New strategies and developments in transparent free-form design: From facetted to nearly smooth envelopes

Niccolo Baldassini, Helmut Pottmann, Jacques Raynaud, Alexander Schiftner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Free-form geometries in architecture pose new challenges to designers and engineers. Form, structure and fabrication processes are closely linked, which makes the realization of complex architectural free-form structures even harder. Free-form transparent design today is mainly based on triangularly facetted forms or quadrilateral meshes supported by a structure composed of rectilinear bars, with strong shape restrictions. After a brief review of the history, we report on some very recent progress in this area. Beginning with a presentation of improved methods for triangle mesh design, we also discuss experiences in coupling triangular glass panels with continuous curved structures, seeking an optimised structural behaviour and simplified connections. Furthermore, we present how the results of research on planar quadrilateral (PQ) meshes lead the way to optimized beam layouts and the breakdown of free-form shapes using planar quadrilateral panels. PQ meshes are rooted in discrete differential geometry, an active area of mathematical research. Using recent projects as examples, we discuss how transparent free-form envelopes with a smooth visual appearance are achievable if the structure is designed to adhere to the limits of current glazing technology and the surfaces are reasonably simple (e.g. rotational, overall developable, or of a small scale). In section 6 we show how the latter restriction can be relaxed: the theoretical and computational methodology for PQ meshes can easily be extended to create nearly smooth approximations of free-form surfaces by single-curved panels. This has a strong impact on glass panelling design, since it avoids expensive double-curvature glass and exploits cold-bending technology. We elaborate on how this discretisation technique goes hand in hand with the technology for construction of the structure, glazing system and structural joints. Our approach has been tested in three case studies, each one validating a particular aspect of the design process.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-197
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Space Structures
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Building and Construction
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture


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