Trend Report: Architect Barbara Bestor Sounds Off on the New Glass House
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Trend Report: Architect Barbara Bestor Sounds Off on the New Glass House

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By Sheila Kim
From the Maison Verre in Paris to Philip Johnson’s Connecticut icon, the glass house is a hallmark of 20th-century modernism. But radical transparency isn’t for everyone.

Everyone wants a great view, but are there any particular ways you’re thinking about glazing these days? 

Barbara Bestor: I guess I would say it’s not like in the old days where you would have a tract home situation with the picture window—almost like a television. It’s about dematerializing the indoor/outdoor relationships, but also choreographing what someone is looking at is a big deal. 

How does that choreography work?

If you're doing a hillside house with views, then you're maximizing the glass, not even in a window-y way, but creating a sense of being way up in the trees or something. One thing I've done a few times that I like is to create a big, outdoor, covered porch off of a really good view. So you can have full glass to a patio with a roof on it. Then we might add heaters and lighting and stereos and stuff like that. So you kind of get a fully functioning outdoor living or dining room as opposed to just an extension of what's behind a glass wall. You end up framing the view almost like it's in Panavision. Like filmic framing that emphasizes the horizontal. 

What about when you don’t have a sweeping hillside site? 

I have done a lot of landscape projects lately where we're creating specific views from internal-facing windows as a way of bringing more nature into an urban situation. Sometimes you enter a courtyard that you can't see from the street. But generally we'll try to make all the openings look out to the part of house that isn't facing the street. You don't have to have a courtyard either. You can just create a view to specific kinds of plantings. Most of my work is in cities, and so often the plantings are like a screen—it might be red flowers that echo the red wallpaper in the room or something like that. 

Do you have any other tips for balancing glass and privacy? 

Often we will do a gradient vinyl treatment that fades from opaque at the bottom to translucent at the top, keeping a view of the trees but building in some privacy if the windows on a more exposed face. 

What are some differences in your approach to windows/glazing in a new construction versus an existing house? 

In new construction we like to maximize windows but balance that with some very opaque walls so it’s sort of all or nothing. In an existing house we work with the existing context and often increase the light with skylights, etc. 

What kinds of snags might an architect or remodeler encounter in planning massive windows or glass walls? 

How do you get around or prevent these?A huge expanse of glass can actually sag over time, so it becomes very difficult, especially in a dual glazing condition. In our Lautner house restorations, we are often working with thicker tempered glass (but not dual glazed) which allows some flexibility. 

What are some factors architects should discuss with clients on this topic? Why are these important? 

Managing the energy use for climate control is a super important part of discussing how much glass you can use, and a good orientation and judicious use of overhangs can help mitigate the solar gain. 

What are the most important attributes architects should look for in selecting glazing products (whether they're walls, windows, doors, or skylights)? 

I think that the detailing of the sash is very important and varies wildly among products. We use a lot of aluminum and steel in our more modern projects, but sometimes we switch over to wood windows with a clad exterior so that we get the warmth of the wood on the interior. 

In your neck of the woods, what is trending (aesthetically) among homeowner requests when it comes to windows/glazing? 

Folding glass doors. And automated skylights. 


Brooklyn-based design journalist Sheila Kim reports on architecture, interiors, and decor, as well as design-centric products that run the gamut from table lamps and home accessories to commercial flooring and acoustic ceilings. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Architectural Record, and numerous other publications. 

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