Glass Experts and Leaders Gather for the IYOG Grand Opening

The United Nations officially launched the International Year of Glass (IYOG) with its opening ceremonies, February 10-11, at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The event included 30 speakers and experts presenting on the importance of glass across a wide range of industries, from architecture to healthcare.

James Carpenter, founder of James Carpenter Design Associates in New York City, was one speaker who focused on the use of glass in architecture. He discussed the relationship between light and glass, particularly when applied in construction and buildings.

“My lifelong fascination and exploration of glass is grounded in glass being the material of light,” he said. “And light, when captured, reduced, magnified, reflected or refracted by glass, suggests a world beyond itself–a world opening the imagination, expanding knowledge, and allowing a glimpse of the future. Light is information. And glass is its interpreter.”

Carpenter spoke on the use of glass and light in several projects ranging from art installations and video, to homes and bringing daylight into a space in different ways. He also talked about the use of glass in urban environments.

One such project is a large wall near Lincoln Center in New York, which he said was one of the first projects to ever use dichroic glass in any sort of architectural project.

“We’re looking at a background layer made out of a type of glass used for solar collectors with a reflective coating behind it, and then extending perpendicularly off the surface of these glass fins,” he said. “It’s always a dialogue between the individual’s position of observation and the position of the sun overhead. So there’s this unique thing that everyone sees–not everyone is seeing the same thing. In fact, they’re all seeing something unique for their own experience.”

The fins on the wall also provide onlookers with an optical illusion.

“You’re uncertain whether this wall has a degree of transparency and translucency to it, or is it opaque? It sort of challenges that idea of perception,” Carpenter said.

“And it’s also true that the history of glass is also our engagement with our environment around us. It’s given us this opportunity to enrich and appreciate and sort of engage more deeply with the world around us.”

Immediately following Carpenter’s presentation, Emmanuelle Gouillart, scientific director of Saint-Gobain Research Paris, discussed glass and glazing’s role in making construction more sustainable. She focused on how thin films and active technologies can optimize the optical and thermal properties of glazing to reduce energy consumption.

Gouillart posed the question: What percentage of the 50 billion tons of CO2 globally emitted every year comes from buildings and construction?

“It is daunting, 40%,” she said. Of this number, 12% comes from the construction phase, mostly from the manufacturing of construction materials, mainly steel and cement, but glass also contributes. “And the remaining 28% comes from the use of buildings, mostly from heating and cooling.”

Glass manufacturing has a large footprint because it requires significant energy, she said. The start of the process begins in a float glass furnace—one plant she referenced in northern France is about the size of a suburban neighborhood.

The furnace itself, where the glass becomes molten, operates at temperatures high enough to melt iron, 2,800°F, and can also use natural gas to heat, contributes to the process’s high energy consumption. One way the industry can improve its energy efficiency is the use of active glazing, Gouillart said.

“In active glazing, the performances of films are not static anymore, but can change with some stimuli,” she said. “For example, changing the tint of glass, like in electrochromic glazing… is a better way to control the amount of light and heat which can go out and in your building.”

Philippe Bastien, chairman of Glass for Europe and regional president for AGC Glass Europe, was another presenter.

“The glass industry has changed a lot [in 30 years]. So has society and our thinking about climate change,” Bastien said. “The concept of a low-carbon economy was in its infancy– the first global agreement on tackling climate had just been adopted in 1992.”

He said working toward a sustainable future should no longer be a topic of debate, as it is a reality sought by the global Paris agreement and guided by global policies such as the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goal.

“We are actively contributing strongly today to a more sustainable, low-carbon future by providing recyclable materials essential to innovate buildings… and helping increase the share of renewable solar energy,” Bastien said.

He also explained that high-performance coated glass could help save nearly 100 million tons of CO2 from buildings annually, just in Europe alone. He spoke on the efforts of the European flat glass industry to continue working toward sustainable processes.

“We have also made huge strides in reducing CO2 emission from our own activity. As we all know, any glass production is an energy-intensive process with resulting CO2 emissions toward the EU flat glass industry. We have also worked very hard to reduce our CO2 emissions incurred during production. Since 1990, we have managed to reduce emissions by 42%.”

Vitrum officials were also present at the international event. Its president, Dino Zandonella Necca, delivered closing remarks.

“Glass is, without doubt, a wondrous material for our daily modern life. It’s recyclable, environmentally friendly, healthier, and architecturally expressive,” he said.

Nancy Mammaro, Mappi CEO and vice president of GIMAV, the Association of Italian manufacturers and suppliers of machines, accessories, equipment, and special products for glass processing, was also at the ceremony. She said there were around 80 participants from all around the world including a variety of speakers who spoke about glass “as if they are reciting poetry.”

“We really love glass– this is the best slogan for [the Year of Glass Opening Ceremony],” she said.