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Feature> First Glass
Three case studies showcase the performance, programmatic, and decorative potential of contemporary glass.
A hanging lantern of acid washed glass and stainless steel cables captures and diffuses daylight throughout the large works gallery.
Scott Rudd

Queens Museum of Art
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York

Grimshaw’s recent renovation of the Queens Museum of Art involved the task of unifying a previously divided building under a single program. The institution used to share its walls with an ice skating rink. The museum occupied the north half of the building—originally constructed as the New York pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair—and the rink the south half. When, in 2008, the rink moved into the newly completed Handel Architects–designed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Natatorium and Ice Rink, which was part of New York City’s 2012 Olympic bid, the museum had the opportunity to stretch out, occupying the entire 105,000-square-foot building for the first time since being founded in 1972.

The architects saw the opportunity to greatly improve the museum’s somewhat confusing circulation scheme, as well as support its mission of bringing the community together around art. By shifting the main entrance away from where it had previously been off the north parking lot, at the narrow end of the rectangular plan, to the center of the longer west facade, they were able to usher visitors directly into the building’s cavernous central volume. By arranging temporary exhibition galleries around this space, which functions as a large works gallery, the architects created an easy to navigate experience where figuring out where to go next is simply a matter of looking around.

The main entry facade (right) is outfitted with a programmable light display.
Scott Rudd; Holly Tsai

Glass played a key role in supporting Grimshaw’s design concept and in creating a bright and airy experience on the interior. Both eastern and western faces of the building were opened up with glass walls that let daylight in, welcome the community, and create a view corridor that passes straight through the space from the Grand Central Parkway to the Unisphere—the great, globular icon of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The west facade features a screen that can be animated by a color-changing LED system. A variety of artists will be invited to program the system over time.

Even with the glass facades, the large works gallery, with its soaring ceiling, promised to be a dark space. This could be solved with skylights, but then skylights, without control measures, can create tricky daylighting conditions for museum artifacts, many of which deteriorate in direct sunlight. In addition, the architects wanted to create a seamless experience, where visitors could go from outside, into the great hall, and then into the galleries without perceiving the difference in light level. “On a bright day, it’s 10,000 foot-candles outside,” said Mark Husser, managing partner for Grimshaw’s New York office. “We had to step that down to about 15 foot-candles in the galleries, and we attempted to do that without having a noticeable change or a lot of glare or shadow.”

A custom-designed ring beam attaches to the bottom of the lantern’s cables, pulling them into tension.
Courtesy grimshaw

In order to accomplish this effect, Grimshaw designed what is unofficially referred to as the “Hanging Lantern,” a daylight chandelier of sorts composed of canted glass louvers suspended by stainless steel cables around the great hall’s central skylight. The glass louvers, which range in width, are built up from two 5mm-thick pieces of low iron tempered glass that are laminated together with an SGP interlayer. The down facing sides of the louvers are acid washed, to catch and diffuse daylight, while the up facing sides are left glossy, to make them easier to clean as well as to create a shimmering effect on the inside of the lantern. The edges of the glass louvers are polished, post lamination, a delicate process that removed a mere 1/64-inch of material to clean up the edges and create a sparkling, diamond-like effect. The louvers are canted at different angles to catch sunlight entering from the skylight, which also features louvers, and direct it to the galleries, whose ceilings are outfitted with louvers of their own that further diffuse the light. “We did sun studies to determine the angles of the louvers,” said Casimir Zdanius, Grimshaw’s head of industrial design. “When direct sunlight hits the pieces of glass they light up like a halogen.”

Courtesy Grimshaw

Grimshaw designed the Hanging Lantern, which combines daylighting and structural design, with consulting engineer Michael Ludvik. The tempered glass louvers, which handle some structural loads, are attached to inner and outer sets of steel cables that drop down from the ceiling with machine finished 304 stainless steel connections. At the bottom of the lantern, which hangs more than 31 feet down from the ceiling, is a ring beam made up of 6-inch-diameter solid steel billets fastened together with heavy-duty bolts. At 20,000 pounds, the ring beam pulls the cable system into tension. While the 8mm-diameter outer cable carries most of the load, the 6mm-diameter inner cable attaches to the ring beam via a spring connection that allows the pendulous structure to sway without breaking the glass. The inner cables are also tuned to achieve a sensuous curving profile on the inside of the lantern.

Grimshaw also designed a glass-treaded feature stair that encourages access to the second floor and provides a series of landings that offer a good view of the large works gallery and the Hanging Lantern. The landings and treads are composed of four piles of ½-inch-thick low iron annealed glass laminated together with SGP interlayers. The upper surface features an acid etched non-slip surface and the structure was designed so that even if all four piles break the interlayer will continue to carry the live load. Annealed glass was chosen, as opposed to tempered, so that the edges could be polished down flush without shattering, a detail that gives the edges of the treads a jewel-like translucency.

