I wanted a true "black glass" building from the beginning of my city-building efforts. It's not so much that I like how they look, but I think it will round out my eventual city with some modern flair.|
To truly get the look of glass, you need a very shiny, reflective, high-gloss finish. The only thing that really approximates this, in my opinion, is acrylic. So I went looking for some darkly-tinted, but still translucent acrylic. I found these 1/8" "bronze" acrylic sheets from the U.S. Plastic website.
To make a long story as short as possible, I ended up having a guy router the window patterns, and then cut these sheets to 14" x 22" panels. I asked him to leave the masking on, so that it would serve as a paint mask while I painted the window "panes" black.
Because the sheets I sent to him were 24" x 24", I was compelled to do something interesting with the remainder, and that's why you can see a tall, palladian-style window in the photo. I have four of these, and I intend to use them for another skyscraper project at some point.
That part of the project went well: first I cleaned out the grooves with a toothbrush. Then I used a black "paint pen" to ensure the grooves were opaque black. I kept checking this by holding up each panel to the sun to make sure I couldn't see any light coming through.
Then I had to peel off each individual rectangle of masking from all four panels, and that sure was a chore.
The end results so far looked pretty good to me.
I also wanted to be able to light this building up from the inside, and I knew this was going to take some special interior work. I started by measuring off and applying black electrical tape to form horizontal "floor separators". Then I printed out some photos I had taken of the inside of the office building I worked in at the time. I scaled these down to the right dimensions prior to printing. Then I cut up the prints and taped them to the "open" areas in between the black electrical tape.
The tricky part here is that you don't want to let the tape and paper prints go all the way to the edge, because that's where the wooden corner struts will be glued to. So I went ahead and taped and applied the paper photos all the way to the edges, but then I placed a wooden strut flush to each edge, clamped it into place, and then scored the inside edge with an X-Acto blade. When I removed the wooden struts, I just peeled up the strip of tape and paper from the edge out to the score line, and this left a nice area to glue the wooden struts to.
It's not perfect though: it leaves light-leaks in the corners, which I went back later and covered up with thinner wooden strips.
The end results were not terrible, however the panels began to warp significantly due to being etched on only one side. The wooden square dowels I used to frame the four panels together, along with the Walther's Goo I used as the adhesive, was not strong enough to straighten this back out. It's hard to see in the photos, but walking around and looking at the building you can plainly see the warping in all the reflections, and the even, geometric pattern of the windows helps to amplify the problem. Over time, the corners even started to peel back from the struts, making the problem worse.
My plan was to make a second copy of this building, and stack it on top of this one to form a taller skyscraper. But due to the crazy warping, I punted on this as I think it will be very difficult to get the seam where the two halves join to look good.
For the roof, I went all out and fashioned two sets of covered fans, and two vents with grills. The larger vents with grills were meant to help ventilate the building, because my first attempt to illuminate it was with somewhat high wattage halogen bulbs, which burn very hot.
The overall results look Ok to me - not great, but not terrible. However, I knew I could not convincingly stack two of them together, so the project is pretty much a bust in terms of getting what I wanted out of it. Still, it adds some fun to my small but growing city.
Eventually, I went with a vastly superior lighting solution of white cold-cathode florescent (CCFL) tubes. These are much brighter, use much less electricity, and don't really get hot at all.
I found these CCFLs on Xoxide.com, and they were only $7.99 for the pair, including the special inverter you need to power them. This little light blue box easily mounts within the building, makes no noise and generates no discernible heat.
This lighting solution was very timely, as I recently converted all my layout accessories to run from a 12-volt DC power source, and these CCFLs require exactly that. They are also the only things I've found that are bright enough to get that dark-tinted acrylic to illuminate.
The results do give me some modern styling to mix in with my other conventional city buildings, and at night it looks really neat:
Some day I will have my taller, black-glass tower. I have since built two other buildings from reflective acrylic, but for these I used 1/16" black map tape to create the window pattern, instead of engraving. This pretty much eliminated the warping, and the results look much better. Using this technique, I already have plans for a much larger cousin to Le Vitre Noir.