Bendheim Channel Glass Project Highlights: Nelson Atkins Museum & Shaw Center for the Arts

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This editorial content was originally published in the Architect’s Newspaper, June 2005 edition.
Glass Menagerie
Since Joseph Paxton used almost a million square feet of glass to cover the Crystal Palace in 1851, architects have been experimenting with it in projects of every size, type, and context. For our annual Glass issue, we look at four projects that use the material in fresh ways. From the structural advances of a dome in Stuttgart to the conceptual layering of a house in upstate New York, the glass in each of these projects does much more than just let the sun in.


Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri by Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl’s expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has been garnering awards since its design was unveiled in 1999, and now that the glass cladding of the five-volume addition is near complete, it looks as if the early praise was well founded. With the opening of the museum still a year away, the glazed envelopes are beginning to express Holl’s winning concept of a series of “lenses” that traverse the museum’s terraced sculpture garden.
Holl decided to break the 165,000-square-foot expansion into five interconnected, irregularly shaped low buildings rather than attach a single massive structure to the existing museum, a Depression-era Beaux Arts building, sited at the top of a 17-acre sloping park, designed by Dan Kiley. The all-glass cladding of the new volumes offers a striking counterpoint to the original building’s heavy stone facade. Connected via substantial underground spaces, the buildings appear as isolated glass pavilions, their milky skin bringing light into the galleries and, at night, illuminating the garden’s path that wind around them. Holl compares them to Noguchi’s Akari lamps.
Holl and project architect Chris McVoy refer to the five volumes as “lenses” because of the way they bring light into the galleries and subtly reshape one’s views of the space. According to McVoy, the volume’s forms were driven in part by the idea of a parallax view, or the apparent displacement of an object caused by a change in the position from which it is viewed. For example, the lens containing the lobby and the library begins on axis with the original museum, and then shifts slightly to lead one back towards the other new volumes.
The outer layer of the lens is double-interlocked glass planks with translucent insulation in between them. Though Holl had worked with similar industrial glass planks for the Kiasma Museum in Helsinki, German manufacturer Lamberts worked to develop a new product specifically for this project, tested to ensure that they could span 18 feet without support, as well as meet standards for waterproofing and light transmission. The glass is also low in iron content, increasing its whiteness and minimizing the coloring the light that would shine on the art. The inside surfaces of the glass were sandblasted for further light diffusion. The inner layer is laminated, low-iron, butt-jointed glass, with a translucent white interlayer and acid-etched surface that provide for white light diffusion.
Between the layers of glass is a 3.5-foot wide cavity that, along with an upper-level plenum, provides a place for heat to gather in the winter or exhaust it in the summer. On southern walls, the cavities host a computer-controlled system of movable shades that darken the galleries as needed.
Holl’s design is an elegant and complicated proposal for making a glass wall, creating perhaps the most spectacular daylighting conditions for art seen in this country since Louis Kahn designed the Kimbell Museum.



Shaw Center for the Arts,
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Schwartz/Silver Architects
The Shaw Center for the Arts, which opened on March 4 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is not what it seems: While the theater and gallery building is clad entirely in glass, there is only one major window (albeit a big one) and it is anything but flat and reflective. The Boston-based firm Schwartz/Silver Architects devised a rain screen of channel glass that cover the building’s corrugated aluminum skin, and gives it an improbably light and insubstantial quality. The channels are set vertically, with short edges facing outward to better catch sunlight and shadow and give the façade texture.
According to principals Warren Schwartz and Robert Silver and project architect Chris Ingersoll, they wanted the building to evoke the movement of the waters of the Mississippi on whose banks it sits, and to borrow its colors from the reflection of the sky on the river. “One day late in the afternoon, we saw the building change from gray to blue to gold to pink over the course of about 20 minutes,” said Schwartz. At night, the screen is lit from outside, so that the light fills the channels.
If the glass screen is a metaphor for the ripples of the river’s waters, it is a practical one. Hurricanes frequently hit the region, and the heavy rains can do significant damage to buildings by seeping into the walls. Rain screens work on the principle that a small cavity between a screen and a building’s wall system-in this case, eight inches-ensures that the pressure inside the walls is not lower than the pressure outside, thereby keeping water from being forced into the walls. They saw the process at work when they tested the strength of the channels, which are reinforced with thin wires embedded in the glass. Ingersoll said that after a DC-9 engine blew water in a simulated 100 mile-per-hour wind at a mock-up of the façade, there was no water in the cavity between the rain screen and the wall, just a fine mist.
The system that keeps the channels anchored to the wall behind them is a straightforward one that is fairly common in industrial buildings in Europe. Horizontal bands capture the channels at top and bottom, and intermediate clips that tie back into the wall stabilize each one along its length. The anchoring system is visible through the glass, and from afar, the bands and clips read as an irregular horizontal pattern on the façade, some light and others dark as if just out of reach underwater. The Shaw Center is the largest building to date to use glass channels as a cladding, but its noteworthiness comes not from its size: It turns the prosaic need for protection from the elements into something that capitalizes on them.


Glass Credit
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art:
Exterior double-locked glass planks (Lamberts); insulation (OKALUX); laminated low-iron panels (Cricursa)
Shaw Center for the Arts:
Linit, U-profile hammered pearl glass (Bendheim Wall Systems Inc.)
About Bendheim

Bendheim is one of the world’s foremost resources for specialty architectural glass. Founded in New York City in 1927, the fourth-generation, family-owned company offers a virtually unlimited range of in-stock and custom architectural glass varieties. Bendheim develops, fabricates, and distributes its products worldwide. The company maintains production facilities in New Jersey and an extensive showroom in New York City