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Structural Engineering International

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Developments in Structural Glass and Glass


Hans Schober (Partner) & Jens Schneider (Senior Eng.)

To cite this article: Hans Schober (Partner) & Jens Schneider (Senior Eng.) (2004) Developments
in Structural Glass and Glass Structures, Structural Engineering International, 14:2, 84-87, DOI:

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Published online: 23 Mar 2018.

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s008_039 30.6.2004 8:32 Uhr Seite 84

Developments in Structural Glass and Glass Structures

Hans Schober, Partner, Jens Schneider, Senior Eng., Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, Stuttgart, Germany

Introduction ing the membrane shell, which was

successfully applied to a multitude of
structures with the filigree Schwedler
Glass establishes its use as a real struc-
Dome becoming part of building histo-
tural material in engineering. The first
ry. The beauty of such structures can
glass-metal domes already benefited,
still be seen at the Gasometer in Vien-
unintensionally, from the stiffening of
na, Austria. This basically centre-sym-
the glass panes, but only today is glass
metrical geometry is being applied in
used as a real structural element by en-
innumerable variations.
gineers. Examples of free form glass
domes, cable net walls, glass beams, In 1954, Buckminster Fuller created
glass fins and glass columns demon- the geodesic domes with a completely
strate what is possible with glass today. new strut-and-tie geometry. He bene-
fited from the work of Bauersfeld who
in 1922 started with the icosahedron
when constructing the net for the Zeiss
Planetarium in Jena. This regular poly-
hedron consists of 20 spherical equilat-
eral triangles covered with a triangular Fig. 3: Glass roof of German Historical Mu-
net of equilateral ribs. seum, Germany
All these dome solutions may not, how- 5, 6] are used to create plane squares.
ever, be applied to freeform surfaces. The grid shell for the courtyard roof of
Fig. 1: Kibble Palace Glasgow, Scotland In 1989, an innovative solution for these the Historical Museum in Berlin, de-
cases was developed, thus creating the signed as a translational surface, con-
grid shells [2] for the glass roofs for sists of a plane quadrangular net with
Glass Domes Neckarsulm and Hamburg (Fig. 2), a regular meshes, easily covered with
solution which is frequently applied plane glass panes (Fig. 3). Scale-trans
The initial aesthetic formulation of the
today. This method is based on a quad- surfaces greatly expand the multitude
modern metal and glass structures
rangular net consisting of steel rods of shapes possible for double-curved
were the metal-glass domes. By the
with spherical nodes adapting to any grid shells.
mid 19th century, domes of metal and
shape imaginable and tensioned diago-
glass were used for the roofs of mar- Although less efficient than the quad-
nal cables that permit a shell structure
kets, gallerias and train stations. Lon- rangular meshes the triangular mesh
consisting solely of equilateral bars,
don’s Crystal Palace was very influen- structure totally allows for freely formed
ensuring an economic solution. Mean-
tial, not only in validating the architec- spatial shapes (Fig. 4).
while, with the invention of the float
tural use of iron and glass, but also in
process by Pilkington (1959) also afford-
foreshadowing its rationalization as an
able glass sizes have increased enor-
industrialized system [1]. One of the
mously and laminated float glass en-
first cast-iron glass domes, though, was
sures a fail-safe concept for overhead
the ribbed dome of the Bourse du
glazing [3, 4].
Commerce in Paris. Although built in
1811, this structure as well as the fili- With a double-curved surface the re-
gree palm houses (Fig. 1) from the first sulting quadrangular meshes are usu-
half of the 19th century appear a lot ally not plane and would have to be
lighter than many of today’s structures. covered with curved glass panes, unless
While this principle of a ribbed dome translational or scale-trans surfaces [2,
is dependent on the bending stiffness
of the ribs, it benefits from the stiffen-
ing glass panes. The size of the panes is
comparably small to today’s glazing
and, of course, single layer glazing was
used. But the small size also gives a
certain redundancy; the whole struc-
ture does not collapse if some glass
panes break.
In 1863, Schwedler added stiffening di- Fig. 2: Glass roof of Museum for Hamburg Fig. 4: Glass roof of DZ-Bank, Germany
agonals to the ribbed dome thus creat- History, Germany

