Nature is playing a more important role in our lives today. So much so, that more architects are utilizing designs to maximize our access to nature all around us. Whether we’re talking about residential homes, office spaces, or public areas, integrating natural elements is becoming a priority to ensure wellness and productivity.
At the same time, people continue to bring the outdoors in through houseplants, organic decor, and expansive windows. With this growing affinity to connect with the natural world in our daily lives, we turn to architecture that seeks to blur the lines between the outdoors and the indoors.
Discover Glass Houses.
Photo source: Divisare
Contrary to how it sounds, glass houses are durable and provide a comfortable home to live in. Moreover, they offer a borderless experience of the surrounding environment.
Imagine living in a transparent home where the changing seasons color the ‘walls’ around you, where the forest and mountain views are reflected upon your living room, and where the sunrise and sunset is seen from the comforts of your bedroom.
That is the allure of living in a charming glass-encased home.
When and how did glass houses become a thing?
Glass Houses is one of the iconic structures in architecture. It became popular back in the early 1950s, an era of experimentation in the world of architecture and interior design. This period saw the rise of mid-century style, which was characterized by organic, essential forms, and large masses. It merges nature and technology, introducing new materials into the residential scene, which blended interior and exterior spaces.
Photo source: The American Institute of Architects
Consequently, it was during this time when architects Philip Johnson and Mies Van der Rohe utilized materials that seamlessly integrated into the landscape. The result was glass houses which are homes that typically have broad expanses of glass in an effort to integrate the indoor spaces with the natural surroundings. Glass walls and sliding glass doors around the home are such hallmarks of this design style.
One of the first glass houses by Philip Johnson still stands as an iconic structure. Simply named Glass House, it is best understood as a pavilion for viewing the surrounding environment. This house also ushered the International Style into residential American architecture.
And, just like glass houses today, this home is a rectangular, loft-like space with an open floor plan. It overlooks a pond with views towards the woods beyond.
Architects like John Launter, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, was also an influential figure through his use of industrial forms and technology to create incredible mid-century homes. Just like Wright, he created spaces that naturally blended with the surrounding landscape.
He does so while working with powerful geometric designs that are identified by the distinctive lines that are oftentimes accompanied by colored stained glass windows. Despite the mass of his structures, he was still true to the philosophy of the time which focused on form, function, as well as practicality for everyday living.
Photo source: Dlmag
Many have realized the advantages of living in a glass house.
For starters, living in a glass house creates an eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing space, especially when the surroundings are beautiful. From the inside, you can feel like your world is always alive and shifting. Nature replaces your traditional wallpaper and paint; while drapes replace your hard walls, giving you closer access to the outdoors. And, on the outside, they also look like modern works of art that anyone can appreciate.
Aside from this, there are several functional benefits that you will also appreciate. Here are a few:
Glass houses merge the outdoors with your indoor living spaces. It expands and increases your perception of space, creating an amazing and abundant home. As such, they let in plenty of natural light throughout the day, making it a breezy, open, and inviting place to be in.
Photo source: The Glass House | Erik Johnson
Glass is a great building material to create a wonderful looking home. As it comes in different forms and can be manipulated in many ways, it can easily adapt to your needs. For example, glass can be colored or tinted to provide more privacy. Simultaneously, treatments can be applied to ensure that your glass house is noise-resistant, shatterproof, energy efficient, and thermal insulated, which can lower the demand on your air conditioning or heating system.
Contrary to popular opinion, you can still get plenty of privacy and live comfortably in a glass house. They are typically situated in the midst of sufficient land so that gawkers are not a problem. It uses topography to block views and create personal spaces away from onlookers. Additionally, if there’s plenty of light outside, glass can reflect the landscape, camouflaging the home to blend with its surrounding space.
Glass houses give you a panoramic view of nature outside your home. Depending on where you live, you get to see seasons changing. Philip Johnson says it best when he describes one of his favorite things about his glass house.
