Imagine a high-tech glass that you could change from transparent to frosted with the flick of a switch… You could use it for home windows (eliminating the need for blinds), for store fronts (at night), and even for bathrooms (requiring users to stretch for a new level of trust in technology). Although Privacy Glass is not in common use yet – the technology has actually been around for quite a few years, and there are many stunning examples of this smart material in use all over the world. French company Saint-Gobain produces an “intelligent” glass called Privalite, which can be switched from an ordinary-looking clear glass to a foggy-looking frosted glass by running an electrical current over a polymer liquid-crystal film sandwiched between two plates of glass.

Apparently the Koolhaus-designed Prada flagship store in SoHo, New York, utilizes privacy glass in the dressing rooms. I’ve been to the store on several occasions, but I’ve never quite made it as far as the dressing rooms (bloggers can’t afford Prada), so I have yet to see this in the flesh. Fortunately New Yorkers don’t need to be well-heeled to see Privacy Glass in action. Inhabitat reader John tells us that there is a more accessible (and fun) implementation of privacy glass, right around the corner from the Prada store, at Bar 89 (89 Mercer Street in NYC) “The bathroom doors do the trick and are tripped by an infrared censor. The bar is ok, but the bathrooms on the mezzanine are worth a stop.” {Thanks John!}

Privacy glass works according to the principles of polymer liquid-crystal optics. The laminated glazing comprises two sheets of glass, either clear or tinted, and a liquid crystal film. Both faces of the film are covered with a transparent, electrical conductive coating. When the glass is switched off from its special power supply, the liquid crystals are randomly scattered and diffuse light in all directions. By switching the glass on, the crystals line up and reorient themselves, turning the SGG PRIVA-LITE glass totally transparent. Switching from the non-transparent state to the transparent state is almost instantaneous and can be repeated as often as desired.

For more in-depth information on privacy glass, check out HowStuffWork’s article on Smart Windows >

According to the above article, this smart glass technology could potentially save billions of dollars on heating, cooling and lighting costs by being installed into traditional residential windows. Bring it on!

+ SwitchLite
+ Privalite
+ Landmark Glass