Time and time again, architects and architecture strive for transparency. It is often a key concept between buildings and their environment. Whether it’s a visual connection or a symbolic parti, there are many different ways it can be achieved.
The design for the New Science Center at Amherst College seeks transparency to connect the people within to the greater academic community. This is achieved through a thin and light glass wall. While in the labs or commons, one can see directly out to a wide view of the campus. During the design phase, there were key decisions which contributed to the transparency of the wall.
A key concept of this curtainwall is hanging it structurally from above rather than loading it at the base. By hanging the secondary structure in tension, the members can be more minimal. This manifested itself as a steel tee profile and a pair of one inch thick plates.
Hanging the curtain wall, however, requires heavy primary structure above. Large columns could have been placed directly inside of the glass, but this would have blocked much of the expansive view we desired to maximize. Instead, the penthouse roof beams cantilever over the commons, and the curtain wall is hung from their ends. This allowed the commons to be column-free, maintaining as much transparency as possible.
Transparency in architecture is often challenged by the circumstances of reality. One of the challenges of this thin glass wall is the differential movement between it and the rest of the building. Being so structurally light, the wall moves much more easily than the concrete-structured pavilions and lab bars.
This means that the curtainwall can only be rigidly connected at the head – all other edges of the wall have to connect loosely so that main building does not pull the curtainwall apart when it moves in a different direction or magnitude. These loosely attached edges manifested themselves as extruded silicone movement joints which are continuously connected along all the entire perimeter of the wall (except for the head).
Transparency vs. Efficiency: Glass Facades