A Very Short History of the Glass Window
Just a few short centuries ago glass was a highly prized material that only the very wealthiest could afford to have adorning their homes. For millions of years before that, glass in a window was unheard of. So how did the journey from hole in the wall to triple glazed solar heat gathering glazed windows begin?
The Genius of Glassmaking
The first glass panes as we know them today were created in the latter part of the 3rd century and were made by slicing a blown glass bubble in half and flattening either side to make two flat panes. However, during the Dark Ages this skill, like many others, appears to have been lost. Although cathedrals and similar large public buildings incorporated incredible stained glass, the majority of domestic dwelling had only wooden shutters to protect their inhabitants from the weather outside.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the idea of glazed windows really took off and glassmakers began developing new ways to create flat panes, including centrifugally spinning a bubble of glass into a flat disc.
By the 1550s glass in windows was fairly commonplace but still considered a major luxury, even for the super-wealthy. Fine houses generally only had glazed windows in the grandest rooms and the material was such a valuable commodity that many aristocrats carefully removed the glass from their windows and carefully stored it when they were away.
Leaded windows with the familiar lattice pattern became popular in the 17th century. The most common kind opened inwards in order to offer the best protection for the glass. By the end of the century as glass making technology developed, grander homes began to have larger window panes. It was around this time that the weighted sash window was invented in order to incorporate larger panes. In France, master glassmakers had worked out how to cast glass producing the clearest and flattest panes yet and their achievements can still be seen today in the magnificent Palace of Versailles.
By the mid 19th century engineers across the world had spent hundreds of years trying to create the flattest, clearest and strongest glass and technology had advanced enough for wealthy Victorians to utilise the latest material to add magnificent conservatories or even greenhouses to their properties.
In fact, a gardener was responsible for the world’s most famous glass structure, which demonstrates perfectly just how far glass had come. Glass technology had a huge part to play in making the Crystal Palace possible, but it’s construction also came at a time when steelmaking had reached a new peak and structures could be built using steel to support their weight and in the case of the Crystal Palace, without the need for bricks and mortar.
The incredible structure not only changed the way we look at glass, but completely transformed the world of architecture. The walls of glass made possible at the Crystal Palace were adopted by modern skyscrapers and the technique is now commonplace in towns and cities across the world. Meanwhile, many of today’s homes incorporate large sheets of glass and glass walls are a hugely popular feature.