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Article August 31st, 2005
Glass has been used in architecture for centuries as a transparent membrane between the interior and the exterior, protecting the interior from the weather while allowing daylight to penetrate the building and illuminate the interior. In the Gothic cathedrals and churches stone walls and large window openings filled with stained glass were integrated. In the last century the all-glass house was introduced as a new archetype of building, to enjoy the beauty of nature. Its commercial pendant was the glass covered shopping arcade, mainly in the last half of the 19th century. Although visionary architects like Mies van der Rohe proposed complete glass envelopes around high-rise office buildings in the early twenties, it took the Bauhaus period and the exile of its members in the USA to develop the all-glass facade office buildings which became a symbol of the 50’s and 60’s. The problem of excessive heat gain was resolved by using glass with a characteristic silver coating, making building facades more monolithic, almost metallic, rather than transparent. In Europe fossil energy saving double glazing was developed in the 70’s. In the 80’s architects turned back to transparent glass facades, challenging glass producers to combine transparency with low solar admittance. In a search for the extremes of expression, closed building components were developed in materials such as steel, aluminium, ceramic tiles and stone; these were combined with transparent facades and roof planes, in ultra transparent form and detailing. The developments for ultra-transparent glass facades are now leading towards systems for frameless glazing with many different subsystems, elements and components. After more than a decade of design, development, research and application, the field of frameless glazing is regarded as fully grown and a respectable subject of design by architects. Producers no longer only offer their systems, but have to build systems designed by architects. The basic flaw of glass is it’s brittleness, the one characteristic that prevents glass from being a real engineering material:. To eliminate the problem of brittleness a research Master Plan called ‘ZAPPI’ has been formulated at Delft University of Technology [1,2]. Based upon the principle that the use of transparency in architecture is limited by the inherent brittleness of glass, the search is continued to the limits of structural use of glass for applications in large scale facades and roofs in architecture.