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Photograph of The Glass House, Netherlands
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24/10/2007 : THE GLASS HOUSE, NETHERLANDS

Paul van der Erve and Gerard Kruunenberg, two young Dutch architects from Amsterdam, have designed a house with walls made entirely of glass. Paul van der Erve had the original idea when he won a competition held by the Central Woningbeheer Lingesteden (CWL) celebrating the 40th anniversary of Leerdam, which is known as Holland's glass capital.

As a monument to glass, the house totally redefines the use of glass as a building material. Despite its unconventional use of glass, it is not only an experimental monument but a beautiful functional residence. The Miesian quality of lightness and transparency so sought after by modernist architects has given way to a solidity and materiality seldom associated with the use of glass. A remarkable feature is the use of laminated glass sheets for external and internal walls, which vary from 10 to an incredible 170 centimetres in thickness.

The ultimate glass house

The house was intended to serve as a 'present' to the city, to celebrate in its reputation for mastery in glass production. Candidates in the competition were challenged to explore new ways of using glass in construction allowing it to be employed in areas and for functions where it has never before been used. The result is a home with exceptional aesthetic quality and technological originality.

The extraordinary building is the work of two Amsterdam architects, Paul van der Erve and Gerard Kruunenberg. They joined glass manufacturer Saint-Gobain and embarked on what would become an exhaustive four-year study into the properties of one material - all before on-site work even started. The construction involved pre-cutting 13,000 sheets of glass to size and then painstakingly cleaning and gluing each plate into its place on site. The resulting massive walls of laminated glass rest on one end, on the concrete under structure that forms the basement, and uphold on the other end, the plywood roof. Because this laminated glass is a prototype, extensive research was carried out by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). Although the glass itself is naturally brittle, this inflexibility is countered by the use of a special two-component silicon glue that is UV-resistant and permanently flexible. The project represents an architectural revolution. Through this process the glass loses its fragility, becomes weighty, acquires mass and volume, becomes a kind of masonry comparable to concrete. As with laminated wood, glass exceeds its own structural limits.

The exterior presentation of the house belies the beauty and grace which is to be found within the walls. It is an extraordinary building of continuing juxtapositions; private and translucent, robust and fragile, brittle and flexible, serene and dynamic, untamed and elegant. It is in essence a piece of art, constantly responding to the changes in light and taking on different moods. The concept of a glass house may appear a little too abstract for most people but in reality this home provides modern comfortable living with the additional benefit of fantastic visual displays of optical illusions and plays on light and colour.

The glass is gradiated in its thickness; towards the corners the sheets become successively wider to produce a tapered transition from side to end wall. The stark contrast between the wedge-shaped thickness and the large expanse of a single sheet of glazing is startling: from the shadowy, murky depths of some submerged world to the crystal-clear daylight pouring through the end membrane. This is best seen in the main hall that runs the entire length of the house as a conduit from the entrance foyer to the private living areas. It reminds one of walking through a gently undulating glass waterfall. It is a temple of elegantly frozen light that is delightfully serene, an exploration of which is a truly rewarding experience.

ARCHITECT: KRUUNENBERG VAN DER ERVE ARCHITECTEN

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Added on 2nd March 2008

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