Manufactured glass first began in 1848 with cast plate glass. Molten glass would be spooned over a flat table, trimmed while still hot and then industrially cooled. This method of quickly creating large sheets of glass enabled the construction of the Crystal Palace a few years later. This architectural marvel contained the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building. Glass on this scale was considered an aesthetic of modernity, through the simple but dazzling process of allowing outdoor light to saturate indoor space.
Fast forward to 2017 and it’s possible to recognise similar aesthetic features in our times. There is a palpable shift in trend towards not just bigger windows, but screens too. Less than a decade ago, popular taste favoured smaller and more compact devices. The iPhone 4 was released in 2011 and featured a petite 3.5 inch diagonal screen. But over recent generations, the size of screens has grown dramatically.
The Galaxy S8+, for example, even sacrifices the edges of the phone in order to feature a ‘wrap around’ screen. And the new iPhone X has boldly removed front buttons altogether, replacing them with a 5.8 inch screen. This isn’t a capricious whim of fashion either. People are now spending more time on their phones than laptops. It stands to reason then, that manufacturers should endeavour to make using a smartphone more comfortable. Larger screens offer more information at once, more content formatting options and a better experience watching videos or browsing the internet. This is paralleled in the automotive industry, where the role of glass is shifting from a commodity component to an operable feature - one that is essential to the user experience.
Concentrated research on new and stronger forms of glass have shown promising results. In 2015, academics in Japan discovered a way to add alumina to the glass formula, turning it stronger than most metals. The University of California have taken this a step further. They have treated glass under certain industrial conditions to make it 600 times stronger than steel. If the creation of such glass was economised and adopted by construction industries - like the cast plate method in the 19th century - this material could redefine the architecture of our cities.