STRUCTURAL GLASS WALLS
Ultimately, structural glass facades are as much about the expression of elegant and
minimalist structural systems as they are about facade transparency. The facades
completed to date are easily categorized by the structural system types used to support
them. However, a review of the completed projects representative of each system type
will reveal a remarkable diversity of application. Ventana has the capability to develop
any variation of these system types in response to specific project requirements.
Structural glass facades are most easily categorized by
the structure types that support them.
• Truss Systems
• Cable Truss
• Grid shells
• Cable Net
• Glass Fins
Strongback systems comprise a remarkably
diverse range of novel structural solutions in
facade applications. The structural systems are
built up from structural sections capable of
accommodating the required span. These
systems can include both vertical and horizontal
structural components. Sometimes verticals are
used with no horizontals. Conversely, an
interesting variation of this system type
eliminates the vertical mullion, with horizontal
components suspended from overhead cables
and fixed to anchoring building structure at their
ends. Strongback systems also include
hierarchical structural frames and braced
Truss systems employ a planar truss design,
often in a hierarchical system that may combine
other element types including tension
components. Truss designs vary widely, with an
emphasis on fine detailing and craftsmanship.
They often involve complex steel fabrications,
frequently manufactured to
Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS)
standards. Rod or cable elements may be
incorporated into the truss design, and lateral
tensile systems are often used to stabilize the
facade structure. Simple truss elements are
often bordered by one or two cable trusses in a
repeating pattern as a means to lighten the
structural profile of the facade.
One type of truss system utilizes a minimalist
structural form called a cable truss. While cable
trusses can vary widely in both truss design and
configuration with vertical, overhead, vaulted and
domed forms easily achieved, the trusses
themselves are most often characterized by
spreader strut elements representing the only
compression members in the structural system.
As with cable nets, these systems rely on the
pre-tensioning of truss elements to provide
stability, and thus benefit significantly from the
early involvement of the facade design/build
Grid shell structural systems are another
means to minimize the visual mass of
structure. Configurations can be vaulted,
domed and double-curved. Systems can be
welded, bolt-up, or some combination of each.
Grid shell structures with integrated cable
bracing can produce a highly efficient structure
with a refined aesthetic. Cable prestress is
required on such systems. Grid shells can be
used in vertical and overhead applications, as
well as to form complete building enclosures.
Cable nets represent the ultimate in elegant
minimalist structural systems and can provide
optimum transparency when the effect of a
sheer glass membrane is desired. The glass is
supported by a net geometry of pre-tensioned
cables. Designs can be flat, or the net can be
pulled into double-curvature. A clamping
component locks the cables together at their
vertices and fixes the glass to the net. Large
pre-stress loads in the net structures require
the early involvement of the facade design/
build team with the building engineer.
This is the earliest form of structural glass facade
dating back to the 1950s and the French Hahn
system used at the Maison de la Radio in Paris in
1953. Here 2-story glass plates were suspended
and laterally stiffened by the use of glass fins set
perpendicular to the plates at the vertical joints
between them. This technology was popularized by
the Willis Faber & Dumas Building, Ipswich, England
In this curved facade designed by Foster Associates,
multiple plates of reflective glass are suspended to
provide one of the first examples of an entire
building facade being skinned by frameless glass.
This project inspired a diffusion of glass fin
technology in numerous applications throughout
Europe and America starting in the 1970s and
continuing today. Glass fin-supported facades still
represent one of the most transparent forms of
structural glass facades and an economical solution
(especially at lower spans).
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