Glass: Post-WW2

When looking back at the profound impact of any war, positive changes do not seem possible due to such a traumatic and tragic occurrence. World War 2 is admittedly one such war. This event changed history on a global scale and shaped the course of our future.

Innovations during the 1930’s and post-WW2 testify to how the special requirements during this period, influenced the manufacturing industries worldwide. The war required large quantities of military vehicles with windscreens and lightweight planes (that could travel long distances). This called for innovation in the manufacturing of glass and aluminium. Eventually also changing commercial manufacture and use of these materials.

In America particularly the vehicle manufacturing industry experienced an unprecedented boom. Two companies, Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) and Libbey-Owen-Ford Glass (L.O.F) dominated the industry and went global before World War 2. This was in part due to break-through innovations such as heat-absorbing glass; laminated safety glass and double glazing.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, Alistair Pilkington (Pilkington Brothers), perfected the manufacture of float glass. This ensured major advances in the construction industry.

Post-WW2 glass manufacture revolved around the manufacture of flat glass sheets, mainly used for vehicles at this time. The optic quality of flat glass was further enhanced by twin-grinding (polishing) methods developed in the UK and Belgium.

America’s tunnel vision on vehicle manufacturing caused concern under American Architects by the mid 1950’s. These conditions particularly influenced a period in architecture during the 1950’s to 1960’s referred to as the “glass box” phase, with monotonous glass and aluminium facades defining cities during this period.

Though this was the start of the use of glass and aluminium facades, it assuredly was not the end. Today the advances in the manufacture and use of both materials form part of the basis for Green Building, shaping mixed-use buildings and promoting the new urbanism principles.


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