Architectural Glass: The Truth About Life In Glass Houses

Architectural Glass in St. Petersburg

The evolution of architectural glass is the story of human beings seeing more and more. The Romans first used glass in windows in about 100 C.E. And as architecture evolved, so did our ability to pierce our own walls. Advancements in building materials allowed windows to grow ever larger. Eventually, picture windows gave way to the floor-to-ceiling variety. More recently, homeowners came to see even larger expanses of walls replaced by glass. Pictured above, for example, check out the expansive view from the living room of the residence in downtown St. Petersburg shaped by Miami-based Sire Design.

You don’t need an ocean view to go big when it comes to windows. However, you do need to remember that incorporating larger scale pieces of glass into your design scheme may present certain challenges. How do you provide enough privacy for residents? How do you keep the house from bleeding heat? Below, architects reveal the details about how they shaped homes that showcase some major glass.

Architectural Glass in Palo Alto

“Floating Boxes” of Architectural Glass

Mary Maydan is the founder and principal of Maydan Architects. So she aimed high when designing an ultra-modern residence composed of “Floating Boxes” for her family in Palo Alto. Three generations share the space, which boasts a 52-foot-long, backyard-facing glass facade (pictured, above). “​We opted for systems that enable all panels to slide in both directions​ and stack on top of one another,” she explains. “In effect, the wall is completely collapsible. When it is fully open there is no separation between the living and dining room areas inside and the lounge areas outside.”

Architectural Glass on a Palo Alto Patio

At the front of the house, we had to balance the wish for privacy with the desire to have large panes of glass that bring in light and sun,” she adds. “We solved this by carefully placing the windows high enough to ensure privacy inside. For example, the window sill of the horizontal window in the primary bathroom is at six feet above the finished floor—tall enough to protect the privacy of the shower, and yet low enough to provide a full view of the trees outside.” Conservation was also a consideration. Though a house with such large panes of glass could lose plenty of energy, Maydan addressed this by incorporating high quality windows, denser installation, cool roof materials and solar panels. 

Architectural Glass in a Palo Alto Exterior

Maydan and her family love living with the results. “The house is light-filled year round and feels airy and open,” Maydan says. “It is also very inviting to sit outside. I find that the glass wall actually affects the way we live. My kids often take their laptops and sit outside to do their homework. I believe that if the backyard wasn’t as accessible and visible at all times, we wouldn’t use it as much.”

Architectural Glass in Colorado

Maximizing a Mountain View

But can a house full of architectural glass stand up to tougher terrain? We looked to this Colorado residence from architect Matt Stais, founder of Stais Architecture & Interiors, and designer Erin Karcher. This luxe mountain escape features six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, ski-in/ski-out access statement lighting by Sonneman. A solar array helps power the home. Meanwhile, its massive windows light up an open concept space that marries clean lines with the feel of a classic lodge. Other bells and whistles include a theater, cocktail bar and plenty of recreation space. 

Architectural Glass Offers a Mountain View

But visitors need not strap on skis to take in the mountain—thanks in part to plentiful architectural glass. “The glazing design was inspired by the views from the property. Major views of Baldy Mountain and the Continental Divide are to the southeast and align with the fall of the land,” explains Stais. “Our clients wanted to maximize views while allowing for seamless indoor-outdoor entertaining. Our design places the dining area in a glass cube adjacent to the great room, which features a 20-foot wide folding glass wall to engage the patio.”

Architectural Glass Exterior in Colorado

Stals also reinforced the structure, helping it stand up to stresses such as wind. But the finished product left his clients feeling on top of the world. “The results were fantastic!” he enthuses. “The windows frame the views perfectly, the clients are thrilled, and the home has won multiple design awards.” 

Ready to glass up your space? Check out six reasons sliding glass doors might be right for you.


Paul Hagen is a writer and editor for aspire design and home magazine.

Photography: St. Petersburg by Kris Tamburello. Palo Alto by John Sutton and Harold Gomes. Colorado by Carl Scofield.

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