Imagine being inside a house, but whether you look at the landscape, the sky or the ground – your vision is completely uninterrupted. You can see it all – the wide blue sky, the trees shifting softly in the wind, the rippling water below; and experience the rains, snow, hail and summer sunshine as if there was nothing between you and the world.
Except there is – a delicately built, entirely glass structure. Titled the ‘Glass House’, this is the work of Italian glass design and architecture company Santambrogio Milano.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Carlo Santambrogio, founder, architect and designer opens up about the vision behind the extraordinary pieces: “Living in the forest day and night, with sun and rain, wind, ice and snow. A house that must never be considered a simple object, but part of the surrounding context, thus giving life to a place of enchantment, wonder, amazement...
"The house where the forest is the house.”
Living in the forest day and night, with sun and rain, wind, ice and snow. A house that must never be considered a simple object, but part of the surrounding context, thus giving life to a place of enchantment, wonder, amazement ... the house where the forest is the house.
In these ‘Glass Houses’, not only is the house itself made of glass, but the tables, chairs, sofas, cupboards, bathtubs, basins and even the full kitchen (including the stove) are clear, transparent … you guessed it - glass. Why glass though?
“I have always been fascinated by glass as a material, which is why I decided to take this path in 2003 by founding Santambrogio Milano,” says Santambrogio. “In 2008, through my wealth of technological, artisan and executive knowledge, I created the Glass House project… the goal was to create something unique in the world, that of design, which has lost the habit of amazement.”
In 2009, after the project was conceived, Santambrogio had told Telegraph magazine in an interview, “We have a dream, and the dream is of a whole house made of glass.” The first one was built the next year, and now, he tells us, they have built more than 20 glasshouses in the world - from Paris to Switzerland.
Dreaming in glass
A million questions must be rising to your mind – firstly, is one really exposed to the elements? What about ventilation, keeping out the hot and cold? Or privacy for that matter? The houses, designed by Santambrogio and Ennio Arosio, also architect and designer addressed these issues in many ways.
Firstly, their load-bearing elements making up the backbone of the building, that we would usually see in steel or wood, is made entirely of tempered and laminated glass with a connection system of plexiglass joints that are patented by them, explains Santambrogio. He says, “This allows you to assemble the different sheets according to a very rigorous Cartesian scheme.
“Thanks to its transparent nature, the Santambrogio Milano structure can be inserted in any setting without visually interfering with what surrounds it,”
The glass itself is either tempered and laminated, or double-glazed – the extra clear ‘Diamant’ glass by Saint-Gobain, a French materials manufacturing company, whose work you might be familiar with as it is used in the landmark glass Louvre Pyramid, the entrance to the museum in Paris. For the perimeter, the glass is double-glazed – made of two or more sheets of glass separated by a spacer and hermetically sealed (just like in airplane windows), to thermally insulate and soundproof the house, explains Santambrogio.
With regards to the glass for the furniture and structural parts such as stairs, tempered and laminated glass with different thicknesses depending on the function is used.
He says, “With regards to the glass for the furniture and structural parts such as stairs, tempered and laminated glass with different thicknesses depending on the function is used.
“For the furniture, it varies between 20 and 30 mm while for the structural parts, it can range from 30 to 50 mm. Steel is used only for connection systems that allow the glass sheets to be assembled. For the rest, the material is glass.” Tempered glass is around four times stronger than normal glass, and laminated glass can filter out almost 99 % UV rays, insulate thermally and for sound – and importantly, they cannot shatter and will hold together even if cracked under high pressure.
There are two models that are templates for the Glass House project (both pictured above) – a ‘snow house’ designed to withstand cold winters with thicker panes and better insulation, and a ‘cliff house’ that can be built for warmer climates and seasides.
For privacy, other than floor-to-ceiling curtains, materials such as wood, stone, for example can be used in certain places. It can also be built with coloured or opaque glass, or some panels can be built with switches that can adjust the opacity of the glass. In addition, they are not exactly meant for the city.
"Whoever lives here is both a passionate actor and a spectator full of wonder,” adds Santambrogio.
Transparent terrace, tables and more…
If you’re interested in the world of glass, we have some interesting facts for you. Santambrogio Milano actually designed the first full-glass kitchen in 2004, and in 2013 they made the largest single table piece of glass – a whopping 10m long and more than 3m wide!
From a twirling glass staircase in Bangalore, a completely glass terrace in Milan to a glass conservatory overlooking snowy mountains in Italy … here’s a selection of some fascinating glass monuments made by them:
Note: Story was first published in July, 2022