Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Changing the face of glass

  • Comment


Saint-Gobain Solaglas has grown to become one of the largest architectural glass processors and distributors in Britain and Ireland through a continuous series of mergers and acquisitions. It employs more than 2500 people and has a turnover of over £160 million. It prides itself on being customer- focused through its use of the latest technology, training programmes and distribution systems, and its comprehensive services include installation when required.

Following a recent restructuring, it has positioned itself as the ‘glass solution provider’, and is the largest manufacturer of toughened and laminated safety glass in the country. Through a strong commitment to research and development, a wide range of specialist glasses and glass processes are now available.

The company is organised by market sector rather than geographical regions. That said, it is in the process of setting up 11 Supercentres around the country, each offering one point of contact for customers and suppliers, including estimating, project management and contracting. Showroom and presentation facilities use state-of-the-art it systems to provide a high level of management information and the ability to respond quickly to customer queries. Each centre also has the facility to fabricate aluminium framing.

All this represents a major capital investment programme, and by the end of next year its parent company, the Saint-Gobain Group, will be manufacturing float glass in this country rather than exporting it from its plants in France, Belgium and Germany for processing here.

The Glass Facts Service, its technical support for specifiers, currently receives some 2000 calls a week. It is backed up by the first volume of technical literature, on products, published last year, and the second volume - focusing on uses and systems, such as structural glazing, floors and balustrades - will be available from next month. Information and advice can be accessed by telephone, on its website and through its extensive programme of cpd seminars, rated by the riba cpd Providers Network as one of the best modules.

A travelling showroom, Le Truck, can be booked to visit architects’ offices, and its current vehicle has clocked up more than 120,000 miles.

Looking to the future, Saint-Gobain Solaglas is currently devising new types of acoustic glass: a self-cleaning glass and, following recent research in the us on the effects of office-worker productivity in daylight, a glass which does not diffuse daylight so that those some distance away from a building exterior, for example in a deep-plan office, can enjoy the same level of natural light as those next to a window.

Float glass

Most of today’s flat glass is manufactured by the ‘float’ method, introduced in the 1950s and replacing sheet and plate glass.

The ‘float tank’ is 500m in length and produces 650-700 tonnes of flat glass per day, 24 hours per day, for up to 10 years until it is refurbished. It costs £100 million to build.

The high-quality product, also known as annealed glass, gives light and vision and serves as the substrate or base for high-performance and processed glasses. It is available in a range of standard thicknesses from 3mm to 19mm. Saint-Gobain’s sg Planilux clear float glass can be used single- or double-glazed, internally or externally. It is primarily used in domestic and commercial windows. Applications range from use in furniture to curtain walling and structural glazing. It permits very large glazing sizes.

sg Planilux has the following features and benefits:

High light transmittance for clear and undistorted vision and maximum natural daylight

Can be laminated to provide safety, security and added acoustic performance as well as to reduce fading of furniture and fabrics by ultra-violet radiation

Can be toughened for safety performance and to improve physical and thermal strength

Can be curved to achieve three-dimensional designs

Can be incorporated in double-glazed units to provide multi-functional glazing including solar control and thermal insulation

Can be decorated in a wide variety of finishes for original design effects and for manifestation and visual control

Can be used in structural applications to minimise the barrier between the exterior and interior environments.

sg Planilux is currently made at five float tanks in mainland Europe, and will soon be made at the Saint-Gobain Group’s first uk float tank.

Laminated and toughened safety glass

There are two types main types of safety glass: pvb laminated and toughened.

pvb laminated comprises two or more sheets of float glass bonded together with one or more layers of polyvinyl butyral (pvb), a plastic interlayer in sheet form. The principal benefit of laminated glasses is their performance under impact. The glass may fracture but any broken fragments will remain firmly bonded to the interlayer. The interlayer also absorbs impact energy, reducing the risk of penetrating the panel. When properly glazed, even safety-grade laminates will resist attack, acting as a deterrent to burglars and normally remaining in place until replacement is convenient. For higher levels of security, such as anti-bandit glazing, two or more sheets of glass are bonded together by at least two pvb interlayers.

The interlayer provides two additional benefits: sound transmittance is reduced, particularly at the higher frequencies, and ultra-violet radiation (between 320 and 380 nanometres) is reduced by at least 97 per cent.

To create toughened glass, sheets are heated to about 700degreesC in a furnace, then chilled rapidly by cold air blown on to both surfaces.

Toughened glass is four to five times stronger than float glass and, if broken, disintegrates into small fragments with dulled edges, which are unlikely to cause serious injury.

