With a number of new buildings being built in the city, glass as a material has made an encouraging return. It offers transparency, access to views and if used correctly, can minimise electricity costs by optimising natural light-flow into internal spaces.
An example of this is the Portside building on the Foreshore, which houses FirstRand Bank and Old Mutual. What’s interesting is the contrast between visually permeable buildings, and those, which proactively engage with the city compared to stonework or heavy buildings with small punctured windows.
‘Historically the overuse of single pane glazing in appropriate locations on certain buildings has meant that glass buildings have earned a generally poor reputation, despite the many social, experiential and technical advantages of glass,’ says Mokena Makeka, founder and principal of Makeka Design Lab.
It has even been said that glass buildings are more ‘democratic’, as they share their content with the public, aside from a few notable exceptions. There has however been much discussion about the use of glazed buildings in the context of climate change, minimising heat gain and managing the running costs of buildings efficiently.
‘I would say that most tall buildings in the world will tend to be clad in glass for many years to come. At Portside, another key reason we designed a glass tower is that this is one of the few cities in the world that has the most spectacular 360 degree views, so by creating a transparent building we are giving every single person working in the building a view – it a very democratic approach,’ says Derick Henstra, Executive Chairman of DHK Architecture.
With the way construction materials and building technology has advanced over the last decade or so, it has been nothing short of groundbreaking and materials such as glass will find a resurgence as a preferred modern building material, provided that various technical and ecological targets can be achieved.
‘As more regulations take effect, developers and clients will be required to adhere for construction approvals and the market place will continue to find nimble ways to respond to these needs. What is perhaps assured is that contemporary architecture has and will always be preoccupied with architecture that is visually accessible, exciting, functional, sensible and a source of curiosity for the user and the passerby’, says Makeka.
‘The future of Cape Town will not necessarily be tall glass buildings, but a lot of low-rise hybrid energy efficient green buildings, which relate much more to the architectural history of Cape Town’, says Henstra.
Unlike fashion with its very exciting but short lifespan, great architecture resonates across different times, and this (together with price/ technical requirements) ultimately informs the choices of the architect, and the implications on the general public, long after the client has moved on.