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Glass Facades U-) shape with a width of 25–50 cm,

during the production process. It is
usually not transparent but translucent
The typical glass applications are for
with an ornamented surface. For decades
windows and facades. Glass facades go
these glasses have served as a low cost
back to the development of curtain
substitute for windows in industrial or
walls. They appeared at the same time
sport structures. Now it is used more
as did skeletal frameworks, at the end
and more in architecture, for example
of the 19th century. Still, the first cur-
in combination with structural sealants
tain wall glass facades trace back to
(Fig. 5). This allows for a very smooth Fig. 7b: Cable clamp with glass fitting
the developments of the Bauhaus era
appearance of the facade and a pre-
[1, 7]. Here, for the first time glass was
fabrication of the elements which can
not only used as a window but to a
easily be fixed to the substructure. The
great extent also as a filling element
small width of the C-profiles makes it
of the facade structure. Thus, the glass
also possible to glaze curved or free
had no other structural function than
formed outlines.
working as a plate with four-side sup-
From curtain wall glazing to Structural
Sealant Glazing (SSG), it was a rela-
tively small step. The development Fig. 7a: Cable-net facade at Kempinski Ho-
started in the US in the late 60’s for tel, Munich
facades of high-rise office buildings.
Here, the glass is fixed to a sub-struc- In 1988, the principle of the cable-net
ture (usually aluminium) with a struc- facade was developed for the Kempin-
tural sealant. This allows for a very ski Hotel in Munich using only one sin-
smooth surface with a minimum of joints gle-layer prestressed cable net with the
between the glass panes. The bonding glass panes fastened intermittently at
process is preferably done in a work- its nodes (Fig. 7). The glass panes are
Fig. 5: Channel glass facade, Lüdenscheid
shop with pre-fabricated elements due supported at their edges without weak-
to defined environmental conditions ening the glass by drilled holes that
With the development of modern pro-
(for example temperature, humidity). cause considerable stress concentra-
duction facilities, also glass facades
In an SSG-system, only wind load is tions [3, 4, 7, 8]. Although this mini-
with 3-D hot bent flat glass are possible
transferred through the sealant while mized and highly transparent facade
today but they are still expensive.
the dead load is usually supported by shows great deformations under wind
setting blocks. Unfortunately, since then A milestone in the development of load, the deformations may be con-
the term «Structural Glazing» is as- real structural glass facades were the trolled with the prestress of the cables
sociated with these facade systems. It hanging cable supported glass facades and have to be carefully observed dur-
implies that the glass itself has a real of the greenhouses at Parc La Vilette, ing the design process. Therefore, warp-
structural function, but it is only used Paris, 1986 [8]. Here, real glass curtain ing of the glass panes usually governs
as a plate with four-side support com- walls were realized with one glass pane the design. This design is being fre-
parable to glass in windows. being attached to the next. Cable truss- quently applied now as facades for lob-
es support the facade for wind loading; bies, sound insulation, protection of
Double skin facades (facades with two
the glass supports are sophisticated glass historic monuments, etc. In the case of
faces) have become very popular with-
fixings fastened only in holes to ensure the Foreign Office in Berlin horizontal
in the last five years. The idea is to
a maximum of transparency (Fig. 6). dichroic glass strips have been added
have a second layer of glass on the out-
This project still serves as a model for resulting in a constantly changing play
side (usually single tempered glass or
all sorts of glass facades with glass fix- of light when exposed to sunlight. For
laminated glass) of the facade and an
ings and cable supports. the facade of the lobby of the World
accessible air space of 0,6 m to 1,0 m in
Trade Center No. 7 in New York, the
between the first and second layer. The
flexible cable-net combined with spe-
outer facade has openings to allow for
cial glass panes proved to be especially
permanent air flow of fresh air from
suitable to withstand blast loads.
outside and used air from inside. A
shutter within the air space allows con-
trol of solar heating in summer. The fa-
cade inside is a conventional warm fa-
Structural Glass Elements
cade. Their windows can be opened
Although much is possible with glass
manually or by an automatic control.
today, an appropriate design for a ma-
Today there is a controversial debate
terial that is very brittle is not easy.
about double skin facades, their bene-
Concentration of local stresses in glass
fits and disadvantages.
must be avoided where possible or de-
At present there is also a revival of termined by realistic calculation meth-
channel shaped glass facades. Channel ods. This is why the development of the
shaped glass is a special kind of cast Fig. 6: Glass fixing for tempered glass panes finite element method and the effi-
glass where the glass is bent to a C- (or with holes ciency of computers was needed for

