How a Window Designer Expanded Architectural Possibilities
With more than 20,000 projects completed across 60 countries, Vitrocsa is the architect’s choice for innovative window design. We sat down with the brand’s Australasian director, Michael Canturi, to discover how Vitrocsa has expanded the scope of architectural capabilities across the world.
Pioneered in Switzerland in 1992, Vitrocsa has revolutionised glass window design. Swiss watch-maker Eric Joray implemented the same disciplines and micromechanics from watch-making into his window formulation, designing the ‘original modern minimalist window’ by distilling every element. The result is unrivalled performance, strength and visual invisibility.
We chat with Vitrocsa’s Australia and New Zealand Director Michael Canturi who introduced the product to southern shores. While it is manufactured to the same swiss standards, Michael has worked with Eric and the team in Switzerland, innovating even further to meet the needs of Australasia’s most demanding architectural visions.
Congratulations on the success of Vitrocsa in the Australasian market. Understanding it was originally designed and launched in Switzerland, can you explain how you became involved with the brand?
Michael Canturi: My first touchpoint with Vitrocsa was in Switzerland (circa 2006) working with a local architect on a project in Longueville. As soon as I saw how revolutionary the technology was, I knew it would resonate with Australian architects. Its uniqueness was unparalleled with anything available on the market. My relationship and curiosity with the brand grew exponentially over the years that followed; we introduced the minimalist window concept to Australasia and began extruding locally – to the exact same Swiss precision and standards.
What specifically impressed you about Vitrocsa compared with other glass window and door systems on the market?
Michael Canturi: It’s a simple concept and highly engineered to make it work. Conventional sliding glass doors are fitted with small wheels or bearings in the door panel that slide within a track. With Vitrocsa, it’s the complete opposite. The bearings are concealed within the track, negating the need for an ‘awful frame’ around the glass. The glass supports itself and slides freely over the top of the bearings. The tracks also act as a drain, so any water collected on the windows disappears, alleviating the need for strip drains.
The result is a sense of ‘nothing being there’, creating the illusion of a larger space. Because the flooring continues on both sides of the glass, there’s no barrier to the eye. Small spaces feel much larger and draw the outside in. It’s a beautiful thing.
How did Vitrocsa change the landscape of architectural possibilities?
Michael Canturi: Over the years, I’ve worked on various projects specialising in steel and glass construction which often features large glass panels. In the past, they were either clunky, featured thick frames or were incredibly heavy to operate. The most impressive aspect of the Vitrocsa system is the track itself. The ability to slide incredibly large, well-sealed, frameless glass doors with ease is ground-breaking. Operating panels, effortlessly sometimes between one to one-and-a-half tonne of glass, was something the Australian market had never seen before.
Vitrocsa was a game-changer for the architectural industry. We brought an entirely new way of sliding a glass door to market – essentially glass walls. Vitrocsa is all about removing obstructions; allowing the architecture to take centre stage. As a result, we often receive comments like, “I haven’t been this excited about a product in 10 years”.
How does Vitrocsa vary from steel windows for example?
Michael Canturi: Australasia has had steel windows on the market for many years, and yes, they served their purpose. But they cannot offer a lightweight aluminium profile’s smooth operation and precision. Aluminium is also the number one choice for environments exposed to the elements because it simply doesn’t rust. We also anodize our aluminium (think: an Apple iPad or laptop), so the colour will never ‘wear off’.
Does the same formula invented by Eric Joray still exist with your windows today?
Michael Canturi: Absolutely. Eric’s revolutionary design, now spanning some 30 years, is the exact product we produce today. We have a very close relationship with Eric, and up until his retirement, we kept in continuous contact with him. Together with Eric and now the Swiss team, we have been able to innovate further for our market.
We would love to hear more about this. Can you explain how you have evolved the system for the Australasian market?
Michael Canturi: By taking advantage of our warmer climate here in the southern hemisphere, we were able to refine the product even further, whilst maintaining strength and performance. As a result, we can confidently say ‘we have the thinnest window product on the world stage’. Our tracks begin at only 32mm.
Vitrocsa has a legacy of collaboration with architects, such as Andrea Bassi and Norman Foster. Here in Australia, we worked with renowned architect Wendy Lewin on a project overlooking the harbour. Wendy is a visionary, someone who pushes boundaries, and her brief challenged us to refine the Vitrocsa products to meet her requirements. For example, rather than including balconies in her design, we took our guillotine window concept and incorporated counterweights to allow the lower panel to remain in place while the top panel disappeared into the ceiling. We are thrilled to say this new guillotine window system is now used worldwide. We also designed a pivot door with a 20mm frame – the slimmest, and most highly-sealed in the world.
How does the acoustic performance of the windows compare with other window products on offer?
Michael Canturi: Obviously, there are thousands of glass products on the market, but the point of difference with Vitrocsa is the track system itself. We achieve very high acoustic performance because it’s highly sealed. This means minimal air infiltration and, therefore, very little noise, particularly when we pair this with special acoustic laminated glass. After installation, we often surprise engineers when the acoustic performance rates five decibels better than anticipated. In the same vein, if you have solar heat issues, we can also use another type of glass to negate that.
Similarly, with the threat of bushfires in rural areas, how does the Vitrocsa system fair with flame resistance?
Michael Canturi: Again, our product performs exceptionally well in the bush fire ratings. Fundamentally because the product is concealed within the structure of the building, all you see is the glass itself. And also, because we use specific fireproof glass. We work with fire consultants and will be undertaking our own testing this year for fire certification.
Are there any particularly memorable projects you’ve worked on recently?
Michael Canturi: All our work is memorable for different reasons. Whether it’s the size of the panels, the way they operate or most importantly, the visual result. We’ve installed curved sliding doors at the Sydney Opera House which was an exciting project to work on.
Working with John Wardle Architects on the Phoenix Gallery also springs to mind. The entry to the theatre consists of two openings side by side, four metres wide each and around two and a half metres high. We had one piece of glass on each side that disappears into the roof structure of the building. A counterweight is hidden within the ceiling, so without seeing the mechanics behind it, you see this beautiful panel of glass disappearing or appearing from above.
Why do you think architects choose Vitrocsa over other window suppliers?
Michael Canturi: Vitrocsa has pushed minimalism to the absolute extreme and will continue to do so to make it work without ever compromising performance. Our product is designed for larger openings and has high energy and thermal efficiency so that you can insulate a home extremely well.
We exist to provide single, beautiful, large glass panels with no obstruction. Our aim is not to make a feature out of a window or opening. That is old world, conventional thinking. By allowing the windows to become invisible, the architecture, which is the most important aspect, takes centre stage.