Every year, the world’s largest structural engineering association chooses the most innovative engineering in the world as part of the Structural Awards 2018. The awards’ shortlist is always a fascinating glimpse into cutting-edge of structural engineering, and this year it includes two Apple projects: The Steve Jobs Theater Pavilion–which rises next to Apple’s new headquarters to host the company’s famous keynotes–and the company’s new flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
When it comes to structural engineering, Apple’s intensive focus on details has serious benefits. The group behind the new shortlist describes the theater pavilion as the “culmination” of advances in structural glass, and credits it to Apple’s close relationship with Eckersley O’Callaghan, the London-based structural designers who specialize in glass. You’ve probably seen EOC’s work before: The firm created an incredible glass swimming pool that hangs between two buildings in London, for instance, along with more than a few Apple stores and dozens of other groundbreaking glass structures.
In Cupertino, EOC worked with architects Foster + Partners and Arup to design a facade of 44 curving glass panels that support the pavilion’s massive carbon fiber roof, which appears to float from afar. Incredibly, this 80-ton roof is held up by this 33-foot-tall cylinder of glass panels, each made of four layers of 0.47-inch-thick plies (or layers) of glass, with no other support. It’s the largest structure ever supported with glass alone, according to the Institution of Structural Engineers, which created the shortlist. What’s more, all of the building systems–from electrical cables and plumbing to data connections and audio tech–are routed through the minuscule, 1.2-inch joints that hold these glass panels together.
And since this is Cupertino, the glass also needs to withstand earthquakes–so the firm designed a silicone and steel clamp that would deform to absorb the energy of a quake and keep the glass itself stable.
It comes as no surprise that EOC also collaborated with Foster + Partners on the other shortlisted project, the new Apple Store in Michigan Avenue. Here, it designed 15-foot-wide glass panels that surround an open, light-filled retail space. Calling the ethereal store evidence of “the positive impact that well-coordinated structural design can have on public spaces,” the jury points to how the engineers handled the existing public plaza above the store, removing eight columns that once supported it and using steel to strengthen the structure and create an open, airy space below. The roof that floats above the store’s facade is supported by two rectangular pillars alone. It looks completely transparent and impossibly light.
For more evidence of how rapidly structural glass has evolved, and Apple’s investment in it, look no further than EOC’s renovation of its first project for the tech giant: The famous glass cube located in New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Six years after it opened, the firm renovated the glass box–taking it from 106 glass panels down to just 15.