A touch of glass
I've loved glass since I was a little boy, when my father and grandfather had a jewelry business that sold blown glass. When I was older, I apprenticed under an Irish stained- and leaded-glass artist, then later studied with German and Swedish glass artists and fell in love with the craft.
I've been working as a glass artist now for 25 years. I started my business, Joel Berman Glass Studios, in 1980 in Vancouver, BC, creating one-of-a-kind sculptures and limited-production glass for the corporate, commercial, hospitality, and healthcare markets. With the creation of our new division, Berman Glass editions, which produces a new line of textured glass suitable for a variety of interior and exterior building applications, we're now able to produce inexpensive, well- designed glass with almost no lead time.
We created the new division in response to the events of 9/11, after which the market changed and budgets tightened. We invested $2 million and changed the way we made our molds and glass. For a small company, this wasn't easy. Now we can run 65,000 to 100,000 square feet at a time and radically bring down our cost per square foot.
Our work has been popular with hospitals, with more than 25 displaying our creations thus far. I think the reason is that glass is light transmitting—it's a very “alive” material that changes according to light. Our glass is tactile, pleasing to the touch because of its texture. It's also a very enduring material, and its popularity will never decrease. Another benefit, especially to healthcare facilities, is that glass is nonporous, making its surface easy to clean. We are just now discussing with a company in Europe the possibility of applying an antibacterial coating to the product for the healthcare industry.
Each project we do is different. We try to relate our glass design to a project's building materials or those of an existing building as part of the architectural design. Many designs are organic in nature, relating to water, stone, or wood.
Hospitals typically hire us to create glass for artistic privacy elements or decoration, such as partitions, sculptures, or donor walls. The most challenging project for me, especially because I'm a parent, was creating a sculpture for the room in a children's hospital where medical staff inform parents about their child's passing away. In that situation, my aim was to make the environment soothing.
We also want to make patients feel comfortable in their environment. I've been doing work for dental offices for years—to me, that's one place you definitely want people to feel relaxed!
We are currently working on a glass sculpture for the Cleveland Clinic Heart Center that is about light and texture and offers an artistic welcome to the hospital. Other projects call for the glass installation to serve a more practical purpose, for example in a nurses’ station, where nurses need privacy and a degree of shelter from what's going on around them.
We like to say our fabrication techniques are “medieval but computerized.” The techniques we use—the heating and the casting of the glass—are medieval, but everything we do from a design standpoint is computerized so that we can repeat the process over and over. We use design programs like AutoCAD, although we do model making by hand.
Although our molds are all hand-carved, our edition glass is produced in large runs. Nevertheless, it is well crafted and well designed and no less artistic than our other works.
We also color glass, because color assists in creating a healing environment. We use pastels frequently, but in some places, such as hospital cafeterias, we use bold colors. Glass in a hospital cafeteria should entertain because the cafeteria is an oasis for staff or family members needing a break. The design has to suit the function of the space.
The challenges in creating glass for hospitals is mainly structural—the work has to be done according to building codes and traffic requirements; you don't want it sticking out where a gurney might hit it. The work must also be timeless, so that if we design it today, it will be just as relevant tomorrow. We always strive for consistency and continuity of themes and patterns, a design that is not trendy, and an end product that will withstand a lot of maintenance.
In healthcare, you want to create a level of comfort, a sense of making someone's day better who may not be well or who is taking care of someone who isn't well. You want to take people's minds off the reality of what's going on and entertain them in a holistic way. Design can make a difference.
Whether we are helping children or adults, I want to make a positive impact on their lives. That's our job, and that's why we provide this service. HD