Good daylight inside a building can be a major mood and productivity enhancer. Other times, it can cause uncomfortable glare or heat, drive up energy costs, or simply require ugly blinds.
What if you could get the best of both worlds? That’s the proposition of the "smart" glass technology that is just starting to be incorporated into the design for commercial office buildings, hospitals, universities, and other large building spaces. It’s one of those small innovations that could really change how people feel inside their workplaces.
View, a Silicon Valley company that has its first production facility in Mississippi, just raised $100 million in financing to continue to expand its business. Its "Dynamic Glass" works like sunglasses that change tint with the light. The product consists of an electrochromic coating sandwiched between two layers of glass. The window looks clear from the inside, but changes to four tint levels on the outside based on the sunlight and user preferences, or in response to manual directions from a control panel or smartphone app.
Since putting its first product on the commercial market in 2012, View has developed 50 projects in North America. Notably, it has managed to increase the panel size it can produce, so that it works for big atriums in fancy office buildings as well as for smaller windows. "Those 50 installations, some are small, some medium, and some very large," says View CEO Rao Mulpuri. "That sends a message that we’re ready for the mainstream."
While View’s glass still costs more than regular or statically tinted glass, the company says its use shaves 20% off of annual lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation costs in a typical commercial installation. It can also save in construction costs for a building owner, who might be able to make due with a small cooling system or no blinds and shades. (And Mulpuri says the price will continue to come down as production increases; View’s collaboration with the high-tech glass giant Corning could also help this along.)
The benefits of the glass could go beyond being greener and saving money over time. Businesses like the W Hotel in San Francisco and hospitals and health centers, for example, have installed the dynamic glass because of an interest in boosting the mood for guests and patients. "There’s a lot of our well-being tied to [windows and buildings], which then impacts our happiness and certainly our productivity," says Mulpuri.
Dan Pickett, a partner at the architecture firm Moody Nolan, is in the midst of his second project using View’s glass, the CenturyLink Technology Center, an 800-employee office building now under construction in Louisiana. The glass made sense as a design element for the headquarters of a client in the tech and communications sector, but Pickett also anticipates it will save energy and improve the mood of the visitors center—a tall space with glass on three sides that sometimes gets too much sunlight in the late afternoon.
He says that now that View can manufacture large pieces of glass, there isn’t much of a limitation on incorporating it into buildings, besides cost considerations. And awareness among designers will continue to grow (View isn’t the only company pursuing the smart building glass market, but it’s among the most advanced).
"This is still a very new technology. Because of the cost, not every client is going to take a look at it. Once people see the benefits of using View glass, and how it will positively affect the performance of the building over time, I think we’ll see that start to change," says Pickett.