Switchable Smart Glass

bathroom GIF New2

Switchable smart glass in action at our recently completed Hope Ranch Residence. See more photos and information about our design for this new custom residence by visiting the Hope Ranch Residence project page.

Finding the right balance between privacy and an open view to the outside is an age-old architectural design challenge. This is especially true for California modern architecture. The temperate climate encourages blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space, and our local Santa Barbara projects often strive for complete transparency to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings.

Throughout history, architects have approached these two opposing concepts (transparency vs. privacy) in a variety of ways. When Fredrich C. Robie insisted on “seeing his neighbors without being seen,” Frank Lloyd Wright raised the floor level of the Robie House above that of the street and provided a low wall outside of the windows. This small shift in elevation, along with the view-blocking low-height wall, required people at street level to look up through the windows to see in. The steep viewing angle prohibited the ability of outsiders to see into the majority of the home’s interior, except for a view of the ceiling. Phillip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe placed the bathroom (typically the most private space in a home) in an opaque enclosure at the core of their glass house projects.  Richard Neutra would place a linear light fixture outside a picture window to create a reflection that assisted in blocking views to within.

At the Hope Ranch residence, our client requested a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, which their site gloriously offers, from the comfort and privacy of a custom whirlpool bathtub.

Blackbird took an innovative approach to solve this transparency vs. privacy challenge and employed a fairly new but very reliable product known as switchable smart glass to make this request a reality.  Switchable smart glass is a type of glass whose light transmission properties are altered when voltage is applied. Typically, as in this installation, the glass changes from translucent to transparent when the voltage is applied.

The technical name of this product is electrochromic glass. It is significantly more expensive, (usually three to four times more than typical glazing), but has unique characteristics that other glass cannot match. It employs a polymer dispersed liquid crystal film that is laminated between two layers of common glass. When no voltage is applied, suspended particles in the liquid are randomly organized, thus blocking and absorbing light. Flip a switch to apply voltage and the electric current forces the suspended particles in the liquid film to align and let light pass through making the glass transparent.


Et voila! Transparency and privacy are achieved.

You can find more information about the switchable smart glass product used in this project and the people who helped realize its installation here:

General contractor – Leonard Unander Associates Inc.

Switchable glass supplier – Glass Apps

Glass installer – JNL Glass Inc.

Electrical sub-contractor – JR Electric