Jane Embury, director, on glass and architecture.
This week saw the launch of the largest photography competition for the built environment, the Art of Building.
It’s a competition that’s open to both amateurs and professionals, and attracts thousands of entries. The competition is organised by the Chartered Institute of Building and aims to reflect how people see the built environment.
It’s an interesting idea because our individual reactions to any building are subjective. One person may like a particular building, another person will hate it.
Our perceptions are also shaped by a building’s function. We don’t expect hospitals to be beautiful. For utilitarian buildings, the balance between form and function tilts one way.
Conversely, we expect the architecture of grand museums and art galleries to be inspirational. History and culture perceptually need buildings that feed the mind.
Over the years we’ve worked internationally on many buildings that have spanned the spectrum from utilitarian to wonderful. These include hospitals in the UK and Saudi Arabia, to galleries in London and Hong Kong.
Some projects were more challenging than others. For example, to incorporate high levels of fire or bomb resistance into the design. A few, however, have made us think about the importance of glass in architecture.
For example, Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh (pictured above). Okay, it’s primarily a retail centre, but our large-span glazing is still among the largest ever designed in the UK.
Ocean Terminal helped to show architects and designers that advanced glazing systems could achieve what many thought impossible. It also helped to elevate the architecture off Ocean Terminal from the mundane to the spectacular.
Or the Marines Chapel in Virginia, USA. A small chapel for fallen soldiers, the glazed elements help to create a space of contemplation.
In its own way, it is architecture for solace and peace, and again a demonstration of how glass can shape our emotions.
In a real sense, that’s what glass uniquely can achieve. By linking interior spaces with the world outside, glass can shape perceptions.
Looking out, it can increase wellbeing. Hospital patients with an outside view have been proven to recover faster. Looking in, glass softens the exterior building envelope, making it less austere or threatening.
Glass is therefore something that is both absolutely functional and aesthetic. Let’s hope that this year’s CIOB photography entrants are also inspired by the one building material that you can’t really see!
There are two awards to be won: the £1,500 Judges’ Prize, chosen by the judges, and the £1,500 Public Choice Award chosen by the public through an online vote.