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modern glass design. Still, float glass is

usually inadequate for real structural
use due to its relatively low bending
strength and the sub-critical crack
growth which results in a time-depen-
dent strength behaviour. Only the de-
velopment of tempered glass and heat-
strengthened glass with their internal
prestress in combination with the lami-
nation process made it possible to de-
velop glass structures having local sup-
ports, an acceptable bending strength
and a certain redundancy. Tempered
glass produced in modern tempering
ovens has a bending strength of up to
200 MPa [3]. This seems to be suffi-
cient for design at first view. Still, an
acceptable post-breakage behaviour is Fig. 9: Glass beams and fins at Broadfield
needed for appropriate glass design House Glass Museum, England
due to the brittle, instantaneous fail-
ure. With laminated float glass and Fig. 11: Glass shell for Maximilianmuseum,
laminated heat-strengthened glass, an Germany
acceptable post-breakage behaviour of
glass is possible. Therefore, the princi-
ple of locally supported glass with or
without holes could be transferred to
glass roofs in projects like the Central
Glass Hall of the New Fair in Leipzig
(with glass fittings in holes) or the new
roof of the Stadtbahn Heilbronn (with-
out holes, Fig. 8).
Fig. 10: Glass connecting bridge in Rotter-
The use of glass beams or girders start- dam, The Netherlands
ed with glass fins in facades. A very fa-
mous project to illustrate both possi-
In a small connecting glass bridge in
bilities is the Glass Museum at Broad-
Rotterdam the glass beams’ form fol-
field House with an adhesively bonded
lows the form of the moment diagram
tongue and groove connection (Fig. 9),
(Fig. 10).
although the design of glued connec-
tions is still under discussion due to the For glass stairs, usually printed glass or
long-term behaviour of the adhesives opaque glass elements are used. They Fig. 12: Loggia Wasseralfingen, Germany
which has to be investigated more. can be found very often today, one of (photo: Dietmar Strauß)
the first structures being the glass stairs
at Kempinski Hotel in Munich, 1993. panes were cold bent on site. A steel
Glass stairs are usually composed of cable takes the horizontal thrust.
three layers of laminated glass with the
resistance of the top layer not being A real glass shear panel, 7 m × 13,30 m,
used in design (fail-safe concept). With consisting of single glass panes was
glass stairs it is also obvious that the achieved by pre-tensioning cables with-
subjective judgement of glass struc- in the joints of the top glass layer of
tures is still that they are dangerous – Glasspool at Cyberhelvetia at the Swiss
people tend to walk on the sides where Expo in 2002 (Fig. 13). The pre-tension
steel elements are situated. in the cables was designed to ensure
compression within the glass joints for
The idea of a real glass shell was en-
resistance to a full horizontal load from
hanced by skipping the compression
a crowd of people. At the Temple de
members of a grid shell and introduc-
Talus, only laminated glass is used for
ing the load directly into the glass. This
the walls. They act as bending elements
was for the first time realised at Maxi-
and shear elements to stiffen the whole
milianmuseum in Augsburg (Fig. 11).
building (Fig. 14).
Another approach for shell structures
are with cold-bent laminated glass panes, Finally glass columns, used for the first
now realized at Loggia Wasseralfingen time in an office building at St-Ger-
(Fig. 12). The laminated glass panes main en Laye in France (1995), were
were heated to approx. 60°C to reduce further developed for the Rheinbach
Fig. 8: Hanging glass roof for Stadtbahn the shear-modulus of the PVB-inter- Pavilion (Fig. 15). Laminated glass tubes,
Heilbronn, Germany layer to almost zero, then the glass already used in frameworks, have been

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recently implemented as struts for a

glass facade of the Tower Place in Lon-
don. Promising results from experi-
ments with these tubes make it likely
that they will also be used in future ap-
plications for columns.