Glass installation

Saint-Gobain Solaglas is the market leader in glass installation and can install any type and shape of glass anywhere in the uk:

Structural glass assemblies including bolted glass systems, ground-based systems and suspended systems

Aluminium-framed systems such as curtain walling, ground-floor treatments, shopfronts and entrances

Patent glazing

Glass doors

Glass stairs and balustrades

Glass floors

Glass partitions

Fire-resistant systems.

SG Stadip Silence

The latest development in acoustic glazing technology, sg Stadip Silence is a sound-insulating acoustic pvb laminated glass, which is the first to offer the combined benefits of excellent sound reduction, safety, security and optical quality. The new glass also offers significant cost savings over traditional resin-bonded acoustic glass.

It can be used single- or double-glazed, internally or externally, in vertical or overhead glazing, and can also incorporate features such as solar control, thermal insulation and decoration. It is ideal for partitions in commercial and industrial areas where light and vision cannot be compromised for a quiet environment. Heavily trafficked areas, such as airports, alongside motorways, main roads and near industrial installations are the most common locations.

Standard sizes: 2500 x 4500mm. Larger sizes in widths up to 3200mm available subject to special order.


Saint-Gobain is the world’s largest building materials group. It has operations in 42 countries and interests in eight different sectors. The Flat Glass Division, originally founded in 1665 when Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a French statesman, established a glassworks to produce mirrors for the Royal Court at Versailles, is Europe’s largest glass manufacturer.

Today the company employs 111,000 people and generates annual sales in excess of £10 billion.

Saint-Gobain acquired the architectural business of Solaglas - itself formed in 1983 by the merger of Clark Eaton and Doulton Glass Industries - in 1990.


Saint-Gobain Solaglas has developed over the past 15 years through merger and acquisition. Many familiar names are now part of the company.

1983 Merger of two long-established

companies - Clark Eaton in the

south, founded in 1855, and Doulton

Glass Industries in the north, dating

back to 1879.

1984 Solaglas name adopted. Originally

two divisions - Automotive

Autoglass and Architectural


1990 Architectural business acquired by


1994 Philip Margrave appointed

managing director.

1995 Acquisition of The Hayes Laminated

Glass Company, Thermax, London

Architectural Glass and Marcus

Summers Structural Glazing.

1996 Acquisition of The Birmingham Guild

and Pearce & Cutler.

1997 Acquisition of Dockrell Glass

Distribution, Dublin.


Martin Donlin (artist)

Etched graphics for 33 full-height glass screens, designed by the Dorset artist Martin Donlin, were made by Saint-Gobain Solaglas craftsmen in Bradford. Text and images were sand-blasted on to toughened glass measuring up to 1.087 x 2.875m for doors and windows. The opaque finish of the graphics maintains a level of privacy in the £3 million centre without obscuring external light. Integral venetian blinds within the double-glazed units’ cavities provide more privacy when required.


Sir Norman Foster & Partners

The innovative 42m-long double-glazed clear narrow floor section enables daylight to pass down to communal areas on the lower ground floor of the Law Faculty. Fire-rated 27mm glass was used for safety and 25mm annealed glass was used for rigidity, supported by structural steel members.


HBG Kyle Stewart

The sloped glass entrance of single-glazed SG Spider Glass (10mm, with a maximum size of 3m x 2m) was part of a design, supply and installation contract by Saint-Gobain Solaglas. SG Parsol Green Securipoint glass was specified to reduce solar heat gain and reduce glare within the lobby. The panes were fixed with SG Spider Glass stainless steel bolts with polished steel arms connected to eight 76mm-diameter white-painted lattice trusses. The bolts have a unique pivot that allows the glass to flex under wind- loads without inducing extra stress.


Fletcher Priest Architects (interiors)

Saint-Gobain’s SG Priva-Lite glass partition panels turn from clear to translucent at the touch of a switch at Leo Burnett’s new HQ, part of a £3 million renovation by YRM/Stanton Williams of a Harrods warehouse built in 1911. The panels comprise two heat-strengthened glass panes laminated either side of a liquid crystal film. The film instantly turns clear when an electrical field is applied.


Stride Treglown

It took just 23 weeks between briefing and completion for the £11.5 million, 14,000m2 building. Within 10 weeks from receipt of order, Saint-Gobain Solaglas supplied and installed 212 sealed units to form the curtain-walled facade, using SG Cool-Lite KN169, a combined solar control/low emissivity glass. For non-vision areas, SG Screen-Lite enamel screen-printed glass was used. SG Saftigard laminated glass (6.4mm) was used for the inner pane of all the double-glazed units.


