Specialist construction for minimalist design
In mid-2018 we were engaged to deliver a sleek, minimalist glasshouse for Space & Co’s Melbourne opening. Designed by BVN Architecture, the glasshouse is a freestanding structure constructed almost exclusively of glass.
Needless to say, fashioning sheets of glass into a structure that is both artistically elegant and structurally robust is no simple feat.
The problem with glass
Looking at the initial design sketches, it was apparent that building the glasshouse would require considerable ingenuity from the project team.
The main issue with glass is its elasticity – more precisely, its lack of elasticity.
Naturally, the more force that is placed on a material the more stress it will endure. Unlike other traditional building materials like steel or timber, glass is very rigid and brittle. When subjected to stress – or a load – it will break without significant strain.
Without the most calculated construction techniques, structural glass can shatter without warning.
Multiple solutions to meet a single design intent
Our team took on the challenge of engineering a buildable solution to bring BVN's aspirational design to life.
“We knew we couldn’t compromise on the design intent but at the same time, we had to consider the buildability and structural integrity of the glasshouse,” says Schiavello Construction Manager, Leigh Swords.
While the pitched roof was designed to be aesthetically striking, we also had to ensure it was load bearing. This would allow for safe access for future maintenance works to the base building ceiling above.
To meet both the design and buildability needs, the roof was constructed of three different types of completely transparent material, including toughened glass and a high strength laminate.
Tony Ruth, Schiavello Architectural Draftsman outlines a new challenge that arose with the solution above. Constructing a load bearing pitched roof meant that now the walls themselves had to withstand a higher load; “it [the glasshouse] was not only to be built almost entirely of glass, now the transparent walls also had to have increased load bearing capabilities to support the rather heavy pitched roof above it.”
He continues; “normally, for a structure with an immensely heavy roof, the roof will naturally begin to bend down. The structure will eventually fall in on itself if not for support beams.”
The solution would be easy if this was a traditionally constructed project where we could hide the supporting elements like gussets in the walls. In this case, the design intent [of a transparent structure] did not allow for traditional solutions.
Hidden in plain sight
After a thorough process of conceptualising, developing, and trialling ideas, a clever solution was crafted to address the transparent room’s structural integrity.
Hidden in plain sight are a “whole bunch of solutions that we made so the glasshouse has the cleanest lines possible while the structure that keeps it strong is completely concealed from view.”
“We built the necessary structural supports within the hollows of the narrow black framework that were in the design sketches. We also built supports in the junctions and in the raised timber flooring.”
“This solution ensured the entire structure was completely supported while being absolutely invisible. You can’t see any of it [the structural elements] from either the outside or inside the glasshouse,” Tony says.
Built and unveiled in only 11 weeks, the final structure is elegant and sleek – as envisioned by the designers – and completely unencumbered by traditional or unsightly construction elements.
Read more on Space & Co Melbourne here.