Let there be light: a glass house on the roof for you to work, rest and play

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 January, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2015, 5:48pm

The way Charlie Sharman sees it, occupants of dark apartments should be able to leave their homes, head up to the roof and sit in a luxurious glass-enclosed space, where they can bathe in natural light and recharge their batteries. Full of juice, they can then head back to their conventional living space for the rest of the day.

That was the idea behind Photon Space, a groundbreaking standalone unit of about 500 sq ft created to bring in maximum natural light, allowing people to be exposed to sunlight within the safety of a protective shell.

"Most people spend most of their time in rooms with just a window to let in some light," says Sharman, chairman of the company behind the Photon Space. "Lack of sunlight leads to stress, poor sleeping habits and all sorts of health issues."

Sharman and architect Brent Richards, both based in London, began work on the Photon Space in 2009, consulting teams of engineers, anthropologists, artists and photographers to work on the concept.

They built a prototype in Denmark as part of a research project with Oxford University, and are now liaising with hotels and resorts around the world that have expressed an interest in having a Photon Space available for guests to recover from jet lag or lounge in before taking a spa treatment.

Sharman says, however, that there are other parallel uses: people with enough land around their homes can build one on the grounds, or they can be set up on top of buildings, to be used to work or relax in, while maximising time spent in daylight.

Richards says that the Photon Space would come equipped with decor akin to a luxury hotel suite. It would also be fitted with a kitchen and bathroom. The glass walls are dimmable - if it's a bit too bright, the occupant can darken the glass using a smartphone.

"It's a state-of-the-art controllable environment," Richards says. "The user can control heat loss and heat gain and the percentage of light they want to let in."

The Photon Space weighs 12,500kg and costs about HK$2.5 million, depending on how fancy the interior. That price includes the modular set-up - it takes about a month to build and can be dismantled in a week - as well as the interiors and technology. Despite the weight, the way they are constructed - using an integrated steel sub-base - means they are installed with little impact on the surroundings or existing structure, the company says, meaning they may be suitable for Hong Kong rooftops. While the prototype is about 500 sq ft, Sharman says they can be customised to space requirements.

"They were originally aimed at the rural person, someone living outside the city who might want to escape from the main house and get away from everyone," Richards says. "Or if you are in an urban environment, and there are roofscapes that aren't being used, they can be landscaped so that the Photon Space becomes something of an alternative apartment."

Richards believes the unit is a "stepping stone" towards the ultimate goal of creating full-sized, all-glass houses. "People who have the spending power might see this as the first option," he says. "Eventually, they will be commissioning whole residences. Being in a glass-enclosed space means being immersed in nature, seeing the stars, hearing the birds, as opposed to being in just another building, just another hotel, where all you've got is a window."