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Stefan Behling of Foster + Partners on innovation in glass

Foster + Partners' Stefan Behling, creator of Glass Technology Live, talks about his exhibition and symposium showcasing the latest innovations in glass. The event is part of internation trade fair Glasstec.

Photograph by Ståle Eriksen

What is Glass Technology Live and why did you launch it?
I got involved with the Glasstec trade fair 12 years ago when I was working with glass in solar applications. My work as a researcher and academic led me to conceive Glass Technology Live as a forum for academia, industry and architecture to meet and to exhibit their research. Today it has become the platform for the unveiling of the latest technologies and applications in structural glass and is drawing in more architects than ever before.

What format does it take?
Imagine 12 Earls Courts joined together and you have some idea of the scale of this event. Glasstec itself is the biggest glass trade fair in the world. The Glass Technology Live exhibit is 5,000m2 and comprises my team’s selection of the newest, most cutting-edge and most interesting products on offer from the industry. Much like picking content for a magazine, it is up to us to gather together exciting ingredients to spark discussion and showcase technologies.

How can architects embrace and apply what they may see or learn this autumn?
For the next generation to push the boundaries in the application of structural glass they need to know the ingredients. Glass Technology Live can be likened to a stewing pot of innovation, research and discussion. It is so much more interesting and useful for architects to get involved at this stage when they can get inspired and have an influence. Creatively it is better to get stuck in at the source of the action rather than wait for a prescribed, ready-packaged solution.

What are the arguments for and against the use of glass in architecture regarding sustainability – one of the event’s major themes this year?
It’s interesting. Where glass has been considered a big part in the failing of the environmental performance of buildings, technology has moved on such that it may now offer the solution. The trend for more transparency in our built environment is still strong, but we now have triple glazing, reflecting coatings, integrated solar collectors and even more extreme possibilities for enhancing a building’s performance.

One current multi-million-pound research project is looking into growing green algae in glass tubes integrated in a building’s facade. The hydrogen produced by these life forms can act as fuel to power services. Incidentally, this project was first presented at Glass Technology Live two years ago.

Which products/technologies/installations are you particularly excited about this year?
A major theme will be glass and solar energy. There have been some great advances in both solar thermal and photovoltaic collectors, but we will also be looking at innovation in shading devices and new coatings for insulating cladding systems. The latest developments in the manufacture and manipulation of glass sheets are also very interesting. I remember when I first discovered that you can cut intricate shapes from sheets with robots and lasers.

This year we are looking at cold-forming glass, adding rigidity by shaping sheets so their compressive properties are maximised for greater structural strength. As for installations, Glasbau Seele and Frener & Reifer from Austria are creating a glass bridge with us.

Stefan Behling is professor at the Institute of Building Construction, Technology and Design at Stuttgart University in Germany, and a senior partner with Foster + Partners.

Glasstec, incorporating Glass Technology Live, will be held at the Düsseldorf Trade Fair Centre, Germany, from 21-25 October.

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