Modern architects have always been fascinated by glass. But it is only in the past decade or so that architects and engineers have started to create in real life something like the visions of early-20th century pioneers such as Mies and that fantastic writer Paul Scheebart who Bruno Taut - a glass enthusiast himself - described as the 'only poet in architecture'.
Recent, great innovations have been the development of structural glass and glass assemblages in which the supporting structures of mullions and transoms have been minimised almost to the point of invisibility, or have been transformed into delicate armatures to which the glass is, apparently, lightly attached.
Similarly, Thrislington's new glass cubicles, the latest innovation in the top-pivoting Oasis range, embody these principles of structural minimalism, engineering and, literally, clarity. The company's commitment to design is recognised by the architects who have used its products: Hertzog & de Meuron at Tate Modern, Grimshaw at Manchester airport, Foster at Canary Wharf station, Rick Mather at Soane's Dulwich Picture Gallery, BDP at the Albert Hall and Marks Barfield at the booking facilities for the London Eye.
The Oasis range has had strong engineering intelligibility from its inception. Dividing panels are bracketed to the rear wall and supported at the bottom by a CNC turned stainless steel foot bolted into the floor and set out of sight 200mm back from the front.
They are restrained laterally at the top by a door-head-height horizontal rail.
Self-closing, lightweight MDF doors with various finishes are pivoted top and bottom off a suspended vertical aluminium section fixed at the leading edge of the dividing panels. (This allows Thrislington's doors to provide finger clearance. ) The final appearance of the Oasis range is of a floating wall of panels in stainless steel, timber, veneer, laminate or now glass, with suspended vertical aluminium posts marking the divisions.
Behind it all lies an integrated and entirely rigid structure.
The problem Thrislington's designers faced was how to maintain these general visual principles using glass. First, it has avoided the misleadingly 'safer' and clumsy use of big plates backing up metal-to-glass fixings.
Cutting-edge knowledge about the real performance of glass has enabled the designers to reduce these fittings to small, stainless steel strips no wider than the heads of the two fixing lugs at each pivot. They serve their purpose plainly, with economy of materials, and they do it elegantly.
The Oasis closer had been a cam assemblage fitted at the top in the 32mm thickness of the door. Because the glass doors and panels are only 10mm thick, a new self-closing mechanism had to be designed. It is now a tiny, adjustable hydraulic assembly hidden in the head rail. Not only can it regulate the speed of closing (12 seconds is a typical figure) but it can be specified so that the door falls open.
It is the top pivot which supports the weight of the door, while the bottom one stops any lateral movement. The bottom pivot incorporates a specially designed heavy-duty sealed bearing that accommodates the relatively heavy glass door. The new hydraulic closer is now part of the standard specification across the entire Oasis range.
The shape of the polished or satin stainless steel door handle follows the standard Oasis door handle, whose mechanism is located in the door thickness. On the glass door the handle reads on the outside as a simple circular fingerplate. On the inside it is longer, and has a T bar to enable users to rotate it through 45infinity to close into a receiver in the vertical dividing section. A tiny, yet effective, rubber buffer in the centre of the handle serves as a shock absorber should the door go beyond its already dampened opening travel.
The glass cubicles have been used for showers at Fletcher Priest's Chelsea Village leisure complex. But because the glass can be etched to specification, there is no special reason why they should not be used for WCs. At Kimberley Clark's Service Centre in Brighton, BDG McColl used an unusual 2mm deep ribbed aluminium laminate on the doors which 'has worked out well', according to the designers. And Ulsterbased Hobart and Heron has deployed the standard Oasis cubicles with veneered doors for its three-building office development at Eastleigh, Hampshire. Job architect David Ginty says: 'We had used Thrislington for an earlier building for the same client.Oasis is a very good system and the client knew he would get high quality and durability.
Because this was a long-term investment he wouldn't budge when he was offered cheaper alternatives.'