Glass drops: how free-form architecture is created. Grid2Shell and its features

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Facades waver, roofs break and boil with sparkling bubbles. The curve of popularity of curvilinear buildings, pardon the pun, is rising rapidly all over the world. We decided to analyze what dictated the general interest in non-linear plasticity and talk about how parametric design and BIM help architects create free-form architectural objects. And most importantly, about the revolutionary Grid2Shell solution from the German company Schüco, which takes curvilinearity to a new level.

Angle vs curve

"Form follows function," wrote Louis Sullivan in an 1896 article on high-rise construction. His words became the main principle of the entire modernist architectural school and a reinforced concrete argument in favor of minimalist design and simple geometry. In 2021, Japanese architect Koichi Takada declared, “Form follows nature,” and it sounded almost like a refutation of old principles. In fact, there is no contradiction here. Nature is functional and rational, whether "a branching oak, or a winding stream at its base, or drifting clouds," this is exactly what Sullivan meant, as is obvious if you read his article in its entirety and not take the words out of context.

Curvilinear and hemispherical forms are characteristic of sacred architecture because, according to the views of the Pythagoreans, this corresponded to the structure of the universe and emphasized its proximity to heaven as the divine abode

The dome of the Roman Pantheon with the oculus became a symbol of the power of the Roman Empire, and the dome of the Florence Cathedral, created by Brunelleschi, became a symbol of Renaissance architecture.

But it has already happened that the terms "natural geometry" or "organic architecture" are more often used not when we talk about Frank Lloyd Wright's flat houses or baroque masterpieces, but when we describe modern buildings of complex geometry with circular forms that seem to flow. The tendency of architects to move away from clumsy forms to curvilinear forms became evident at the end of the XNUMXth century, and in the XNUMXst century, curvilinearity left the category of "architectural haute couture". Now not only museums and theaters, but also offices, shopping centers, subway stops please the eye with smooth lines, waves and glass bubbles. Figuratively speaking, the game of dice was replaced by a game of pétanque. But, actually, why? And why now?

The Great Courtyard of the British Museum, designed by Foster+Partners. Photo: John Weiss. Photo source:

Curvilinearity and emotional effect

Trying to explain why, in contrast to modernists, many modern architects strive to create flowing, complex forms, curvilinear both in plan and in section, architectural critics agreed that curvilinearity is one of the signs and incentives of well-being. Curvilinear forms give visual relief to the eyes of people who are tired of cubes, parallelepipeds and intersections in the city.

The Great Courtyard of the British Museum, designed by Foster+Partners. Photo: Andrew Dunn. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2009, scientists from the Faculty of Architecture and Planning of the MARA University of Technology published the results of an unusual study "The influence of curvilinear architectural forms on the environment and behavior." They studied six buildings designed by the Foster + Partners architectural office, including the Faculty of Law of the University of Cambridge, the Great Court of the British Museum, and the Canary Wharf London Underground station. All these buildings can be classified as outstanding examples of modern curvilinear architecture. According to the researchers, non-standard space and play of volumes makes people feel uplifted, facilitates navigation, encourages communication and cooperation and even erases social boundaries. The bold conclusions of the Malaysian scientists coincided with the conclusions of the European and American ones conducted in the same years.

While still a graduate student at Texas A&M University, Madani Nejad, Ph.D. and senior architect at the US Department of Health, interviewed 12 famous practicing architects, including four Pritzker Prize winners, to find out what drives their preference for curvilinear forms. Nejad also interviewed several dozen people from other professions to find out if their views coincided with those of the designers. It turned out that architects and non-architects alike perceive curvilinear spaces and shapes as more feminine, non-aggressive, stress-reducing and generally more pleasant.

Faculty of Law of the University of Cambridge, designed by Foster+Partners. Photo: Dennis Gilbert. Photo source:

Similar studies were conducted almost in parallel at the University of Toronto and Berkeley. As a result, a consensus was formed regarding the pleasantness of curvilinear forms. Apple designers, creating gadgets with rounded corners, are guided by this same theory, modern stadiums have a round shape despite the rectangular playing field, and politicians, wanting to reach an agreement, sit down at a round table.

If the ancient architects knew that a curve, as paradoxical as it may sound, is a shorter path to well-being, and evidence-based science confirmed their hypotheses, then why do our cities have a broken skyline?

Everything is simple. Despite the fact that there are practically no rectilinear forms in nature, and man intuitively strives for nature, it is easier and cheaper to design and build rectangular or cubic buildings. And since economy has always been almost the most important criterion, rectangular boxes are more functional. More precisely, it was like that until recently. In the last few decades, architects have had tools and technologies at their disposal that the architects of Rome did not even dare to dream of.

