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Glass reimagined through architecture

Glass artwork
Jan Aspinall

Glass is so much more than the window you gaze out of, the bottle you drink from, the windscreen of your car. It’s an art form with a rich history, an aid to good health, an architectural feature, a provider of illumination.

And that’s why it’s so fascinating to Donna Kennedy, who is working with a team to bring new glass and glazing qualifications to Melbourne Polytechnic.

With the support of industry group Glaas Inc and state government funding, courses are being developed and the Australian Centre for Glass Design is being established on the High St side of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Prahran campus.

From that base, Donna hopes to share her love of glass which began – as many passions do – by chance when someone mentioned leadlight to her one day. She was curious and read a little about it, then signed up for a short course.

‘I hadn’t had a particular interest in glass, I was interested in visual arts but not glass, but I was hooked from the minute I touched a piece of coloured glass, it just gets you,’ Donna says.

She kept practicing her new hobby, then worked with her cabinetmaker husband to incorporate small leadlight panels in his furniture. That turned into a 20-year business for the couple.

As well as glass for buildings and furniture, Donna says glass is also visual art ‘and it’s often inspiring and uplifting’.

Changing the world we live in 

‘I believe glass has its own energy, it’s a wonderful practical material. It lets in light, which is life giving but it keeps out the elements. Studies have shown it is very beneficial to health.  In the distant past people did not have access to large pieces of glass for use as windows and lived in very dark and damp premises. The use of glass has really changed the way we live and has made us healthier.

‘As a decorative item glass was predominantly used in ecclesiastical installations - think of people who were illiterate, sitting in a church while looking at coloured pictures made of glass and set in the walls,  and the light comes in and those pictures are illuminated and there’s something about that illumination, particularly of coloured or textured glass, that is quite uplifting and inspiring.

‘We need to use glass more, there are so many more ways that we can use it in the built environment, you don’t have to have a big coloured glass panel in your house, but if you have a couple of pieces of uncoloured textured glass in a window it will catch the light and as it comes through the texture it actually transforms the space.

Endless possibilities 

‘Because I work with glass and with glass artists I’m privileged to see the potential that exists. When I think of all the apartments that are built, all those bland rooms and I know if they added a toughened glass partition or just a small piece of glass in a wall with a couple of strips of textured glass to catch the light it would transform the whole place, give it life and character.

‘Glass is a powerful medium.’

While running the family leadlight business, they employed young people (including some award-winning apprentices) and that’s when Donna first got involved in the training side of the industry.

She says there used to be a leadlight stained glass Certificate III that was discontinued and she could see the need for qualifications to be refined and reintroduced now.

Donna is the director of industry group Glass Light Art and Architecture Synergies (Glaas Inc) and they are working with Melbourne Polytechnic, with funding from the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s Workforce Training Innovation Fund, to develop glass and glazing training programs focused on designed glazing. They are also establishing the Australian Centre for Glass Design, which will support the courses and run events for the sector and the public to raise awareness of glass.

New glass space in Prahran

Donna says the centre is to be situated in a double shopfront that will act as a consulting studio, with space to exhibit architectural and studio glass.

Donna will be able to provide course information to potential students, as well as connections to industry professionals.

‘People can talk to me about glass they may need for their homes and we’ll be able to recommend people and ultimately be able to recommend graduates to do the work,’ she says.

‘Many of Australia’s most prominent and best architectural glass artists, designers and practitioners are supportive of the Centre and the development of the courses, and will be helping to mentor students and possibly utilise some of them on any projects that are referred through the Centre.

‘We’ll also be running professional development events for the sector and offering events for the interested public.’

Glass in Buildings: Past Present Potential, glass conference is taking place on 22 and 23 November 2019. Book your tickets here. 

Image: Jan Aspinall

Building skills and the family business

Image of Like Hellings standing beside image of building plans

Bachelor of the Built Environment student Luke Hellings is busy building his own environment, taking his newfound design skills home to the family business.

Building Skills - and the Family Business