Book Review: Detail in Contemporary Glass Architecture

Detail in Contemporary Glass Architecture by Virginia McLeod, published by Laurence King Publishing, 2011. Hardcover, 224 pages. (Amazon)

Virginia McLeod continues her series of Detail in Contemporary... books (previously I reviewed ...Residential Architecture) with a collection of 50 buildings that use glass in innovative ways. Structured into chapters by building type, the projects include the obvious -- SANAA's Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, Steven Holl's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art addition -- but also the idiosyncratic -- Cecil Balmond's Coimbra Footbridge, Carpenter Lowing Architecture's Chapel for the Salvation Army. Overall the selection is a good one, veering towards the big names but clearly illustrating the varied ways glass can be used today. Each project is presented across four pages: The first page includes descriptive text and photos; the second page features plans and sections; the third and fourth pages are reserved for important details that elucidate the ways glass functions in the building.

A book devoted to details about glass, a material often thought of as invisible, may be a bit odd at first; how does one detail the invisible? Of course details are about connections, joints, transitions from one plane, material, or assembly to another. So those connections take on more importance than the actual drawing of glass, which is most often a few parallel lines. Even with projects that add effects to planar glass to give it a weight or effect that is much different than the more prevalent vision glass, the details are but one part of the story; hence the pages devoted to photos and other illustrations. But then a project like FAM's 11 March Memorial in Madrid (pictured in two spreads here) makes one realize that glass is not simply a planar material; it can also be a solid object with weight and presence that belies expectations. In this project glass is the whole detail. And while glass block may not be as popular as it used to be, in this project it breathes new life, and is a fitting addition to a book on glass in contemporary architecture.