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    Steiff Factory Building
    Translucent glass curtainwall in 1903

    by Scott Murray

    Due to its inherent relationship with the perception of manipulated light, the condition of translucency in architecture is often associated with primarily subjective aims: the creation of spectacle, affect, or atmosphere.

    Translucency also has the potential to address practical issues of function and technical performance in buildings of certain usage which may require, for instance, specific lighting conditions or degrees of privacy or publicity.

    The incorporation of translucent materials in the design of a building skin may therefore be related to program as much as (if not to the exclusion of) spectacle or aesthetic expression, phenomena which become by-products of the main intent.

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    In these types of buildings, the enclosure system may be read as an embodiment, or crystallization, of rational programmatic concerns, reflecting the fundamental importance of light in the activities taking place within and often accompanied by a prioritization of materiality and performance over form.

    Steiff Factory Building

    Among the many influential industrial buildings that contributed to the rise of modern architecture in the early twentieth century, the lesser-known Steiff Factory Building of 1903 stands out for its stunningly inventive translucent double-skin glass enclosure.

    This three-story loft structure, still standing today in Giengen, Germany, was built by the Steiff Company, a manufacturer of dolls and other toys, for purely utilitarian purposes: to provide flexible spaces for manufacturing with abundant natural light and a comfortable interior environment.   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from Translucent Building Skins: Material Innovations in Modern and Contemporary Architecture by Scott Murray, copyright © 2012, with permission of the publisher, Routledge.
     

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    Engineer Richard Steiff is credited with designing the strikingly original Steiff Factory Building, built in 1903 in Giengen, Germany.
    Photo: Courtesy Margarete Steiff GmbH Extra Large Image

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    The Steiff Factory Building, seen here in the left foreground, combines a steel structure with a double-skin glass facade.
    Photo: Courtesy Margarete Steiff GmbH Extra Large Image

     

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