Complex Facades and Features Create Head-Turning Designs Around the Globe

By Jordan Scott

Architects across the globe are pushing the envelope, designing ever-more complex structures requiring the highest level of precise engineering. With advancements in technology, each piece of the façade, from curved glass to curved steel tubes, can be customized to fit an intricate puzzle that dazzles the eye. Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal looks at recent projects from around the world that push the limits of design and engineering.

Morpheus Hotel


Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects

City of Dreams is a fitting name for the Morpheus Hotel’s location in Macau. The resort includes a casino, theaters, a shopping district, restaurants and four hotels. Zaha Hadid Architects’ addition stands out with its free-form exoskeleton. Voids carved through the building’s center allow occupants of the interior communal spaces to be more connected with the city.

The project incorporates more than 467,000 square feet of high-performance glass panels supplied by Shenbo and coated by Saint-Gobain. Saint-Gobain’s Coolite ST136 solar control glass provides shading and has a low solar coefficient with low reflectivity.

To achieve the complex geometrical constraints of unitized and stick glazing systems, the façade engineers at BuroHappold Engineering designed approximately 30 different façade systems incorporated with flat and curved glass, single and double glazing, and low-E and low-iron glass. It was a challenge to achieve consistency of color, transparency and reflectivity across the varying types of glass used to meet shading, acoustic and aesthetic requirements, according to the architecture firm.

The glass also needed to withstand high windloads due to Macau’s tropical climate. Tempered and laminated glass is used throughout the façade, which also mitigates the effects of thermal stress between shaded areas behind the exoskeleton and exposed panels.

The exoskeleton is connected to the internal structure with steel brackets penetrating the curtainwall at each node. 3-D movement and settlement analysis were required to design the exoskeleton’s parameters.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Architect: Snøhetta

The Kind Abdulaziz Center for World Culture could be a mirage in the desert. It’s unique, free-form façade was designed to mimic bright pebbles in the sand. With a rounded, metal façade that wraps around the building without any edges, it achieves the image of its inspiration.

Façade construction specialist seele covered a total of nearly 323,000 square feet with thousands of bent stainless steel, three-dimensional tubes to create the intricate facades encasing the five buildings on the property.

Each of the approximately 70,000 tubes is bent into a unique geometric form corresponding to its position on the structure. According to seele, special programs were created so that the bending and measuring machines could communicate and learn from each other. Before the programs were written, seele undertook a number of tests to produce a properly bent tube. After the solution was implemented, errors were reduced to less than 3 percent. It was important to get the bend of each tube correct initially because a tube could not be bent again in the machine.

For support, each tube is fixed to a unitized building envelope clad with sheet metal and joined by standing seams. Pins attached to the tubes compensate for the building envelope and tubes’ different movements. While keeping the demands of the desert climate in mind and to ensure quality, seele did much of the work during the preparatory phase. The tubes were bent and their ends tapered on bending and measuring machines. 3-D data was vital to the success of the project, allowing the geometry to be specified in advance through simulations. To reduce the complexity of the parts, each tube has its own QR code and laser engraving indicating individual instructions to ensure correct categorization in regard to where each tube connects on the façade.

Chadstone Shopping Centre

Melbourne, Australia

Architect: CallisonRTKL UK Ltd. and The Buchan Group

For the expansion and redevelopment of Australia’s oldest shop-ping mall, architecture firm CallisonRTKL aimed to transform the space into a lifestyle center. The Chadstone Shopping Centre’s new self-supporting, curved roof, which includes 2,670 lites of Schollglas’ GEWE-therm 4SG insulating glass, is a special feature of the redesign. Despite weighing approximately 500 tons, the massive glass and steel gridshell structure appears to rest gently upon the building.

Each lite has a unique shape with carefully calculated dimensions to fit the curved design. The lites range from nearly 13 square feet to just above 86 square feet.

The façade construction company, se-austria GmbH & Co. KG, installed the glass elements with an on-site bending procedure to ensure that the glass took on the specified shape for each frame.

The team bent two-layer insulating glass consisting of tempered safety glass and laminated safety glass made from two annealed glass lites. Although the bent glass creates a dramatic curving effect, each unit was bent minimally. According to CallisonRTKL, 3-D parametric modelling helped achieve the complex design of the curved roof.

Each unit is approximately 39-mm thick with an argon-filled inter-space. A thermoplastic spacer developed for structural glazing facades makes each unit impermeable to condensation.

Natural lighting is a major benefit of the design. The GEWE-therm glass provides sun protection and protects against overheating while increasing energy efficiency. Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 61 percent, earning the project a five-star sustainability rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

Jordan Scott is the editor of Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal. She can be reached at

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