Glass towers and changing UK skylines: a clear opportunity

Featured Article
06 Feb 2019

As Featured in Glass Times Magazine - 01/18

Phil Savage, head of sales – UK processing at Pilkington United Kingdom Limited, part of the NSG Group, outlines the opportunities for supplying advanced glazing as UK cities expand and grow taller.

Skylines across the UK are in flux. London is being redefined with an abundance of new and ambitious building projects. In 2016, it was reported that 436 towers of 20 floors or more were in construction across the capital. London is not alone in reaching for the sky either, with big projects in progress in Liverpool and Manchester, too.

As a key supplier to the construction industry, this environment presents plenty of opportunity for the UK’s glass and glazing sector to help deliver modern glass towers planned in the capital and beyond. 

Building upwards as land value increases

The increasing cost of land in London and other city centres is putting pressure on developers to build upwards rather than outwards. High-rise developments offer the glass and glazing sector larger projects with more value for firms to capitalise on, especially as many projects pipelined feature glass heavily in their design. The Scalpel, for example, is due to be completed in Spring 2018 in the City of London. It will be taller than the Gherkin, and just short of the Shard, and according to the building designer will have an appearance of ‘folded glass, like origami’ thanks to its glazed envelope.

Outside of the capital, plans were submitted to Manchester City Council last month on a new neighbourhood of skyscrapers up to 50 storeys tall as part of the new Great Jackson Street district, with many high-rise developments already under construction across the city. Manchester’s £800m Noma scheme, for example, comprises four high-rise developments; the tallest of which is 45 floors. 

Merseyside’s £5bn mixed-use Liverpool Waters scheme is aiming to transform 150 acres of Liverpool’s docklands and is the city’s largest ever regeneration project. Buildings as tall as 34 floors will be coming into use over the next 30 years.

The Noma and Liverpool Water schemes look set to deliver both high-end residential stock and Grade A office accommodation. The specification of advanced glazing will be key to helping developers deliver top quality, design-led and high-performance space for prospective landlords, tenants and occupiers.

Specifying advanced glazing

There’s an abundance of benefits for specifying advanced glazing in high-rise projects. For example, solar-control products can help prevent apartments from overheating to keep residents comfortable; acoustic-glazing can help create a refuge from the buzz of the city for its occupiers; thermally-efficient glazing can help businesses and homeowners to save energy on heating bills; while building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) can turn buildings into generators, producing their own renewable, low cost energy supply. 

Noise control may become particularly important for residential developers in the next few years. A new International Standard for classifying sound-insulation in dwellings is in its final stages, meaning the specification of acoustic laminated glazing may increase. The new standard could mean we start to see noise control ratings for residential properties in the same way that homes are issued with an Energy Performance Certificate, which appears on the estate agent’s description at the time of sale. This has the potential to have a significant effect on the value of flats and apartments.

More high-rise buildings in the construction pipeline could also increase demand for self-cleaning glass. There’s a large cost associated with cleaning high-rise developments because of the size of the building envelope; a self-cleaning coating can help to reduce property management costs and to keep buildings cleaner.
These taller buildings will also need to become more sustainable as Europe and the UK look to reduce carbon emissions to meet the 30% energy efficiency target set by the European Commission by 2030.

Coated glass will have a large part to play in this. Glazing with properties that help to retain heat during the winter while preventing heat-gain in the summer is now readily available to developers, meaning their buildings require less energy for heating and air conditioning.

Lots of opportunities

According to a United Nations study, more than half of the world’s population is currently living in cities and by 2050 around two thirds are expected to live in urban areas. The UK will require many more residential and commercial buildings to accommodate the rise in people living and working in its cities. This growing demand will put pressure on land and force developers to build upwards. 

There are plenty of opportunities for the glass and glazing sector to support future high-rise projects and play an even larger role in our growing built environment.