The Aesthetic Value of Photosensitive Glass

Corning has created a lot of interesting things that we take for granted today that have made good use of changing the properties of glass and giving it new characteristics. Without changing the behavior of glass, it would not be possible to bake a casserole in a glass pan in the oven and refrigerate it in the same pan. In developing different variations of glass, Corning has founded photosensitive glass.

Photosensitive glass is similar to photo paper; however, it responds to UV light instead of visible light. The United Nations Secretariat Building at their headquarters in New York City makes use of this technology in a unique way. Built in 1952, by Le Corbusier and Niemeyer, this 39-story structure is located next to the East River. The building is uses steel frame construction with glass and marble curtain walls. In a 1952 issue from The New Yorker, Brendan Gill and Gordon Cotler state that the glass walls are made to resemble marble, which covers the façade of the structure as well. They mention a benefit of the “marble glass” is that it does not need to be cleaned as often as plain clear glass. In order to give the wall material the look of marble without it actually being marble, photosensitive glass was used. Each panel of glass used had to be “baked,” at an extremely high temperature so that the texture and color of the marble would appear on it in visible light. The image appears like a photograph, but not on paper.

The photosensitive glass walls of the United Nations Secretariat Building are purely for aesthetic value. It is not just simply a wall of glass. Well, it is, but it does not appear that way. Thanks to Corning, customized glass can be made—creating the perfect piece of cladding for anyone who wants it.

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