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Corning Museum of Glass to Display Groundbreaking Glass Bridge, Designed by an International Team of Experts Led by Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh at the University of Pennsylvania

Corning Museum of Glass to Display Groundbreaking Glass Bridge, Designed by an International Team of Experts Led by Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh at the University of Pennsylvania

Visualization of the glass bridge with reflective artwork by Romain Crelier. Image © Masoud Akbarzadeh

Corning Museum of Glass to Display Groundbreaking Glass Bridge, Designed by an International Team of Experts Led by Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh at the University of Pennsylvania Ultra-thin, High Performance Glass Structure Made of Hollow Glass Units Showcases Low Impact Construction and Carbon Emissions

Corning, NY—The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) today announced that it will exhibit Glass Bridge, a prototype of an ultra-thin high-performance glass structure, designed by a team led by Principal Investigator Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh, Assistant Professor of Architecture and the Director of the Polyhedral Structures Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Composed of fitted, hollow glass units that establish a compression-dominant structure, the bridge is a proposition for future manufacturing that minimizes construction impact and carbon emissions. Installed in CMoG’s Special Projects Gallery, the 32.8-foot-long structure will stretch over a reflective work of art by Romain Crelier. Glass Bridge will be on view from November 23, 2024 through March 30, 2025.

The prototype of the glass bridge was realized over four years by a team of specialists assembled by Dr. Akbarzadeh. This group of collaborators includes Dr. Damon Bolhassani, The City College of New York, Dr. Joseph Yost, Villanova University, and Dr. Jens Schneider, the president of Technical University of Vienna, alongside a team of talented PhD students and graduate research assistants.

“CMoG celebrates the artistry, history, and science of glass so it’s very meaningful to welcome the work of Penn professors and students into the galleries to demonstrate new possibilities for this medium,” said Karol Wight, President and Executive Director of the Corning Museum of Glass. “While glass is perhaps best understood for its delicate beauty and relative fragility, it can also be remarkably sturdy and durable as Dr. Akbarzadeh’s prototype makes clear. We are excited to showcase new frontiers in the field of glassmaking and explore how glass has a vital, continued role in developing the infrastructure of the future.”

Glass Bridge features ultra-thin, high-performance, double-layered glass sheets. Inspired by design forms found in nature, the team used geometry-based structural design methods, known as Polyhedral Graphic Statics, to create three-dimensional hollow glass units that form an arch and can be easily assembled and disassembled. In 2016, Dr. Akbarzadeh was among the first to develop Polyhedral Graphic Statics methods based on a 150-year-old publication by J.C. Maxwell and W.J.M. Rankine in Philosophical Magazine. He has been applying this method to design architectural structures with minimal use of material since 2016, as demonstrated by Glass Bridge.

The hollow glass units of the structure carry the external loads as pure compressive forces thanks to the bridge’s precise arch form. These compression-dominant structures are among the most efficient forms found in nature and in the history of building construction and architecture—an important feature that significantly reduces unnecessary weight and mass. The system can also be easily disassembled, recycled, and repurposed—making it a sustainable alternative to existing architectural design methods due to the reduced amount of carbon required. The dynamic, asymmetric design of the bridge also creates an architectural object d’art while improving the structural soundness of the bridge under an uneven load. The transparency of the bridge also reduces obstructions to viewing or receiving natural light.

Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh said: “The project’s primary goal is to show how a challenging construction material such as glass can be designed for use as a primary structural system, intending to inspire architects, engineers, and researchers to question conventional design and explore strategies to minimize material use and maximize efficiency. It demonstrates the advantages of glass as both an aesthetic and durable material for art, architecture, and engineering. Moreover, the same construction method can be applied to other sheet-based materials such as steel, aluminum, and wood to reduce material use and carbon emission.”

He continued: “Metaphorically, the transparency of this bridge symbolizes the essential values of honesty and peace within our community. Though each sheet of glass may seem fragile, their collective arrangement in a specific geometry provides robust support capable of efficiently transferring substantial forces to the ground. The bridge’s resilience is derived from the arch’s geometry, symbolically bridging gaps between differing opinions. The innovative ideas of working with minimum material to reduce carbon emission represents UPenn’s progressive approach in research and a brighter and carbon-neutral future. Thus, we also call Glass Bridge the ‘Penn Monument for Hope.’”

