What’s Spandrel Glass?

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Spandrel glass is an opaque and reflective material used to cover building materials and create a seamless exterior. It is durable, aesthetically pleasing, and can cover arches and columns. The manufacturing process involves a “fire frit” that strengthens the glass and makes it resistant to thermal conditions. It can be used for both interior and exterior features, and can match other types of glass used in building facades.

Spandrel glass is an architectural material used to cover building materials, disguise things like arches and columns, and present a finished, seamless, elegant exterior to buildings. It tends to be very durable but is also aesthetically pleasing in most cases. Architects and designers sometimes use it for specific features, particularly cascading glass ‘curtains’, but it can also be used to cover entire structures. Most buildings that appear to be made entirely of glass from the outside are clad in this material.

Structural basics

The word “plume” is an architectural term referring to an arch or other crested support system. Spandrel glass is one of the few types of glass that can cover this type of structure in a way that not only accommodates its curvature but also creates the illusion of a single, uninterrupted wall. Some arches are intentional and used as steps, but others are designed for structural support and loading. Covering them with glass can often create a nicer, smoother look than filling them or building a more traditional wall on top of them.

This type of glass tends to be opaque and is usually reflective. Sometimes people can see out, but in most cases it actually rejects light and often appears to have a mirrored surface. When glass is intended for the exterior of a building, it is usually heat treated and insulated so that it functions more like a wall than just a panel.

Aesthetic qualities
One of the most popular aspects of this material is its ability to create a uniform overall look. Glass is often tinted and as such can match most other types of glass used to create a building facade. Green and blue hues tend to be among the most common, as they are able to reflect the sky with particular accuracy. Bronze, silver and mottled metal panels can also be used, either for an entire project or to accent or highlight certain areas.

When the panels have been fused together correctly, it can be difficult to see where a section of a building begins and ends. Some designers also integrate regular window panes with spandrel sections, and the material can also be used for interior features and siding. It is particularly suitable for covering unsightly interior building materials and fixtures such as beams, pipes and water and air pumps. In these cases the glass often looks purely artistic, although it also often has a structural role, particularly when used as part of a wall or incorporates things like sound and heat insulation.

Manufacturing process
Plume glass is typically created using a heat-intensive process known as a “fire frit.” This process involves a ceramic frit – a material used as the basis for making glass – which is fused to the glass bringing it near its melting point. When hot, glass also bends and twists with relative ease, meaning craftsmen can shape it to an architect’s or contractor’s specifications. The resulting product usually doesn’t fade or warp over time, and most panels are guaranteed for life.
The firing process can also help strengthen the glass, making it particularly suitable for industrial uses. Plus, the plume is up to five times stronger than annealed or traditional glass. In fact, many modern buildings incorporate the use of the spandrel if a smooth appearance is desired.

Thermal heat benefits
It is also particularly resistant to thermal conditions. As such, as well as imparting a uniform appearance to a building, it can also be used to provide heat to specific areas of a building due to its excellent thermal capabilities. Several industrial buildings have been clad with spandrel glass both inside and out to trap and retain solar heat, which can reduce energy costs and promote green environmental practices. Startup costs can be high, but the long-term savings can be substantial.

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