London Underground station Canary Wharf, designed by Foster+Partners. Photo: Nigel Young

Parametric Design: The Art of Forms and Parameters

Today, parametric design and Building Information Modeling (BIM) have become key tools that allow architects to implement their creative ideas and create free-form objects. These innovations significantly changed the traditional approach to architectural practice.

"Parametric design is a computer-aided approach to design that considers the geometric properties of a structure as variables. Dimensions, angles and geometric properties remain malleable as the project evolves,” says Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects. Hadid herself entered the history of architecture as the mother of parametricism, presenting dozens of masterpiece buildings with fluid forms to the world.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an approach to construction design and management that uses a single digital 3D model image of an object to integrate all the necessary information. These are data about geometry, materials, construction, resource consumption and many other aspects.

Hall of the Harbin Opera House, designed by MAD Architects. Photo: Hufton Crow

Every year, the amount of incoming data increases. In addition to dimensions, proportions, structures, materials, it is necessary to take into account the complex urban context, climate changes, customer behavior and requests, budget, energy efficiency requirements, new editions of building regulations. And in the coming years, it will be mandatory to calculate and monitor the carbon footprint throughout the entire life cycle of buildings. Today, architects can create parametric models that automatically generate 3D BIM models. This allows them not only to explore complex forms, but also to analyze them in the context of construction and operation.

To spiritualize a number, you need the talent and creativity of a designer. In Frank Gehry's workshop, for example, the computer is used after creating a physical sculptural model

The layout is scanned on a special printer to obtain a XNUMXD digital master model. The model is constantly being improved in the process of development, turning into a digital matrix of the future building. The majority of Zoomer architects freely create exclusively in the digital space, from sketch to matrix, and every year the design process accelerates.

The Harbin Opera House was built according to the project of MAD Architects. Photo: Adam Mørk

Glass and underwater stones

Previously, we wrote about the reasons for the attractiveness of buildings with a glass skin. Of course, experimenting with free forms, architects would like to find the optimal way to use glass. But there are a few problems. When we want to create a large-format volume, we cannot yet blow a seamless bubble the size of a stadium. Glass, although it is an amorphous material, cannot be bent as easily as aluminum.

When designing wavy or drop-shaped glass facades, roofs and canopies, the so-called method of polygonal mosaic is usually used, when a complex geometric shape is broken into fragments. Most often - triangles, because triangles allow you to assemble any complex curved shape, and the imposts between them give the structure strength.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton building, designed by Frank Gehry in Paris. Photo source:

It's not cheap, as each panel has an individual shape, and the steel beams on which the glass is mounted (usually I-beams welded or bolted together) must be somehow camouflaged from below. For example, with wooden bars, as Frank Gehry did when designing the art gallery building in Toronto and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. Or decorative lattices made of plastic, as in the hall of the Harbin Opera House, built according to the project of MAD Architects.

You can cast glass in molds, you can bend the glass itself using a hot or cold method. For example, the float glass panels for the facade of the Elbe Philharmonic in Hamburg with pleated window openings were created by forming hot sheets. But the formation of glass will cost even more.

An example of the use of curved glass panels in the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg. Photo: Iwan Baan

Even more important problems are insufficient energy efficiency and weak structural strength (compared to an ordinary wall). That is, it is impossible to use such a structure as a bearing.

Grid2Shell canopy over the courtyard of Mirdif Avenue Mall in Dubai, UAE. Photo courtesy of Schüco

Grid2Shell from Schüco - what is revolutionary?

At the BAU spring exhibition in Munich, about which PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA previously wrote in an article "BAU through the eyes of Ukrainian architects: Carbon Control and other know-how", the most striking exhibit in the pavilion, where novelties of enclosing structures and facades were demonstrated, was a fragment of a self-supporting dome structure created using Grid2Shell — an innovative modular system or free-form roof.

Futuristic houses with curved facades are always in the center of attention. Despite all the difficulties and problems we have described, however, even in Kyiv there are already buildings with curved facades, such as Ocean Plaza. How does the Grid2Shell technology differ from previously used solutions and what are its advantages, he explained Oleksiy Sverchkov, commercial director of Schüco Ukraine.

Oleksiy Sverchkov, commercial director of Schüco Ukraine

Oleksiy Sverchkov: "Indeed, parametric glass facades have been made before, but it was always a special, individual solution developed for a specific project. Schüco has created a universal platform with which almost any form can be built, and this is made possible with a relatively small number of components. To describe the Grid2Shell system in a very simple and short way, it is a combination of alloyed aluminum profiles connected to each other with the help of full-body aluminum crosspieces, which have an individual geometry for each node. The geometry of the crossbars is specified by the software during the design of the parametric structure.