Glass Bridge will also feature a contemporary work of art by Romain Crelier (French, born 1962). Comprised of two offset semi circles made of smooth reflective surfaces, the contours of the form evoke a sense of fluidity akin to a tranquil pool of water. Its surface will serve as a reflective mirror, capturing the bridge’s underside and the gallery’s surrounding environment. The interactive essence of the sculpture and the bridge constitutes a pivotal aspect of the installation, fostering a dynamic interplay between the two structures.

“Neither the bridge nor the sculpture dominates; the equilibrium between the two forms appears harmonious to me,” said Romain Crellier. “The concept of a bridge has perennially captivated my imagination. The act of connecting people, landscapes, and cultures stands as an enduring human imperative. Masoud’s ingenuity in crafting this bridge knows no bounds.”

To accompany the exhibition, the Corning Museum of Glass will produce a small booklet that highlights the impressive technical achievements of the bridge and celebrates it as a symbol of cooperation and sustainability.

Lead project collaborators participated with support from their affiliated academic institutions and research labs: Polyhedral Structures Lab, Department of Architecture, Stuart Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania; Villanova University College of Engineering; City College of New York Spitzer School of Architecture; Technische Universität; Technical University of Vienna; Office of the Vice Provost for Research at the University of Pennsylvania; and National Science Foundation.

This installation is made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor at the University of Pennsylvania. The scientific research behind this project is funded by the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (NSF CAREER-1944691 CMMI) to Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh.

Project Credits
Principal Investigators: Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh, Dr. Joseph Robert Yost, Dr. Damon (Mohammad) Bolhassani, Dr. Jens Schneider
Advising Collaborator: Richard Farley
Project Lead Designer: Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh
Structural Design: Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh, Yao Lu, Yiliang Shao, Tian Ouyang
Computational Design Lead: Yao Lu
Steel Support Detailing and formwork design: Boyu Xiao, Michael Ting, Pouria Vakhshouri
Structural Analysis: Dr. Mohammad Bolhassani, Dr. Paria Yavartanoo
Structural Load Testing and Material Verification: Dr. Joseph Robert Yost, Jorge Huisa Chacon, and Mathew Cregan
Glass Engineering: Dr. Jens Schneider, Philipp Amir Chhadeh
Acrylic Milling Services: Werk5
Acrylic Materials: Polyvantis
Hollow Glass Unit Construction: Glasbau Pritz
Glass Milling Services: Thiele Glass
Low Carbon Glass: Saint-Gobain
Acrylic Extrusion: Hubei Chusui plastic extrusion mold factory
SentryGlas: Kuraray

About Dr. Masoud Akbarzadeh
Masoud Akbarzadeh (PI, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania). He is a designer with an academic background and experience in architectural design, computation, and structural engineering. He holds a D.Sc. from the Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich and two degrees from MIT: a Master of Science in Architecture Studies (Computation) and a MArch, the thesis for which earned him the renowned SOM award. His main research topic is Three-Dimensional Graphical Statics, a novel geometric method of structural design in three dimensions. In 2020, he received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award to extend the methods of 3D/Polyhedral Graphic Statics for Education, Design, and Optimization of High-Performance Structures. He is also a Co-PI in a $4.6 million grant funded by National Science Foundation to investigate high-performance, self-Morphing building blocks across scales toward a Sustainable Future. He has also received a $2.4 Million ARPA-E Grant to Research the Design of Carbon-Negative Buildings starting September 2022.
About the Corning Museum of Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass is the foremost authority on the art, history, and science of glass. It is home to the world’s most important collection of glass, including the finest examples of glassmaking spanning 3,500 years. Live glassblowing demonstrations (offered at the Museum and on the road), bring the material to life. Daily Make Your Own Glass experiences at the Museum enable visitors to create work in a state-of-the-art glassmaking studio. The campus in Corning includes The Studio, a year-round glassmaking school, and the Rakow Research Library, with the world’s preeminent collection of materials on the art and history of glass. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State, the Museum is open daily, year-round. Children and teens, 17 and under, receive free admission.