In the early 1990s, there was a quiet revolution in the way that glass was employed in architecture as a structural material. This increased experimentation in the application of glass was not limited to the building skin, but increasingly extended to frameless glazing
and, ultimately, to structural glazing with no support at all other than the assembled laminations of glass itself held in place with structural silicone. At the forefront of these innovative approaches to the use of glass as a structural element was the structural engineer Tim Macfarlane.
The evolution of Macfarlane’s work with structural glass can be understood through a series of key projects built at variety of scales with some of the most technically
challenging projects the seemingly ‘modest’ architectural set pieces of a staircase, lean-to or entrance canopy. Macfarlane was not working from a code of practice, which did not exist and innovation was incremental, with each project exploring and pushing at the known limits of glass as a structural material. Macfarlane wanted to establish “… An engineering practice that set out to realize architectural ideas … to facilitate an architects
composition, structurally so that it fitted and suited what could be made.” The paper will explore the key technical innovations made through the production of
prototypes and projects in partnership with architects and specialist fabricators (1990–1999). Macfarlane’s work has been documented through individual published projects
with one of the few comprehensive accounts of this work presented by Macfarlane himself at the ‘Glass in Buildings’ conference in 1999. I have recently interviewed Tim Macfarlane and I will be drawing on those discussions to identify the specific technical innovations, which enabled such incredible structural developments in the use of glass. The paper will use primary sources of research including interviews, unpublished sketches, and photographs of test prototypes.