Most contemporary architects probably don't spend too long thinking about stained glass in their everyday practice - and for the "art glass" industry, that's becoming a big problem. In a fascinating article for the Wall Street Journal, Timothy W Martin carefully examines an industry that has been in decline for decades, ever since glass designer Kenneth von Roenn warned them in a 1970s conference speech that it was "time to jump ship" and diversify from their work in religious buildings.
The problem, as described by Martin, is that modern tastes and technology are increasingly leading church clients to phase out these traditional elements. Many churches now rely on video and image projections to serve the same storytelling role that stained glass was originally used for, an arrangement which is best served by eliminating windows in a church entirely. Some of these churches also use "environmental projection," a system which imitates traditional windows by projecting an image of one onto a blank wall. Still more are using framed LED lights to imitate windows.
Another challenge that is leading clients away from stained glass is, quite simply, the exorbitant cost of such a complex traditional craft. "Can you really afford a $100,000 window?" asks church specialist and principal architect at Grand Rapids-based practice Elevate Studio Steve Fridsma, who says that now only around 15% of his clients ask for stained glass. In response, the industry is beginning to develop cheaper and faster methods of working, such as kiln-produced glass which creates a single pane with a complex image, rather than the piece-by-piece traditional method.
The industry is also - almost forty years after the speech by von Roenn - diversifying its clients, working more in restaurants, stores and hospitals. And some of the largest producers are not content to stop there, with one industry leader offering the intriguing suggestion that there is no reason they couldn't clad entire skyscrapers in artisanal colored glass. Make sure to head over to the Wall Street Journal for the full article.
[H/T FastCo Design]