Fairhursts Design Group

A range of Saint-Gobain Solaglas glazing was specified by Fairhursts for the £12 million new laboratory, after using the company’s mobile demonstration vehicle, Le Truck, to compare the internal and external appearance of various glasses. SG Cool-Lite SS414 high performance solar control glass was used in double-glazed units for the curtain walling; single-glazed SG Parsol green body tinted solar control glass for the entrance, using the SG Spider Glass bolt-fixed system; and green-tinted SG Cool-Lite KN455 for the north-facing elevations of the Chemistry Building, which has a clear low-E coating, giving a typical U-value of 1.8W/m2. To reduce further any glare at the entrance, a graduated fritted line pattern was screen- printed onto the SG Parsol glass used vertically. The 4.5m-span arched canopy also features curved SG Parsol glass.


Archer Boxer Partners

The sales floor of Tesco’s latest flagship store covers one hectare. Above it are four 20.25m2 clear double-glazed pyramid rooflights in SG Cool-Lite Classic solar control outer panes and SG Cool-Lite SS420 neutral glass which cuts out 82 per cent of solar energy transmissions. SG Parsol glass, which reduces solar energy transmissions by 55 per cent, was specified for the curtain walling to the double-height entrance, and has a subtle green tint to combat glare from low-level morning and evening sunlight.


BBC Building Design Services with Price Macniven Partnership

The BBC Television Centre at White City has been given a new 350m2 reception area to reflect its entry to the age of digitalisation. Glass panelling has been used extensively with the 5m-high sidewalls, a 12m-long row of five security barriers and the 8m-long reception desk, and three eye-catching elevators are clad in Saint-Gobain glass. The 60 translucent wall panels, each measuring up to 2.8 x 1.25m, use 12mm SG Planilux clear glass, toughened for structural safety. Their sand-blasted appearance was created using SG Grosvenor graphic print applied by Solaglas Marcus Summers - the company has exclusive European usage rights to this process.


Llewelyn Davis

Terminal 2 could be a very noisy environment, sandwiched as it is between two busy runways. SG Stadip Silence, the company’s latest development in acoustic glazing technology, has been used in the new second-storey office space as the inner leaf (11.5mm) of the sealed units, which have an outer pane of Parsol Green toughened and heat-soak tested glass (6mm). They are fitted within a Glamalco aluminium curtain walling system. The weighted sound reduction index of the system was 39dB.


Bere Associates

Solaglas Marcus Summers’ Spin-Glass frameless revolving door system was installed here for the very first time. Two single-sheet curved glass sides each require two small stainless steel patch fittings and brackets to achieve complete lateral stability with the main structural glazing of the frontage, designed with help of Campion & Partners, structural engineer. The only other visible fittings are slender stainless steel handles and a 50mm-diameter centre spine. Solaglas Thermax manufactured the curved glass sides of the door from single panes of toughened 12mm clear glass, with polished edges to create a satin finish. A flat 2m-diameter 19mm toughened clear glass lid tops each doorway.


The Hillier Group

No fewer than 14 different glazing specifications feature in the curtain walling of the new building, all provided by Saint-Gobain Solaglas. The white horizontal bands include SG Screen-Lite glass for the outer pane combined with a clear SG Planilux inner pane - for vision areas - and an opacified dark grey inner pane for non-vision areas.


Rod Robinson Associates

An elliptical all-glass vestry forms the centrepiece of the refurbished church. The 5m-long, 2.85m-wide pod is a frameless bolted and silicon- jointed structure comprising 12 curved panels of SG Screen-Lite ceramic screen-printed glass. Each 2.6m-high panel has a translucent design and most have a curvature radius of 4.299m in toughened 19mm thickness. The tighter curves and the doors, to a radius of 1.153m, have 12mm-thick glass. The vestry is bolted to a free-standing steel structure and rests on a set of outriggers, to give the impression of it floating above the floor.


A series of impartial, informative technical seminars is available at architects’ offices, presented on cd and lcd projectors by the company’s glass specialists. The interactive events are illustrated by case studies, samples, datasheets, technical literature and, if requested, the demonstration vehicle, Le Truck.

Suggestions for other topics are welcome.

1. The Design and Specification of Solar Control Glass and Glazing

2. The Design and Specification of All-Glass Systems

3. Glass Guarding and Balustrades

4. Acoustics and Acoustic Glazing

5. Energy Efficiency through Glazing

6. Security Glazing

7. Safety Glazing

8. Future Developments in Glass

9. Three-Dimensional Glass

10. Design Solutions with Decorative Glass

For further information, contact Jo Brooke,cpd Manager, tel: 01753 775164, fax: 01753 811011.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs