Glass Buildings May Be Pretty, but Study Shows Most Residents Never Open the Blinds

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Screen capture. Skyfall

Anyone who has watched Skyfall will know that living in an all-glass building can be a bad idea. You don't have a lot of privacy. The wall has the R-value of 3, which is the same as an inch of corrugated cardboard. It is almost impossible to keep the temperature even and comfortable. People say they buy it for the view, but in fact, according to a new study by the Urban Green Council, 59% of New Yorkers keep the blinds closed.


© Urban Green Council

“We looked at 55 buildings throughout New York City and found the same results across the board,” said Russell Unger, Executive Director of Urban Green Council. “People move into these rooms with a view, but more often than not, can’t see out the window. Tenants pay a premium for the views from all-glass buildings while society pays a price through higher energy costs, carbon emissions, and air pollution.”


© Urban Green Council

Interestingly, there was little difference in the percentage whether the window was facing north or south, so it isn't just about the heat. Glare, privacy, other factors might be at play. However, as Cecil Scheib writes in the Urban Green Council blog:

Answering the why wouldn’t change reality: for whatever reason, New Yorkers are paying for more glass and then pulling down the shades. Of course, that’s their choice. But along with whatever loss of privacy, increased noise, and uncomfortable temperatures tenants experience, the city suffers too. Because they insulate poorly compared to walls, windows waste energy and cause carbon pollution. They have lower resiliency during power outages, since the glass doesn’t hold heat in winter or keep it out in summer. And it’s not easy to harden your heart against what glass buildings do to birds, killing 90,000 annually just in NYC.
56 leonard view

56 Leonard/Promo image
From Floor to ceiling glass is not green

Glass makes a lousy wall. Architects and builders like it because it is nice to look at, easy to design and build, and they don't have to pay the operating costs. People say they want it for the view, and then they never open their blinds. What's the point? As building science consultant John Straub has noted:

Many designers have shown that beautiful and high-performance buildings can result from a proper balance of glazing quantity and quality. All too often, however, designers appear to choose all-glass curtain walls or floor-to-ceiling strip windows because they make it easy to create a sleek impression while leaving all the tricky details in the hands of the manufacturers. How much longer can we afford to pay the energy bills that result from that choice? It’s high time to revive the craft of designing beautiful facades that don’t cost the earth.

Read the whole report, Seduced by the View, from the Urban Green Council.

Also, to paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel: 'though it never made the New York Times, in the Daily News the caption read: Apartments with a view (of the occupants)