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A short history on the origins of windows and glass

Glass has a very long history, dating back around 5000 years. The earliest glass artefacts were found in Egypt dating back to around 3100 BC. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that glass became increasingly popular for glazing windows, up until then glass was seen as a precious material that was expensive and hard to come by. Because of this only the very wealthy could afford it. Most houses used animal parchment soaked in oil to make them as translucent as possible, so as to let in light. Their windows were also very small to keep out drafts, and wooden shutters would have been used for security.

By the mid 16th century most country houses of the aristocracy had glass windows, although it would have only been used in the most important rooms. In the 17th century windows tended to feature lattice design, the lattice pattern was constructed out of lead. Sash windows were also first experimented with in this era. The classic sash window has the arrangement of three panes across, by two up on each of two sash, which gives a six over six panel window. It was also around this time that French glass makers started using cast glass technology, making it flatter and clearer than ever before. The Palace of Versailles, built in 1680, is a grand example of cast plate glass. Its spectacular Hall of Mirrors, showing cast plate glass reflecting in cast plate mirrors is an amazing sight indeed.

Victorian progress

By the mid 19th century, the aristocracy in England were using the latest materials in their glass greenhouses or conservatories, and in fact it was a gardener – Joseph Paxton – who designed the most famous glass structure ever, the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. The landscape architect used a record breaking amount of glass, a whooping 300,000 sheets!

Walls of glass

The Oriel Chambers that was built in Liverpool in 1864 was the first windows to have a metal frame and glass curtain wall. It was also at this time when steelmaking was modernised by the Bessemer process. This allowed steel to become the major component of architectural structures. This meant that walls did not have to bear the weight of the structure. Now steel frames were supported by the building, and the walls could be made entirely of glass, a feature known as a curtain wall. Curtain walls are usually seen in skyscrapers like the Lever House, which featured the first curtain wall installed in New York City, in 1952.

In the 1970’s, double glazed windows became popular. Using two panes of glass offered better insulation for homes and cut down on noise pollution from outside. Now, triple glazing is getting used more often, commonly installed in Scandinavian homes, where the winters are severe. They are more energy efficient than double glazed windows and offer premium noise reduction compared to double glazing.

In the future, with all our modern technologies, using new materials for developing windows and glass, we are sure to see our homes transformed as never before.