Architects are now exploring the importance, necessity, and newer ways to allow sunlight into spaces; measures to control and regulate the quantity of light entering and its distribution. In the case of residential buildings, where privacy plays a large role, opaque materials like screens and tinted glass are sought after. 

However, the privacy that these materials provide often comes at the cost of the room’s natural lighting, forcing designers to seek alternative materials. Translucency in architecture is one such finding. 

In this article, we take a look at structures encased in semi-transparent materials including polycarbonate and frosted glass.

1. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology by Behnisch Architekten

Translucent polycarbonate panels clad this timber and concrete laboratory located on the northern campus of Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). It was designed by Behnisch Architekten and occupies a plot previously used for solar energy experiments. Its corrugated plastic encasing and unique jagged roof echo the industrial buildings that surround it. 

On the inside, an exposed concrete frame allows the hall to be column-free and rows of chipboard panels create a functional, ventilated space. Skylights punctuate the irregular roofing and the chipboard panels provide a subtle contrast to the office space which is finished in white-painted timber. The distinct office and laboratory areas are parted by what the studio describes as a glass vestibule, allowing for views. A simple steel and wood stairway and an elevator lead up to the second story of the office area. 

The polycarbonate envelope keeps the laboratory’s test areas well-lit consistently and creates a lantern-like glow from the structure in the evenings, dramatized further with shadows cast by the wooden frame and the steel walkway.  “The hall and the saw-tooth roof are generously clad with polycarbonate plates, which allow a consistent amount of daylight to enter the entire test area,” stated the studio. “Window openings set in specific places in the office facade enable a selective illumination of the interior spaces with their unobtrusive design,” they added.

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Timber and Concrete Lab, KIT Image: Dezeen

2. Lasvit headquarters, Czech Republic, by Ov-a Architekti

The office of glassmaking company Lasvit, located on Palackého square in the northern Czech town of Nový Bor, received a new headquarters designed by Prague-based architectural studio Ov-a Architekti; the project aimed at regenerating the town’s glassblowing traditions, while restoring some of the region’s historic constructions. 

In addition, the master plan also included a striking new building wrapped in translucent glass tiles that complement the surrounding slate roofs. Its form mimicked the Česká Lípa’s traditional slate-shingle-homes, with a façade conceived from 1,400 frosted glass tiles. Lasvit made the glass stencils that cover the mantle and roof themselves. 

“We chose a house used by glassmakers as long as two hundred years ago and breathed new life into it — a life intertwined with glass and with the roots of this traditional craft in this area, showing how traditional materials can be united with modern design and cutting-edge technology,” stated Leon Jakimič, president of Lasvit.

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Lasvit Headquarters

3. Nová Ruda Kindergarten, by Petr Stolin Architekt

Petr Stolin Architekt cloaked a double-skinned semi-transparent facade of fiberglass around this Czech Republic kindergarten — Nová Ruda, located in Vratislavice nad Nisou, in the town of Liberec. The kindergarten is designed as a brick building with an inner structure made from a wooden grid frame and wrapped in a fiberglass façade. 

The whole building is embraced by an outer shell that covers it like a soft veil made from steel and fiberglass. The space between the inner structure and the outer shell creates a terrace space. The material and surfaces have been carefully crafted in light tones and combined with glass and natural wood on the terraces.

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Nová Ruda

4. Atmosphere: A Revival, Australia, by Studio Rain

This prefabricated, lightweight, flat-pack sauna installation by Sydney-based art and architecture practice Studio Rain, is a Scandinavian and Japanese-inspired example of translucency in architecture. With walls made from polycarbonate cladding, Atmosphere is located on the banks of Yarra River in Melbourne and was designed to be erected, disassembled, and reused without dependence on heavy machinery. 

“The beauty of the off-grid sauna is that it can be immersed in a natural environment, where access to electricity and gas can be limited and relocated easily without the need for a plumber or electrician,” said Alice Nivison, one of the four Co-Founders of the Sydney-based practice. Traditional materials are blended with more experimental ones to play with levels of transparency and obscurity. Its translucent façade and ceiling let daylight in. 

“The polycarbonate lets in the natural light and allows the surrounding environment to softly filter into the interior space,” said Rachel Mackay, Co-Founder, Studio Rain. “When the sun is out, the material also allows for a natural intensification of the temperature in the space,” she added.

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Atmosphere Image: Dezeen

Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.

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