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    Glass is getting much smarter, especially for buildings

    Matthias Fischer

    In some science fiction films, smart glass is already a reality. In the morning as soon as you get, up major news cab now be displayed on bathroom mirrors, in showers or on glass kitchen fronts. The images are controlled by swiping or voice commands. 

    Glazed building façades are now also becoming vehicles for news and advertising - by way of projecting moving images. 

    Once at the office, you no longer need keys to enter the workplace because the scanner built into the screen authorises anyone arriving and opens the door - or if need be, denies access. 

    The fact is, smart glass is currently still often neglected in architecture and buildings even though so many functions would already be technically feasible today. 

    Naturally, all of these features can also be used in the building sector. 

    But when it comes to smart glass in buildings, we often only think of the possibility of switching partition walls from transparent to translucent (in other words, opaque). 

    However, new technologies and applications are being developed every year

    Especially in office architecture - where, above all, inexpensive mobile partition walls are needed to delimit new spaces in relatively small areas - glass with these properties has become an increasingly important design tool. 

    With the help of wall-mounted switches or remote controls, users can select between transparent and non-transparent. 

    This effect can be repeated any number of times because it is produced by liquid crystals in a conductive layer of these sheets. As soon as an electrical current is applied, the glass changes from opaque to transparent. 

    This means, at a touch of a button, private or public conference situations, customer talks or working group meetings are possible on demand. 

    After switching off the power supply, the crystals re-arrange themselves and the glass returns to its opaque state.

    With OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) new lighting technology is making increasing inroads in buildings. Unlike conventional LEDs and all other light sources, OLEDs emit their light across the entire surface. 

    This feature makes them the first real flat area light sources that make completely new design options possible. 

    Their light is roughly comparable to natural light, while the light emitted by conventional light sources resembles sunlight. And what's more, their light is glare-free. 
     
    OLEDs are very thin, measuring as little as 0.7mm to 1.8mm. 

    Since they only reach temperatures as low as 30°C, they do not require any cooling - which makes OLEDs also suitable for materials so far not appropriate for lighting applications. 

    And they provide light in places so far not necessarily associated with illumination. 

    In future for example, the window panes of office buildings will be able to be switched on, when pleasant ambient lighting will be required. 

    According to Dr. Ulrich Knaack of TU Darmstadt, there are many interesting things under development in the world of glass, including display glass and OLEDs. 

    "As soon as we introduce these into the building skin, façades will become more active and will be able to contribute more to the function of the building," says Knaack.

    "You could imagine that not only partition walls are controlled but the façade itself, thereby turning into a display and, hence, part of an office. Like the desktop that people are working on and not only as a screen for communication and information but as a workstation - comparable to PC screens today," he says.

    "Buildings come with high expenses. They have to 'work' for a long period and meet high safety demands due to their size and possible consequential damage. Their development and production are correspondingly complex," says Knaack.

    "Looking at glass in isolation, you can say that it has made enormous leaps in terms of material development, integration in energy generation and control as well as in design terms."

    "The transparent house is possible today," he says.

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