What happens when you have to combine the demands of living adjacent to a heritage overlay property with the need to create a unique and contemporary family home?

This was the challenge that faced both the owner and architect of a project in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of South Yarra.

The inspiration to meet this challenge came from an addition to the Ricola Factory building in Switzerland, which featured a printed image on corrugated fibreglass by architects Herzog and De Meuron. This gave Melbourne design architect Anna Ely the inspiration to explore the same concept – with striking results.

“I rang around glass manufacturers and was put onto DigiGlass ,” Ely says.

“The product has integrity, sophistication and offers many novel possibilities. I was very happy to find out that it was a sandwich product and even happier to find out that the inks are transparent, and the product can be used for clear, opaque or translucent applications.”

DMS DigiGlass is a decorative safety glass. DMS DigiGlass is created by bonding a PVB interlayer between two sheets of Grade A safety glass. DMS DigiGlass was a suitable material to realise the ideas of both the architect and the owner.

DMS DigiGlass meets AS 2208 Grade A Safety Glass standards, yet enables virtually any image – regardless of whether it is a design or photograph, with a solid colour or continuous tone, thick lines or thin – to be faithfully and vibrantly reproduced between two sheets of safety glass.

Using digital imaging and ink jet printing technologies, the technology offers architects a good level of creative expression in decorative safety glass.

For this project, images of leaves were printed onto a PVB (polyvinyl butyral) interlayer. The interlayer was encapsulated by glass sheets. Each panel was then fixed to the entire façade of the home.

A botanical image was chosen as an appropriate image to print on the glass, as it alludes to the leafy streets of South Yarra. The design was created to blend in with the existing foliage and appeal to the neighbours.

“DigiGlass allowed us to achieve exactly what we hoped for,” Ely says.

“While the house does not have a heritage overlay, one next-door neighbour does have an overlay and the other immediate neighbouring property has an abstract modernist design. The idea was to make the house completely contrasting, while reflecting some aspect of the neighbourhood.”

The leaf image was found just around the corner at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, where Ely and the graphic artist who developed the final image experimented with a range of photos of leaves before making a final selection for computer manipulation.

The final image was a collage of small, closely packed green impatiens leaves with small segments of red. The digital image of the leaf pattern was then reproduced onto the DigiGlass interlayer in over 40 tiles. The end pattern has been repeated on 1,200mm by 1,200mm modules, while the glass size of the tiles varies.

Fixing it to the façade was a challenge for the owner that needed to be overcome using innovative solutions.

The architect has been so impressed with the result of incorporating it into the design of the South Yarra project, that she is using it again in an upcoming project.

“The material is unique,” she says. “As it is based on digital imagery, you can manipulate it a great deal.

“We have just begun exploring the possibilities for its use, such as the degrees of transparency – there are all sorts of possibilities with this technology.”

The owner is also impressed with the result: “It’s terrific, absolutely amazing,” he says.

“Initially when I saw it I wasn’t quite sure, but the more that went up the better it looked. How much it will be used in the future will be interesting, as I think residential uses are where it can really make a difference.”