Beware the glass menagerie

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Beware the glass menagerie


A glass castle is an age-old fantasy. It is a castle that sparkles like a jewel in daylight. At night, the lights from inside radiate outside and brighten the surroundings. This used to only exist in the romantic fairytale world. But the fantasy has come true as glass-covered skyscrapers in our modern architecture. Now, glass buildings sparkle like gigantic jewels on the streets of metropolitan cities.

But such common structures no longer bring fantasy. The transparent towers shining in the sunlight, transparent at night, are more harmful than romantic. They cause discords among neighbors, and the fairy tales do not end so happily ever after. Recently, a glass tower is under trial for reflecting blindingly strong sunlight. NHN headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, has been brought to court by residents in the neighborhood. The Seongnam Branch of the Suwon District Court ordered the building owner to pay compensation to the neighbors who suffered from the reflecting light and to renovate the surface to reduce the glare.

A group of local residents in Haeundae, Busan brought a class action against a luxury hotel with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. At night, the hotel rooms can be seen from outside, and the people living near the hotel unintentionally witness inappropriate scenes. The glowing, transparent structures result in tremendous stress in reality, unlike the beautiful sights in the fantasy.

The glass towers also have low energy efficiency. The lack of insulation means a cold winter for the tenants, and windows bring in direct sunlight, creating a sizzling indoor climate. Research showed that all-glass buildings consume six times more energy than concrete structures. Lately, special glass materials were developed to effectively provide insulation and block heat from sunlight, but they are very expensive.

However, newly constructed structures are still made out of glass. I asked an architect about the choice of the material, and he said that not many materials are suitable for exterior of tall buildings: Bricks and stones are not economical, and concrete has aesthetic limits for skyscrapers. Glass is popular because it is modern, good-looking and high-tech. Also, glass exteriors require advanced technology, which allows the builder to show off technological excellence. The clean design also suits the eco-friendly trend.

It is truly a dilemma. The image is eco-friendly, but energy efficiency says otherwise. The appearance is transparent and clean, but it can be a nuisance for the neighbors. In fact, the glass structures are not the only ones whose reality and appearance are different in imagination and substance. Reality often betrays fantasy.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny
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