Also, the system of profiles and crosspieces is supplemented with seals that have a multi-level drainage principle and provide excellent thermophysical characteristics. The Schüco Grid2Shell system enables the installation of 2-chamber double-glazed windows, which makes it suitable for use in any climate. The space between the double-glazed windows is filled externally with a silicone seam according to the principle of "structural glazing".

A fragment of the Grid2Shell modular structure in the Schüco exhibit at BAU 2023. Photo courtesy of Schüco

Our Schüco Grid2Shell system is also unique in that it is a self-supporting frame that does not require steel substructures or trusses. This eases the load on the foundation and leads to savings on the cost of manufacturing and installing the steel frame. And, of course, before shortening the terms of implementation of glazing.

As we have already noted, the Schüco Grid2Shell system is "warm" (meets the standards of thermal insulation of enclosing translucent structures), completely sealed and equipped with unique drainage solutions. In other words, now, in addition to steel substructures, there is no need for second (duplicate) glazing contours or any walls that solve the problems of sealing and thermal insulation. Most of the curvilinear facades that we can meet on the street are actually decorations, which is not exactly what Schüco Grid2Shell enables.

This is a truly revolutionary product, especially for domes, glass atriums and complex teardrop shapes, where the vertical facade smoothly transitions into the roof

This technology not only makes it possible to simplify the design of parametric forms, but also makes their implementation simple, fast and reliable."

Design using Grid2Shell does not require any specific software, that is, Ukrainian architects can use familiar programs. To process a facade or a roof in the Grid2Shell system, all you need is a three-dimensional AutoCAD model and a filled-in "check list" taking into account all the parameters and features of the building and site, which we will talk about in more detail later."

Creating a 3D model of the Schüco Grid2Shell structure. Photo courtesy of Schüco

And what about engineering and directly construction?

The construction of non-standard buildings has never been considered an easy task. For example, top architects often cooperate with the international engineering company Arup, which is known for taking on the most complex ideas and successfully dealing with them. Reputable construction companies are invited as contractors: Swedish Skanska, British Balfour Beatty, French Laing O'Rourke and others from the top list of Engineering News-Record. But, according to Schüco, no special equipment or construction training is required to assemble a facade or roof using Grid2Shell technology. In any case, you will not have to order special teams from abroad.

Oleksiy Sverchkov: "No special equipment is needed to process the Grid2Shell system. All profiles are cut at an angle of 90 degrees with a regular saw. To facilitate assembly of the structure, all crosspieces and profiles connected to them are numbered accordingly. Profiles are supplied already with milled "pockets" in which fastening elements are hidden. Rectangular covers reliably and elegantly close these "pockets", creating a complete and unique appearance. Sections of profiles have a light, airy and aesthetic appearance - both from the outside of the building and from the inside of the room.

Grid2Shell canopy over the courtyard of Mirdif Avenue Mall in Dubai, UAE. Photo courtesy of Schüco

Of course, behind the simplicity and external lightness lies the hard and painstaking work of engineers and designers. All calculations and selection of parameters are prepared by Schüco specialists. The installation company receives a 3D model of the structure and its visualization, a list of materials, a list of glass units, etc. As I said, all components come numbered with detailed assembly instructions. Of course, we provide technical support and carry out general assembly. But this is what we always do, and in this case Schüco Grid2Shell is no exception."

No special equipment or training of builders is required to assemble a facade or roof using Grid2Shell technology. In any case, you will not have to order special teams from abroad

The operation of an already constructed building is also not distinguished by any special specificity. Of course, the care of glass is always more troublesome than that of an ordinary brick facade, but the image of a "shining star" is worth it. For example, London's tallest building, The Shard, is cleaned four times a year. It takes 17 specially trained cleaners 3 months to use cables to descend from the roof and wash all 11 glass panels. In effect, this means that the building is cleaned every day throughout the year. So you should think about future washing at the design level, warns the commercial director of Schüco Ukraine: "Difficulties in maintaining and washing facades (roofs) are more related to their shape than to the structure of the surface. After all, the surface of structures based on the Grid2Shell system is the same as for conventional facades, i.e. glass. Usually, during construction, anchorage places for cables and special ladders for service personnel are provided. In general, this process is not much different from the maintenance of usual straight-line forms. But it is important to think through all the details at the idea stage.

