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THE LEAF REVIEW The Magazine for Leading European Architects |
Heart of
1. Herzog & de Meuron’s
40 Bond Street project
in New York.
2. The structure of 40 Bond
Street is in the glass
façade, leaving the interior
free of columns.
3. The residences feature
floor-to-ceiling windows.
Photos by Iwan Baan
Technological advances have allowed glass to play new
and ground-breaking roles in construction projects. David
Keuning peers into the future of façades.
t used to be the case
that glass could not bear
structural loads. Although
its high silicon content makes
it a very strong material, the
slightest overstepping of
glass’s low elastic deformation
limit results in breakage.
This is due to the absence
of a crystalline structure, a
deficiency to which glass
owes its transparency but
which also results in a lack
of internal cohesion. When a
crack develops, the material
can’t cope.
New production processes
can increase the material’s
strength, while developments
in lamination that enable it
to be used as a structural
material are also growing. The
combination of toughened
glass and lamination produces
strong and thin glass sheets,
which are particularly used
in frameless glass façades.
Other possibilities include glass
columns and fins for glass
façades. This has led to many
new buildings in recent years
employing glass structurally.
Load-bearing glass
A good example of this is
Herzog & de Meuron’s 40
Bond Street project in New
York. The ten-storey residential
building is in the city’s NoHo
district and comprises five
duplex townhouses and
23 apartments above. The
architects placed the structure
of the building in the façade,
leaving the interior free of
columns. The glass curtain
walls follow the grid of the
floor-to-ceiling window bays
and feature a cast-glass relief
that wraps over the slab
and column structure. The
curved panels, which were
manufactured in Barcelona,
form a continuation of the
window panes, but they
express the load-bearing
structure behind them.
According to the architects, the
window panes and the curved
glass panels ‘dissolve in a
play of translucency, light and
reflection’. It’s this interplay that
makes the building so alluring.
Other strategies of building
with glass take this approach
of seemingly load-bearing
glass even further and hide
THE LEAF REVIEW The Magazine for Leading European Architects |
Photo by Iwan Baan
Photo by Iwan Baan
© André Morin / Perrault projets / DAP / ADAGP
the real load-bearing structures
altogether. Such strategies are visible
in the Toledo Glass Museum by
SANAA and Villa 1 in Bennekom
by Canadian practice Powerhouse.
In both buildings, the façades are
fully glazed by frameless windows.
The load-bearing structural cores
are hidden in closed volumes in
the interior, from which the roof
cantilevers. The glass façades seem
to carry the roof, but in fact they’re
suspended between window frames
hidden in the ceiling and floor.
In Villa 1 the glass façade runs along
the perimeter, giving the impression
of a floating roof, while diagonal
bracings are hidden in the ceilings.
In the case of the Toledo Glass
Museum, the façades feature double,
parallel-running, gently curving sheets
of glass with a 1m cavity between
them. The building structure is hidden
above the ceiling in a single interior
volume that contains a solid plate
providing lateral bracing. The façades
1. The façades of Kanagawa Institute of Technology (KAIT) are formed by 5m×1.5m
glass panels that are just 10mm thick.
2. The white columns and the frameless glass façade of KAIT almost make the
building disappear.
3. The EWHA University building uses glass to create an an undulating landscape.
4. EWHA’s walkway is intended to recall the Champs Élysées.
© André Morin / Perrault projets / DAP / ADAGP
feature 3,000m² of gently curving float
glass, originating from Austria but
curved and laminated in China.
Japanese architects favour glass
structures as thin as air. In his
Kanagawa Institute of Technology,
Junya Ishigami employed 305
A more conventional use of glass fins
can be found at the EWHA University
building in Seoul. Dominique Perrault
turned the brief for the building into
an undulating landscape. A wide
pedestrian path with stairs cuts right
through the landscape, recalling,
according to Perrault, ‘the Champs
‘Japanese architects favour glass
structures as thin as air.’
slender steel columns, scattered
around in a seemingly random
fashion. The white columns and the
frameless glass façade almost make
the building disappear. The façades
are formed by 5m×1.5m glass panels
that are just 10mm thick. They are
stabilised by perpendicular fins,
which offer complete transparency.
Ishigami says he wanted to replicate
‘the expanse of a starry night sky
or an astronomy map; both have
undetermined borders’.
Élysées or the Campidiglio in Rome.’
The glass walls on either side of
the path afford views into the large
buildings under the grass roofs. The
façades have wide fins, suggesting
solidity when viewed obliquely, yet
keeping views highly transparent.
Decorative design
Glass also lends itself to a completely
different kind of architecture.
Sometimes, it is applied in a
decorative fashion without making use
of a cutting-edge structural design.
The Health Department in Bilbao by
Coll-Barreu is a good example. The
building, with façades entirely made of
glass, occupies the corner of a closed
block of buildings. At first glance, the
faceted façades seem innovative,
but the structure is actually quite
straightforward. The whimsical design
of the glass conceals an orthogonal
support structure, which features
more or less straight walls. The space
in between serves to circulate air and
adds to the sound insulation and fire
safety of the building. In addition, the
façade is, according to Coll-Barreu,
a ‘social vehicle’, because the façade
reflects the ‘dynamic urban life’ inside
the building.
The Mahler 4 office tower in
Amsterdam by Erick van Egeraat also
applies glass in a decorative way, but
in this case it’s screen-printed glass
that enhances the architectural design
of the building. The lower half of the
building features slanted glass façades
THE LEAF REVIEW The Magazine for Leading European Architects |
Photo by Nigel Young
The domes of Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo are covered in computer-generated leaf patterns, creating shadows throughout.
that are printed to resemble ice floes.
The façade of the top half of the tower
is clad with panels comprising a layer
of black gravel applied to a fibreglassreinforced polyester laminate.
According to the architects, ‘the nub
of the idea is a rock on ice.’ Whatever
you think of it, Van Egeraat created an
expressive landmark in the middle of a
set of bland, corporate office towers.
Another recent project featuring
printed glass is Elephant House at
Copenhagen Zoo. Foster + Partners
designed two glass-topped domes
that appear to rise out of the earth.
The glass panels forming the domes
are covered in what seem to be
random scatterings of white leaves.
These are, in fact, computergenerated leaf patterns creating
shadows throughout the enclosures,
giving the elephants the possibility
of staying out of the sun. The
architects created the fritting pattern
on the glazed roof canopies by
sampling four species of trees. The
leaf patterns are rotated and scaled
and randomly populate the roof, so
that no two leaves are the same.
The overlapping patterns provide
dappled light.
THE LEAF REVIEW The Magazine for Leading European Architects |
One of the principal qualities
of glass is its apparent absence.
This has led many architects
to attempt to design a building
that visually disappears into the
background. They rarely succeed
though, as glass is reflective and
has a greenish hue due to the
small quantities of iron oxide it
contains, therefore always giving
away its presence.
Glass is a building material, for
want of anything better. In a
factory cafeteria in an office park
in Ditzingen, Barkow Leibinger
designed an imposing, CNC-sawed
laminated timber roof. They wanted
the exterior to be kept as transparent
as possible, underscoring the
visual predominance of the roof.
So they applied glass in the
façades. ‘We would have used
no façade at all, but we are not
quite there technology-wise,’
explains the practice.
If we do ever get there, glass will
have finally redeemed its promise
of complete disappearance, thereby
making itself redundant as a
building material. ●