Glass as a building material?

An interesting NY Times article about the use of glass for a new installation at floor 103 of the Sears Tower. The article also mentions the use of glass in other applications (the staircases of Apple stores, domes, etc).


I’m afraid the article is not well hyper-linked with most of the installations and buildings it mentions… Feel free to post!

So to tee-off a discussion:  What potential do you think glass could have as structural building material? How would you design and build with structural glass? Corrugated? Tempered? Adhesives? …


2 Responses to “Glass as a building material?”

  1. 1 Danny Burdzy
    2009/07/07 at 1:31 pm

    Like the article says, glass really isn’t a new thing. It is amazing with how we are starting to use it in all new ways, but getting it to where it is both stronger and cheaper will probably take quite a while. Just getting custom panes of glass is enough to set some projects over budget.

    But the introduction of new materials has always been an important part of the world around us, especially with the use of plastic. In architecture, we have already discussed translucent concrete as a new material. Both glass and steel really started to reach popularity during the Industrial Revolution. Previously, building materials had been restricted to a few man-made materials along with those available in nature: timber, stone, timber, lime mortar, and concrete. Metals were not available in sufficient quantity or consistent quality to be used as anything more than ornamentation. Structure was limited by the capabilities of natural materials. In 1800, however, the worldwide tonnage of iron produced was 825,000 tons. By 1900, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, worldwide production stood at 40 million tons, almost fifty times as much. Iron was available in three forms (cast iron, wrought iron, and steel).

    While steel was used in moderation before, mainly as a structural support for many bridges or as ornamentation on facades, two structures of the industrial revolution brought steel to a new level. The first started as an experiment by the landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon, who built an experimental glasshouse in 1817. According to Ulrich Pfammatter, author of Building the Future: Building Technology and Cultural History from the Industrial Revolution Until Today, “A look backwards shows that both his venture into the realm of architecture and the application of glass and iron technology to a new problem were a first milestone in the history of architecture in glass and glasshouse technology, as well as providing the initial spark for the development of glass-building schools in the old world” (Pfammatter 13). The demonstration of this strong new initiative came in 1851 with the Glass Palace designed by Joseph Paxton to hold the Great Exhibition in London. While England was already on the map for its many developments of the Industrial Revolution, especially in the areas of industrialization and production, this exhibit space truly allowed England to be recognized as a true inventive force. From that point on, numerous buildings experimenting with glass and iron were erected, and led to a variety of new developments in both design and function.

    Other steel/glass projects to consider:
    Eiffel Tower (1889)- Gustav Eiffle
    Lime Street Station in Liverpool (1833)- Richard Turner
    Anything influenced by the Glass Palace (i.e. explorations on Coney Island and Manhattan)

  2. 2 Kai Gutschow
    2009/07/08 at 12:23 am

    Glass is always a great subject, especially when combined with light, as we’ll work on this fall. Why should glass be structural? Why should concrete be transparent? Should metal be transparent too? In 1914, Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut wanted to have us all live in glass houses and glass cities. See Scherbart’s book “The Gray Cloth: Paul Scheerbart’s Novel on Glass Architecture”.
    This month’s issue of Architectural Record has a nice “Continuing Education” section on the new “green” glazing systems available for buildings called “Transparency: Literal & Sustainable,” a play on the Slutzky essay you read last year with Gerard (at least I hope so). See: http://continuingeducation.construction.com/article.php?L=5&C=578. Although these Continuation Education articles may seem “too technical” and too advanced for 2nd year, they offer real-world ideas and a sense of complex construction. I would urge you to try and understand how the systems work, read the articles and drawings carefully. If you read enough of them over the years, you’ll learn a lot about the construction industry (not the same as great architecture, but…). This one in particular has some nice history mixed in, about Le Corbusier’s early attempt at a double glass skin, how unsuccessful it was (leaking was only part of the problem).
    On one of my very first posts I had given everyone the link to get cheap student subscriptions to the Architectural Record https://www.mcgraw-hill-sales.com/cmu_mgh.htm. I recommend everyone subscribe to a hard copy architecture journal…
    Finally, there is perhaps no architect more famous for glass than Mies van der Rohe, the original “glass box architect,” an early innovator in “curtains of glass.” An interesting theory piece on it is by Josep Quetglas, “Fear of glass : Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion in Barcelona”. Might be interesting to compare Mies’ glass curtain wall at Lakeshore Towers with the new systems in Architectural Record.

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