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Electronic: NCSEA Engineering Structural Glass Design Guide
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Engineering Structural Glass Design Guide

Glass is a material over 12,000 years old. Though the use of glass as a structural element in buildings only has been embraced by the building industry the last 40 to 50 years. This is most apparent in the fabrication sector, which has seen the size limits of glass panels grow in response to demands from Designers. While the use of glass in buildings has existed for hundreds of years, and the use of load-bearing and load-transferring structural glass has become more commonplace in recent years, it remains an unfamiliar material to many engineers. This is due in part to the focus on the traditional four materials – steel, concrete, timber, and masonry – both in Engineering Education and Professional Certification. This lack of industry-wide experience and knowledge is a reflection of the lack of documentation of glass in prevalent codes. Additionally, the brittle nature of glass does not make it a common construction material in this risk averse sector. Momentum is picking up, however, as the modern pursuit of “transparency” has come to a point where what was once exotic is now becoming commonplace. An incrementally growing body of ambitious and complex all-glass structures is helping to popularize a once esoteric material. This guide is intended to assist Engineers in understanding the basic theory and criteria for designing with this new construction material. The purpose of this Design Guide is to provide the Engineering Professional with sufficient background knowledge and current methods to determine the specification of glass elements in buildings. It is aimed at structural engineers who are experienced in designing building structures and elements using traditional materials but with little to no experience in using glass to transfer forces. Focus is on the Codes and Standards relevant to the United States, with acknowledgement that much of the recent growth in fabrication expertise originates from Europe. As such examples and data are provided primarily in SI units, with English/Imperial/Traditional units used as secondary to ease the transition.

The intent of this Guide is to collate relevant design references, requirements, and analysis methods into a single source for easy reference. The reader is encouraged to carry out more comprehensive research to accompany this Guide; the history of glass, fracture mechanics, Finite Element Analysis theory, and many other topics receive only a limited primer here and are subjects for which other more comprehensive documents should be referenced.

This Guide is intended to assist in determining the capacity of glass elements, augmented or reduced by the various relevant factors, and assumes industry standard levels of quality with regard to fabrication and installation. The reader should be aware that often quality levels vary considerably, and recognition of this variability is always an important aspect to consider during the design process.

About the Authors: 

Marcin March, P.E., CEng, MIStructE is a Structural and Facade Engineer based in San Francisco, CA. Previously working at Eckersley O’Callaghan in London and New York, he heads up the Eckersley O’Callaghan San Francisco Studio. Marcin has an MEng Engineering Science from Oxford University and MRes Computer Vision, Image Processing, Graphics, and Simulation from University College London. He is a Professional Engineer in California and New York, a Chartered Engineer with the IStructE in the UK, has published and presented extensively in the field of structural glass, and has worked on numerous structural glass projects across the globe. A believer in the dissemination of knowledge, Marcin has also taught classes and assisted in workshops at Architecture Schools at Princeton, Stanford, and the California College of the Arts.

Franklin Lancaster, P.E. is a Professional Engineer at the New York office of Eckersley O’Callaghan & Ptrs, LLC having previously worked for Eckersley O’Callaghan in London since 2010. Having studied Civil Engineering at Imperial College, London, he has published papers in computational mechanics with particular applications in the structural glass field, and has been involved in multiple structural glass projects throughout Europe, China and the United States.

Phil Khalil, P.E. is a Structural Engineer and Principal at the New York office of Eckersley O’Callaghan & Ptrs, LLC. He has been actively involved with structural glass design and development since the mid-90’s when he worked at Dewhurst Macfarlane & Ptrs in both the UK and US. He has over 20 years of experience in the sector, and is a Chartered Engineer in the UK and Professional Engineer in the United States.