The Transparency Trilemma: Interrogating Transparency in Architectural Design | The Plan Journal

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Matyas Gutai
Simon Richards
Aris Kafantaris

In light of emerging dialogues on the negative environmental impact of glass buildings that culminated in the glass building ban proposal in New York City, this paper reinterrogates the meaning and potentials of transparency in architecture. This is done by introducing the concept of the “Transparency Trilemma,” whereby glass envelopes are believed to be unable to provide thermal comfort, environmental sustainability, and optical transparency at the same time. By re-evaluating transparency from technical, spatial, and semantic viewpoints, this paper presents a comprehensive new Transparency Framework for the overall assessment of buildings on these grounds. The use of this framework can facilitate a more holistic evaluation of glass buildings across the full range of their potential meanings and applications, which would support better design and understanding of the role of transparency in contemporary architecture.