Glass Houses

Glass Houses

New book Manufacturing Architecture features a series of fascinating case studies, including this striking building in Mexico City which is covered in hundreds of green glass baubles…


Giving architects all the information they need to make the most of exciting opportunities in custom manufacturing, Dana K. Gulling's mesmerising new book – Manufacturing Architecture – is the first reference guide for customising repetitive manufacturing.

This case study (one of a number featured in the book) features The Hesiodo – a mid-rise condominium building, located on a residential street in Mexico City. The building has thirteen apartments in 27,028ft2 (2,511m2) and is organised into two stacks – one at the front of the lot and one in the rear – with an atrium in between. Both stacks have balconies and open views to either a street or the alley. The building shares two party walls, on the east and west, with its neighbours.

The Hesiodo has a screen that covers the two exposed building faces. The screen creates a visual and protective barrier between the urban street and the apartment balconies and windows. On the north façade, the screen continues up the building and becomes the guardrail for the roof terrace. The screen is made of tension cables; hand-blown, wood-moulded glass spheres; and EPDM disks that support the spheres on the cables.

Over 7,700 glass spheres were used on this project. They were manufactured by a craftsman in Guadalajara, less than 350 miles (560km) from the building site. The design firm in charge of this project is Hierve Diseñeria, a firm established by Alejandro Villarreal.

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Design Considerations

Prior to Hesiodo, Hierve Diseñeria had experience with customised manufacturing and working with manufacturers. The firm has done industrial and furniture design, and designed two different custom concrete blocks (Sistem Arde, first and second generations). According to Alejandro Villarreal, the inspiration for the Hesiodo’s glass spheres came from watching children playing in the plaza and blowing soap bubbles. In order to evaluate the screen, initial prototypes were made. Using these, Diseñeria reviewed the sphere’s colour and the cable assembly system.


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This building itself is highly handcrafted and labour intensive, reinforcing the social component that the firm states is inherent to its work. First, the sphere’s glass thickness is uneven, ranging from 0.4–1in (10–25mm) and has air bubbles trapped in the glass. These characteristics are typical of hand-blown glass, and help reinforce how the spheres were manufactured.

Next, on-site construction workers strung the spheres, supporting fasteners, and EPDM disks by hand on the cables. According to Villarreal, it was the workers who figured out the best method for then attaching the cables to the building. 

Finally, the Hesiodo’s screen needs to be cleaned by hand every 6 months or so to remove the dust and smoke residue typical for exposed building elements in Mexico City. It takes about 1–3 days to properly clean the screen.

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Other Considerations

In some countries, labour-intensive manufacturing with mid-sized production volumes will cost less and be easier to customise than in more highly industrialised countries. For Villarreal, hand-blown, blow-molded glass cost less than blown plastic, and he was able to find several workshops in Mexico that were willing to undertake the project.

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Lessons Learned

The Hesiodo’s residents are supposed to pay a maintenance fee to cover the building’s upkeep. However, not all of the residents pay, and so the building’s exterior, and particularly the spheres, have not been cleaned as required. Smoke and dust have built up on the spheres, and the screen has not aged gracefully.

Villarreal visited the building approximately ten years after it was completed and only a few spheres had been broken. This is partly due to the thickness, and therefore strength, of the hand-blown glass. Hand-blown glass tends to be stronger than a comparable component made by mechanised glass blowing. The firm had proposed a method for replacing any broken spheres without the need to remove the cable and restring them. This had yet to be done.


Manufacturing Architecture is out now.

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