It is necessary to avoid various depressions (bags) in which water, leaves, dust or snow can accumulate. Flows of precipitation or melt water must be diverted to storm drains in a timely manner. It is necessary to avoid sharp breaks and level differences, which lead to vortices and additional wind loads. Here, of course, we need the experience and knowledge of architects and specialists in the design of similar structures."

Grid2Shell canopy over the courtyard of Mirdif Avenue Mall in Dubai, UAE. Photo courtesy of Schüco

Grid2Shell and climate

Grid2Shell is ideal for creating all-season architecture — covered galleries-streets, covered squares, stadiums and other objects. Previously, similar structures, when it is necessary to create a canopy of a large area, were always considered quite difficult due to the large weight and high degree of responsibility in engineering calculations.

Schüco technologies allow you to calculate the load on such a roof with maximum accuracy, take into account snow and wind and make the structure safe, says Oleksiy Sverchkov: "Roofs and canopies are an ideal field for the implementation of the Grid2Shell system. Due to the fact that it is a self-supporting structure that does not require a steel frame, such roofs give a unique appearance to any object. It can be the roofs of shopping centers, indoor winter gardens that require a lot of light, stadiums, ice arenas... In general, it is simply difficult to list all types of buildings where the use of Grid2Shell is possible. Of course, before starting construction, the customer, contractor or architect draws up a special "check list", which clearly indicates all the necessary parameters, for example, thermal conductivity coefficient, level of tightness, as well as loads - wind, snow, etc.

Visualization of modeling of the Grid2Shell system for curvilinear architecture. Video courtesy of Schüco

In accordance with the specified characteristics, the configuration and pitch of the profiles, the shape of the structure, the dimensions of the double-glazed windows are selected. Contractors also calculate double-glazed windows for deflection. The necessary dimensions and nominal values ​​(thickness) of the glass are determined. As I have already mentioned, the design and construction of such forms is a time-consuming and painstaking process, but at the final stage, we achieve cost savings and shorten the construction period."

In the summer of 2023, the construction of the new large shopping center Mirdif Avenue Mall, built from Grid2Shell modules, was completed in Dubai

The new building can be an example of another specific feature of the technology developed by Schüco.

Oleksiy Sverchkov: "From the very beginning, the customer wanted a unique roofing structure. He wanted the roof to have a smooth free form and attract the attention of visitors to the shopping center. The peculiarity of this project is that the Grid2Shell structure does not have double-glazed windows and serves not as a full-fledged roof, but rather as a canopy.

The fields are partially filled with textile fabric from the Schüco FACID system to create shade. The roof structure rests exclusively on round tubular steel beams, and the forces are transferred to the concrete. This creates the impression of a floating air envelope. The structure itself is self-supporting and was pre-assembled piece by piece like a puzzle. All that was needed afterwards was a lifting crane. Thanks to the system worked out to the smallest detail, the assembly and installation process was fast, economical and safe. As you can see, there was no need for complicated equipment. A supervisor from Schüco was present at the facility."

Another non-obvious, but climate-related feature of buildings made of glass, primarily drop-shaped, is reflection. A curvilinear glass surface can create a lot of glare, and sometimes the reflected light heats up neighboring buildings or sections of the street, if the developers did not take this into account. For example, after the glare from the Walt Disney Concert Hall building under the hot Los Angeles sun made life unbearable for people in the neighboring buildings, the entire metal facade had to be tinted. What if it was glass?

A fragment of the Grid2Shell modular structure in the Schüco exhibit at BAU 2023. Photo courtesy of Schüco

But be that as it may, interest in curvilinear glass buildings in the world is steadily growing. And the success of the Schüco exposition at the last BAU 2023 exhibition is another confirmation of that, Oleksiy Sverchkov believes: "The interest is huge, especially in the Middle East and Europe, these are mostly shopping malls that, with their unique shape, attract the attention of buyers and, at the same time, fill all the spaces with natural light boutique galleries. But not only. These, as I said, are sports facilities, airports, and train stations — everything that is the center of attention of a large number of people.

Of course, because of the war in Ukraine, work on such structures has practically stopped, but the system has already been designed at several Ukrainian facilities. We are sure that the time is not so far when you and I will be able to conduct a tour of our facilities with Grid2Shell. Believe me, they will be no less bright than those built in Dubai."

To bring this moment closer, Schüco Ukraine invites Ukrainian architects and developers to familiarize themselves with the development of Grid2Shell

If you are interested, you can take advantage of the opportunity to personally communicate with Schüco specialists at the Architectural Construction Forum, which will be held on October 5-6 this year at the "Parkovy" shopping center in Kyiv. You will find Schüco at stand #72 on the first floor.


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