Splendour in the glass

There aren't too many artists whose resume includes work for the United Nations, Trump Casino and Disney.

But Joel Berman isn't your everyday artist.The 53-year-old is the head of Joel Berman Glass Studios, a multi-million- dollar Vancouver company that designs architectural glass for clients all over North America.Berman and his staff of 50 can make functional glass artwork out of almost anything.Sheets of tall, thin corrugated glass with a touch of blue-green make a stylish outdoor windscreen on a terrace. Cast glass sinks on a glass counter top make for a very cool bathroom. Multi-coloured glass sculptures turn a partition in an airport lounge into an "art wall."

The company's creative versatility, imagination and technical know-how have resulted in commissions all over the world. Berman is doing a 6,000-square-foot glass sculpture on an exterior wall in Germany. Last year the company did glasswork in two hotels in Japan. Its biggest commission was doing three buildings for General Motors in Detroit.

But the company also does lots of residential work. For a penthouse in Coal Harbour, Berman is doing an art wall and a light sculpture in the dining room. The company put together a glass staircase for a client in West Vancouver. Another West Van client put up a glass fence.

"That was beautiful," says Berman.

"With a translucent glass it gives you privacy [but lets in light]. Given that we have a lot of rain here, a high degree of light transmission is good. This [glass] would get about 70 to 85 per cent light transmission, depending on the texture."

Texture is one of the things that makes Berman's glass special. Some of his glass looks like a rock face, other glass has a ribbed look, some looks frosted. And it comes in a wide variety of colours. A suspended glass sculpture at Nortel Networks headquarters in Atlanta mixes a deep red wine colour with a vivid cobalt blue; strategically-placed spotlights bring out all sorts of hues.

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