Automated design and analysis of reinforced and post-tensioned glass shells
Shells made of structural glass are beautiful objects from both the aesthetics and the engineering point of view. However, they pose two significant challenges. The first one is to assure adequate safety and redundancy concerning possible global collapse. Being single-layered, in a shell made of structural glass, the brittle cracking of a single pane can lead to a sudden propagation of failure, up to instability. The second one is to guarantee cheap replacing possibilities for potentially collapsed components. This research explores a novel concept to address both requirements, where glass is both post-tensioned and reinforced and develops the research on TVT post-tensioned glass beams. Following the Fail-Safe Design (FSD) principles, a steel reinforcement relieves glass deficiencies (i.e. brittleness and low tensile strength). Following the Damage Avoidance Design (DAD) principles, glass segmentation and post-tensioning avoid the propagation of cracks. Up to now, glass-steel systems were limited to mono-dimensional elements (such as beams and columns) or simple bi-dimensional elements (arches, domes, barrel vaults). Instead, massive structures are usually realized as grid shells, where glass is used as simple cladding. This research investigates piecewise triangulated glass shells to enable the creation of 3D free-form glass-steel systems, where glass is load-bearing material. Hence, laminated glass panels are mechanically coupled with a filigree steel truss, whose elements are placed at the edges of the panel and act as an unbonded reinforcement. In a performance-based perspective, these steel trusses can be sized to bear at least the weight of all panels in the occurrence of simultaneous cracks (worst-case scenario). The panels are post-tensioned using a set of edge-aligned cables that add beneficial compressive stress on glass to prevent crack initiation. The cable placement and accompanying pre-loads are derived with an optimization strategy that minimizes the tensile stress acting on the shell. This optimization procedure also considers the practical constraints involved in the process. The results obtained through this automated procedure are later investigated using nonlinear FE analyses. The resulting structures optimize the total material usage providing contemporarily both transparency and load-bearing capabilities. Post-tensioned shells excel in static performances, achieving high stiffness and good redundancy for the worst-case scenario, and improve the structural lightness and the visual impact with respect to state-of-the-art competitors.