The development of structural glass
design was mainly influenced by the
structural design of glass domes and Fig. 13: Glasspool Cyberhelvetia, Switzerland Fig. 14: Temple of Talus, France
glass facades. As has been shown, from
there, almost all kinds of structural
glass elements were developed. The
advances in modern design and cal-
culation and in glass processing have
made things possible that were before
unthinkable. But although a lot is pos-
sible with glass today, not all is appro-
priate – glass continues to be very brit-
tle and sensitive to local stress concen-
trations. The designer should try to
Fig. 15: Glass columns at Rheinbach Pavilion, Germany (photo: Andreas Keller)
avoid local stress concentrations, where
possible. Future developments should
concentrate on new techniques for join- References [5] SCHOBER, H. Die Masche mit der Glas-
ing glass members without high stress kuppel – Netztragwerke mit ebenen Maschen,
concentrations. Post-breakage behav- Deutsche Bauzeitung 128 (1994), pp. 152–163.
[1] WIGGINTON, M. Glass in Architecture,
iour of glass structures will be another Phaidon Press, London, 1996. [6] SCHOBER, H. Geometrie-Prinzipien für wirt-
key issue in the future. Here, new de- schaftliche und effiziente Schalentragwerke, Bau-
[2] SCHLAICH, J., SCHOBER, H. Verglaste technik 79 (2002), pp. 16–24.
velopments for the interlayer in lami- Netzkuppeln, Bautechnik 69 (1992), pp. 3–10.
nated glass are on their way and show [7] SOBEK, W., SCHULER, M., STAIB, G.,
promising results. Structures that use [3] WORNER, J.D., SCHNEIDER, J., FINK, A. BALKOW, D., SCHITTICH, C. Glasbau Atlas,
the high compression strength of glass Glasbau, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2001. Institut für internationale Architektur-Doku-
and have inherent safety properties mentation GmbH, München, 1998.
could open new horizons for structural GUSGEN, J. Glas im Konstruktiven Ingenieur- [8] RICE, P., DUTTON, H. Structural Glass, edi-
applications of glass. bau, Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, 1999. tion, E & F N Spon., London, 2001.

List of projects (numbering corresponds to the Figure numbers)

1. Kibble Palace Glasgow, Scotland, 1873 9. Broadfield House Glass Museum, Kingswinford, England, 1994
engineer: John Kibble architect: Design Antenna
engineer: Dewhurst Macfarlane
2. Glass roof of Museum for Hamburg History, Hamburg, Germany, 1989
architect: von Gerkan, Marg und Partner 10. Glass connecting bridge, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1994
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner architect: Kraaijvanger + Urbis
engineer: Rob Nijsse
3. Glass roof of German Historical Museum, Berlin, Germany, 2002
architect: I.M. Pei 11. Glass shell for Maximilianmuseum, Augsburg, Germany, 2000
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner architect: Hochbauamt Augsburg
engineer: Ludwig & Weiler
4. Glass roof of DZ-Bank, Berlin, Germany, 1998
architect: Frank O. Gehry 12. Loggia Wasseralfingen, Wasseralfingen, Germany, 2003
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner architect: Freie Planungsgruppe 7
engineer: Weischede, Herrmann und Partner/TU Darmstadt
5. Glass facade, Lüdenscheid, Germany, 2001
architect: schneider + schumacher 13. Glasspool Cyberhelvetia, Biel, Switzerland, 2002
engineer: Posselt Consult/TU Darmstadt architect: 3deluxe
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner
6. Parc La Vilette, Paris, France, 1986
architect/engineer: Martin Francis, Peter Rice, Ian Ritchie, Hugh Dutton 14. Temple de Talus, France, 2002
architect: Dirk Jan Postel
7. Cable-net facade at Kempinski Hotel, Munich, Germany, 1993 engineer: Rob Nijsse
architect: Murphy/Jahn
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner 15. Rheinbach Pavilion, Rheinbach, Germany, 2000
architect: Marquardt and Hieber
8. Hanging glass roof for Stadtbahn Heilbronn, Heilbronn, Germany, 2001. engineer: Ludwig & Weiler
architect: Auer, Weber und Partner
engineer: Schlaich Bergermann und Partner

Structural Engineering International 2/2004 Structural Design in Glass 87