Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Shattering Myths About Glass

As architects and builders put more faith in the structural properties of glass, its use has expanded to all areas of design.
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From Architectural Record
Josephine Minutillo
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Recognize the differences between annealed, tempered, and laminated glass.
  2. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of various types of glass.
  3. Understand how various glass structures are assembled.
  4. Identify innovations in the use of structural glass.



Glass may be stronger than concrete, but you're not likely to see too many glass columns holding up floor slabs. Nevertheless, more and more projects are beginning to embrace glass as a structural element to create innovative facades and interiors as well as bold urban spaces.

Though vast expanses of glass are not holding up huge sections of the soon-to-open Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) in Belgium, it certainly looks as if they are. The surprising building, designed by Dutch architects Neutelings Riedijk and located along Antwerp's waterfront, contains a series of stacked boxes housing galleries, each twisted 90 degrees and connected by a spiraling staircase. Visitors traveling up the staircase have broad, unobstructed views of the harbor and city center thanks to the groundbreaking use of corrugated glass in the facade.

"If you used straight panels, the glass would have been enormously thick because the free span is 18 feet," explains Rob Nijsse of ABT consulting engineers. "Since the corrugated glass is so much stronger in bending, we were able to use 1⁄2-inch-thick panels to take up the wind load for the large span." Nijsse first used corrugated glass in the Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal, designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and completed in 2005. There, three layers of 13-foot-high corrugated panels rest on top of each other to form nearly 40-foot-high window openings within the heavy concrete facade.

With MAS, the heavy elements of the facade seem to float above the glass, which wraps around the building. In reality, the concrete boxes cantilever out from a central core and are separated from the glass panels by a 2-inch-wide airspace. "We had to keep the glass clear of the cantilever because there's a tendency for the concrete to deform slightly when it is loaded with people," says Nijsse.

Soon to open along Antwerp's waterfront, the Museum aan de Stroom was designed by Neutelings Riedijk. The spiraling exhibition "boxes" appear to float above vast expanses of glass.

Photo: © Daniel De Rudder


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Originally published in Architectural Record