Mediating Privacy and Exposure in Residential Buildings

By Jordan Medeiros // Week 05, Post 04

Functioning under the premise of minimized-scale residential architecture, glass, in the most generic and commonplace sense, generally holds the supporting role of aesthetics or accessory, specifically apertures for viewing, light and exposure. Rarely does this material actually function as a building material, and, furthermore, rarely is glass ever used in a truly public setting as a structuring material.

Architect Phillip Johnson’s Glass House is one of the most, if not the most, iconic residential glass structures in history with all four glass walls providing an all-encompassing view of its surroundings. However, this house sits within a 49-acre plot of land, essentially negating the transparency assumed by the nature of glass with isolation and privacy of the context (The Glass House). The penthouse addition to the Obsidian House in New York’s TriBeCa is a recent  example of privacy-dominated transparency in residential architecture (New York Times). Set back from the street-visible portion of the roof, the glass-wall apartment retains much more privacy than a typical urban apartment via the rooftop setting.

Glass in the most general sense is meant to expose, yet when placed within these isolated settings, the material loses its optical significance, serving as just an inner pleasure to the personal user. How can this issue of privacy and exposure be mediated without disposing of the authentic nature of glass? How can glass be interactive in the urban setting while still providing some sense of exclusivity?

Typical methods of reflectivity and glazing lose the transparent nature of the material. Instead, methods such as overlapping and layering, recycling, and faceted and undulated panels provide the senses of transparency and blurring simultaneously, keeping within the acceptable levels of privacy for the viewer and appropriateness to the material of glass. Bilbao’s Department of Health building and the recently completed Port House by the late Zaha Hadid demonstrate these concepts well at the large scale, which can easily be modified to fit within the context of residential and everyday use, escalating the level of environmental interaction to all realms of life.

 

Sources: http://theglasshouse.org

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