During the last few weeks, we've had a workshop that focuses on load-bearing elements in architecture. The workshop is quite basic, and only focuses on the basics of construction methods, in order to give us a simple insight towards designing more stable buildings, while still allowing us to leave the details to the engineers. The workshop consisted of two parts (a week for each). During the first fase, we were to work with a single loadbearing element, while during the second, we were to design a structure which primarily makes us of the before mentioned chosen element.
During the first week, a joined a group that focused on the column as a load-bearing element. The column, being one of the perhaps oldest and most basic of all architectural constructional elements, was an interesting choice. But due to the simplicity of it's function, our group decided to try out something different in the world of columns. We decided to test the strength of glass as a material for a column. Now what you see above clearly illustrates the strength of glass. The sculpture consists of five glass columns which bear a large stone. The glass columns measure 21cm (height) by 1cm (length) and just 0,4cm (width). The glass columns are furthermore casted in a gypsum foundation, which doesn't have a load-bearing function, but is rather used to keep the glass columns firmly in place. The stone above measures 20cm x 20cm x 20cm (roughly) and weighs about 25kg. During the final experiment, we even had only four columns, and the stone still stood firmly and safely on the extremely thin columns.
As for the second week, we were to design a larger structure, and in our case, we chose to make a marketplace. The special thing about it, is that we've tried to create an effect, in which the roofing for the market place litterally illustrates an enormous chunk of earth that has been directly cut out and lifted from the ground, thus creating a space underneath. Following our project from the first week, we chose to work with glass columns once again. This time, we found out that 30 of such columns (in a quadratic column) were able to lift as much as 1500 tons of earth, concrete and vegetation that float above the market space! We were no doubt truely amazed by the load-bearing abilities of glass, but like so many good things in life, it has its issues. The thing with glass is that it is extremely fragile. It may carry remarkable masses on a vertical scale, but if the glass were to lean even the slightest towards a horizontal direction, the glass will unlike metal's bending and concrete's cracking, almost litterally explode. This great constructional danger is perhaps one of the reasons why glass isn't so common as a load-bearing material, but as far as I know, research is leading to stronger and more stable glass systems, which one day might just prove worthy for even large scale glass-only structures.
- Andy Minchev