Aaron Seward

Names to Know:

Grimshaw Architects
Architect & Engineer of Record:
Ammann & Whitney
M.Ludvid Eng’g


Glass Fabricator:
Stair Glass Installation:
M Cohen and Sons
Lantern Fabrication & Installation:
AMG Design


Brad Feinknopf

Ohio State University South Campus Central Chiller
Columbus, OH

Ohio State University’s south campus central chiller is a utilitarian powerhouse. It pumps cool water to more than half of the campus’ buildings. It is also host to a dynamic light show, thanks to an array of glass fins affixed to its concrete facade.

“Rather than just showing the pipes, we wanted to represent energy itself,” architect Carol Ross Barney told AN when the project was first announced in 2010. Ross Barney worked with associate architects, Champlin, on the project. Now complete, the 95,570-square-foot building sports dichroic glass, composed of multiple micro-layers of fused metal oxides. A coating just 30- to 35-millionths of an inch thick can contain up to 50 layers of these materials, which condense on the glass after being vaporized by an electron beam in a vacuum chamber.

Brad Feinknopf

Those tiny bits of metal reject certain wavelengths of light, so the dichroic fins reflect and transmit different colors simultaneously. Which colors pass through and which bounce back depends on the angle of view. The end result is a constantly shifting array of colors that dance across the building exterior.

Previously it hadn’t been affordable to laminate dichroic film between layers of glass. Ross Barney Architects worked with glass manufacturer Goldray Industries to laminate the dichroic film, which was originally developed by NASA for use in space. The exterior application created concerns for the longevity of the thin film, so Goldray tested several glass products to sufficiently protect the film without distorting its ability to transmit light. Based on its success, Goldray has since used similar fins on projects from Indianapolis to Istanbul.

Brad Feinknopf

Structural shapes and welded plates hold the glass fins perpendicular to the building’s precast panels. The incandescent fins themselves convey a sense of energy, Barney said, but clear sightlines into the mechanical innards of the chiller plant also put the building’s utility front and center.

Still, no moving parts are visible. Instead, the precast plates that make up the ten-story building are punctuated with varied rectangular windows, complementing the geometry of the glass fins. Oldcastle manufactured the aluminum curtain wall window system, whose insulated exterior panels also cut down on energy use. Inside, equipment decks are grated for natural cooling so the chiller, which anticipates LEED certification, won’t have to be chilled itself.

To hear the designers tell it, in a rundown of their research and development process, “the building becomes an ethereal expression of the functional process of releasing thermal energy into the air to produce chilled water.” Cool.


Chris Bentley

Names to Know:

Ross Barney Architects
Glass Fins:
Goldray Industries
Curtain Wall:




Shawn Bowman

Langham Hotel
Chicago, IL

Like many who attempt to transform Mies Van der Rohe landmarks, interior designers Richmond Group got some flak for putting a glitzy hotel into one of the architect’s stately modernist icons along the Chicago River. Langham Hotel, which now occupies floors 2-13 of the 52-story tower, is more known for glamour than clean geometry.

But the design team’s intervention narrowed in on one of the skyscraper’s key materials: glass. “We wanted to emphasize the extensive use of glass on the facade,” Richmond Group’s Deborah Bray said in a press release, “to deliver an individual and innovative design, which reflected the linear elements of the existing architecture.”

Alliance Glazing and GLASSource helped outfit the lobby’s two-floor RiverRoom with a unique array of composite panels of Pilkington Optiwhite glass. They bonded ¼-inch low-iron beveled glass to both sides of an extremely flat 3/8-inch monolithic panel, computer numerically controlling each panel to keep the floor-to-ceiling array of panels uniform. Individually cut and fit brass strips divide each panel.

Shawn Bowman

“The feel is almost like you’re in a prism. The light reflects in different directions,” said Alliance’s Dan Shields. “But when you get close to it, you’re able to get nice views out, so you’re not taking away the skyline feel. It’s more art than it is just glass.”

Over six months of testing and mock-up production, Alliance and Bohle Group developed an adhesive that cures under ultraviolet light, keeping the composite panels together without forming bubbles in the glue. Despite being made from many small pieces of beveled glass, the feature wall appears unified.

Shawn Bowman

GLASSource’s Jim Arnold said the UV bonding was the first of such detail and scope. “Full size vinyl templates were printed to control the layout process and each small section took between two to four days per panel just to do the UV bonding,” he said. “After almost 15 months from the first discussions the designers vision and the end result turned out to be very spectacular as well as unique.”

Langham Hotel opened its Travelle restaurant and bar this year, completing the bottom floors’ transformation from office space to high-end hotel; and the focus on glass does not end at the lobby. Electrochromic glass from Guardian separates the bathrooms—with the flip of a switch, the glass switches from opaque to transparent. Televisions within the mirrors add another touch of luxury, rounded out by custom diamond-cut shapes in each mirror enclosure that match the carpeting.


Chris Bentley

Names to Know:

Lohan Anderson
Rockwell Group


Glass Fabricators & Installers:
Alliance Glazing Technologies