“I claim that’s the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects. But I get it all the time here in the Glass House.”
Living in a glass house connects you with nature. It allows you to literally and figuratively open yourself up to your surroundings; and forces you to be more aware of what’s going on around you.
Photo source: The Glass House | Michael Biondo
Best of all, glass houses promote wellness. By allowing natural light through the day, it helps you escape the stresses of life and signals your body to synchronize the world around it – ensuring our bodies operate at their best and improve mood and well-being. Similarly, this promotes your circadian rhythm. By allowing plenty of light to steam in, it can help the body function and give you a better sleeping cycle.
Additionally, glass houses utilize biophilic design to lower stress levels, reduce fatigue, and promote cleaner air by opening up our spaces to nature. Living in a glass house naturally creates a space where one improves their mental and physical health by creating a connection with the greenery all around.
Here are some examples of beautiful glass homes for inspiration.
1. Architect Donald and Helen Olsen House
Designed and built by Berkeley Architect Donald Olsen in 1954, this home has become an iconic structure that defined this architectural style. It is registered as one of the Historical Landmarks in the Bay Area and added to the National Register of Historic Places back in 2010.
Photo source: ClaassHaus
This glass house is nestled in the Berkeley hillside where it emerges from the canopy like a treehouse. Its white walls creating a gleaming contrast with the lush landscape. As one of Donald Olsen’s earliest works, this residence showcases the tenets of European Modernism, which embraces straight lines, geometric shapes, and lack of ornamentation.
The three-storey house is most known for its cantilevered top floor supported on thin piles that makes it appear to float above the ground. This allows for a beautiful view overlooking the city, while providing ample privacy by the surrounding topography.
Inside, a floating staircase lit by the expansive windows creates a sun-drenched open space; while the adjoining balconies put the tree foliage just within touching distance. This play on spaces, levels, and openness gives you a welcoming and serene space for work, life, and everything in between.
Photo source: The Spaces
Unlike the coldness and rigidness typically characterized by European modernist architecture, Donald Olsen preferred to live in a house with some ‘zing’; a house that is “fun, zestful to live in.” His striking glass pavilion home is one that does just that.
As said in this article by the Berkeleyside, his light-filled design integrated with the natural topography and the cohesion of inviting interiors showcases how he thinks about the home as more than just the structure but the overall impact and aesthetic it has on its residents.
2. Trefoil Glass House by J.Roc Design
Aptly named Trefoil (from the latin word for leaf), this home also shares the message of interconnectedness. The Trefoil house interacts with three different landscapes, a mountain slope, an orchard, and a body of water centered on a three-sided hearth. Located in a rural sloped site in Vermont, it is designed to create a warm space for you to feel comfortable in.
The house is built from a pre-existing triangular core and partial foundation. Three squares join at the corners to further extend the space and spread into the landscape.
Photo source: J.Roc Design | James Leng
Public spaces like the living room are enclosed in glass, while private spaces like the bedroom are artfully shielded by sculpted louvers. Additionally, a 150-foot long curtain wall wraps around the six sides of the house for more privacy. Otherwise, you would get an unbroken experience of the pristine nature and mountain views all around.
This glass home is beautifully built to withstand up to -30 degree winter temperatures. A concrete floor slab and coated insulated glass is used for the exterior while cedar, brass, and walnut for the interior material palette – keeping things simple yet functional. The architects also utilized biophilic designs to create a truly perceptual yet pragmatic space that would benefit the entire family.
First, the frame edges were largely reduced for a better view of the open sky. At the same time, all visible thresholds, headers, and sills were eliminated for a truly boundless experience from the interior to exterior. This creates an openness that allows residents a full view of the seasons that color the walls of the space.
Photo source: J.Roc Design | James Leng
Next, the home was also designed for complete accessibility in the upper level. The entire trefoil path is accessible, broad, and clearly defined to allow for easy and uninterrupted wheelchair access. This architectural choice was made to accommodate the resident’s elderly parents and an aging-in-place philosophy.
