New Glass Shatters Old Perceptions

Event: Engineered Transparency: Glass in Architecture and Structural Engineering
Keynote Speaker: Kazuyo Sejima — Founding Partner, SANAA
Location: Columbia University, 09.26-28.07
Organizers: Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; Columbia University Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; with Technische Universität Dresden’s Institute of Building Construction

Glass Pavilion

The Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, designed by SANAA.

Jessica Sheridan

Offering new modes of visual pleasure and spatial experience, glass has benefited from major advances in engineering and structural innovations. The Engineered Transparency conference brought together international architects and engineers to discuss the present and future implications of glass in building design.

Considered one of the most advanced firms working in glass, founding partner of Tokyo-based SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima, kicked off the three-day conference with a keynote presentation of recent projects that push glass technologies to new limits. One of the best examples is the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, housing the museum’s extensive glass collection, with more than 5,000 works from ancient to contemporary times. Constructed of double-layered, floor-to-ceiling, curved glass panels, the undulating walls blur the boundaries between the exterior and interior spaces. The project pushes the definition of glass as a material as the curves alternate a viewer’s clarity and obscurity, reflection and distortion. In addition, the relationship between inside and outside is intensified. Visitors are constantly aware of their surroundings as the glass walls provide a dual experience of the outside environment overlapping the exhibition spaces.

The Glass Pavilion resurfaced throughout the conference as one of the best examples of cutting-edge glass design. The plan of the pavilion reveals challenges not just in aesthetics and experience, but also in structure, and heating and ventilation. Guy Nordenson, of NY-based Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers and structural engineer for the project, discussed the unique steel framing in the roof and concrete framing in the floor to enhance the thin panes of glass. Matthias Schuler, of Stuttgart-based Transsolar, talked about climate engineering challenges given the cellular structure of the galleries. The inner walls make up the galleries, and the exterior walls create cavities to insulate and provide heating and ventilation.

While glass might always have been a popular material, it is only recently that its technology has advanced structurally, aesthetically, and thermally. Engineered Transparency only scratched the surface of what is to come.