocean. Bernard Lax, CEO of Pulp Studio, based in Gardena, Calif., worked with architecture firm EHDD to develop the concept. The final result is a building that appears to have different shades of blue that change in the light. Yet each lite of glass on the façade (which also doubles as a ventilated rain screen) is actually the same color.

This effect was achieved using 6 mm acid-etched and heat-strengthened glass, a 1.52 mm SentryGlas ionoplast interlayer, blue tinted heat-strengthened glass, a 1.52 mm SentryGlas interlayer and 6 mm tempered and heat-soaked glass coated with a ceramic opacifier on surface 6. The acid etching was designed to create a matte effect on the surface of the façade while the inner-most lite has a reflective surface which creates a double density shade of the tinted glass, according to Lax.

“In sunshine, the glass looks like it’s made with different colors but it isn’t. This creates liveliness of the façade. It looks like it’s changing all the time. The matte finish does that,” says Lax. “And if you were to take the reflective glass off of the building it would look very flat.”

The fabrication was a challenge for Pulp Studio because each of the 839 laminated units are different shapes to accommodate the building’s sweeping curves. The company had to fabricate more than 2,500 individual glass lites for the project.

“We had to match up three lites and fabricate them to the same size with only a 1/16-inch tolerance. The sets had to be polished all together and we had someone coordinate so that all three lites matched before they left the station. It was super challenging,” says Lax.

Simons Store—Gatineau, Quebec

Backpainted glass is ideal for high-traffic areas because it is easy to maintain and can provide bright pops of color for public spaces. The architecture firm behind the Simons Store at a shopping mall in Gatineau, Quebec, wanted to make a statement, said Danik Dancause. Dancause is the marketing operations manager for Walker Glass Co. Ltd., based in Montreal. Lemay Michaud Architecture Design has done several projects for the Simons brand, but this one was a little different.

“The original design called for black, mirror-etched glass. I wanted to present to them the possibility of using tempered rather than annealed glass since it would be inside,” says Dancause, adding that tempered glass is safer for high-traffic areas. “I also wanted to talk to them about our Satinlite finish because it has high scratch-resistance.”

The glass is 6 mm Starphire glass from Vitro Architectural Glass, fabricated by Miroirs Laurier Ltée. Using tempered backpainted glass allowed Walker to match the green color on the wall to the exact green color of the Simons brand, according to Dancause, who adds that the glass is easy to maintain and durable.

“Glass is a wonderful design element because it’s so flexible,” he says. “… We etched the glass, which softens the lighting around it, making it so that you’re truly able to enjoy the color and design.”

One trend Dancause has noticed recently is the use of pale and light colors, such as white, in backpainted glass. He’s also seeing the combination of etching with back-painted glass to remove glare. He recommends that when working with lighter colors, architects specify low-iron glass because it will have a big impact on the way the colors appear. Not using low-iron glass may cause light colors to appear differently. However, darker colors can be paired with or without low-iron glass.

St. Thomas Gateway at the University of Scranton—Scranton, Pa.

The curtainwall of the University of Scranton’s St. Thomas Gateway includes the university seal, printed digitally by GGI across 24 individual insulating glass units (IGUs). The IGUs are made up of ¼-inch clear tempered glass and were printed with GGI’s Alice direct-to-glass printer on surface 2, with a ½-inch airspace and a ¼-inch of clear tempered glass. The overall curtainwall consists of 36 IGUs. The side panels include gray tempered glass with a dot pattern over clear.

Muhammad Arif, decorative products manager for GGI, based in Secaucus, N.J., says Hemmler + Camayd Architects gave his company an 8- by 11-inch image, which had to be converted to an image 40 times larger. GGI created and shared various samples with the firm, allowing them to see how the finished project would look.

“There was a lot of coordination among the contract glazier [Arrow Auto Glass], the design team and us to ensure the image was converted accurately to a full-scale wall. We requested all the details, including hardware and curtainwall drawings, so we could lay out the drawings and make sure everything was aligned properly,” says Arif. “Once that was done we recommended a full-scale mock-up that all stakeholders could review and approve … We have strict procedures that we follow to make sure there are no surprises later on.”

Christopher Puzio, sales representative for GGI, says ceramic frit was used for the project because it is scratch-resistant and resistant to UV fading. If the glass is laminated or captured, as it is in this project, it is more UV-resistant than using a film or interlayer. He adds that digital printing was one of the only options for the architect in order to achieve an accurate depiction of the university seal.

Before the IGUs were made, the monolithic lites were laid out for quality checks to ensure nothing was incorrect and that the glass would line up. Each lite has a numerical code printed on the glass that corresponds to an electronic file so that if it breaks, GGI can fabricate a replacement easily.

Puzio recommends that architects choose a fabricator that can provide a single source for both digital printing and other types of fabrication such as tempering and laminating.

Jordan Scott is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal. She can be reached at

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