3. House NA, Japan by Sou Fujimoto Architects
The first glass house in our list that’s nestled in the middle of a neighborhood in the city. Unlike the others, House NA is gobsmacked in the middle of an urban landscape. Yet, we think that it still brings the allure of an intriguing home that draws connection between architecture and nature.
Photo source: Iwan Baan
As you can see from the image, this glass house is far from the typical concrete block walls in the area. Seeking to create ‘a unity of separation and coherence’, glass is utilized to increase a perception of space. The house is broken up by various floor plates at varying heights to create intimate spaces or broader areas for accommodating guests.
Stratifying floor plates in a furniture-like scale allows the structure to serve many types of functions, such as providing circulation, seating and working spaces. Stairs and ladders are also used to link each floor plate for an unconventional yet interesting way to move around the house.
Photo source: Iwan Baan
Some floor plates are equipped with heating for colder months, while strategically placed fenestration maximizes air flow and provides ample ventilation during warmer months. Plus, curtains are installed to provide temporary partitions in case the residents want more privacy.
The convergence of public and private spaces is explored through this space. Architect Sou Fujimoto says, “Perhaps there is no differentiation between a house and the city, only the depth.” In other words, the interior home can be public but can also be private, breaking down that perceived division that some of us may hold.
Photo source: Iwan Baan
Despite the use of grids, panels, and boxy structures, the house looks beautiful against the early morning light. The curtains around the space ripples in front of the glass walls which softens the look of the house. At the same time, small trees placed on different levels of the exterior add color to the street.
4. The Scholar’s Library by Gluck+
This secluded private library is the perfect respite from busy city life. Nestled in the forest, it is surrounded by a living backdrop of seasonal changes; green in the summer, orange in the fall, and white in the winter.
Photo source: GluckPlus
The study is a serene and solitary haven for quiet work. Just like the other glass houses, this home is immersed in the natural world around it. The top floor features sliding glass doors that encloses the cubic volume. The ground floor is completely enclosed by concrete for a more private space.
Inside, the space is filled with books, adding warmth to the small area. On the second floor, the stairs lead up to a study and research space with an expansive view of the forest. You’ll also notice a floating roof that is cantilevered off the second floor.
Efficiently built, this structure is kept simple and direct, with no elaboration. This solitary space allows you to melt into your work without the distractions an urban space may bring. It’s truly a great example how a glass house doesn’t need to be dramatic and excessive. Rather, it highlights this architectural style’s subtle beauty and versatility.
Photo source: GluckPlus
5. Villa Kogelhof by Paul Ruiter Architects
This futuristic looking and ecologically conscious Villa Kogelhof has won the highly-esteemed ARC13 architecture prize, an award given to just a few projects “wherein the usage and the technology are aligned in an innovative manner, aiming to strengthen sustainability as an integral part of architecture.”
Located in Kamperland, Zeeland, the Villa is set on 25 hectares of protected land. The landscape has over 70,000 trees planted on what were previously agricultural fields.
Photo source: Paul De Ruiter Architects
The home boasts of several energy efficient features, making the house comfortable and energy neutral all year round. It also uses an innovative ventilation system and central heating system to regulate the climate indoors. Furthermore, a cooling system designed in-house, a water roof that uses sunlight to illuminate the basement, and solar panels are all used to create a sustainable home that’s self-sufficient.
Aside from being a great energy-saving structure, the villa’s floating design and glass facade makes it a perfect example of how modern architecture and an ecological minded design can work in tandem.
This home consists of two structures and has two levels connected by a concrete core. Half of the ground floor sinks into a slope, with the upper part of the building cutting through the grassland. Inside, the floor plan is completely open except for the glass dividers that separate the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and living room. It also has floor-to-ceiling windows and glass sliding doors to welcome plenty of natural light throughout the day, while offering a grand view of the surrounding landscape.
Photo source: Paul De Ruiter Architects