Vatican Museum, Italy

The Project

Glass walls at the entrance to the museum

Visitors entering the Vatican Museum today pass through two walls of glass which stand 11 metres tall and extend between the curved structures of the stonework.

The architects went beyond the specifications laid down by the Vatican City government, who wanted the design to be as unobtrusive as possible to accentuate the exhibition space, and maximum transparency to make best possible use of natural light - all while respecting the historical environment. They were also required to use durable materials and ensure maximum security for museum visitors.

Glass with a high-tech touch

The concept of large, at times intricately designed, expanses of glass that are light and barely perceptible is typical of current high-tech trends in contemporary architecture. The interior and exterior of the building are closely interrelated, each a reflection of the other. Curtains of glass, individual and often unique, with seemingly invisible fittings is what the designers had in mind, as well as mechanical, optical, thermal and acoustic performance from the materials.
The Vatican project was to be neither outlandish nor mundane. Once the Pilkington Planar™ system had been selected, a working group was formed, comprising the engineering team, Pilkington Architectural, and Teleya, the company commissioned to carry out the work. The sophisticated nature of the project, in terms of image and technical implementation, required maximum cooperation between the participants. The aim was to ensure that, in keeping with the spirit of the project, every last detail would be dealt with to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Engineering, glass and 3D

The main glass section is 11 m high. To ensure a clearance of two metres from the floor, a support structure was built which had cantilever beams set in the upper edge 8 m from the ground. All the glass sheets were suspended from this structure, and a joint made of anti-friction material accommodated any expansions in the floor slabs.
Particular attention had to be paid to the fact that glass, steel and joints behave in very different ways. Mathematical models were used to analyse each load and stress point, so that the exact pressures on the structure could be determined. This enabled the use of the finest and most attractive glass components, particularly for the monolithic glass bracing of the structure.

The bracing and conical shapes on the glazed surfaces were developed and calculated in 3D by experts from Teleya and Pilkington in collaboration with the engineering director, with everyone striving to push the system to its limits to achieve as light a structure as possible.
To fasten the glass panels of the façade to each other, the team used fittings with articulated joints, which were developed by Pilkington Architectural using stainless steel. These joints absorb any variations in the angle of the glass. Steel plates linked the bracing to the façade. To prevent accidental breakage, all the glass panels were toughened before undergoing intensive heat soak treatment. The outer pane of the glass façade is 12 mm thick and made of toughened, laminated and heat soak treated glass, the inner pane consisting of 6 mm heat strengthened glass. A special Pilkington acrylic resin interlayer, 2 mm thick and completely transparent, was inserted between the two sheets of glass to ensure enhanced noise control as well as impact protection.

Thanks to the excellent management of processes and materials, the use of laboratory-tested articulated joint systems, and the calculation of design characteristics by specialist engineers, the new facade provides a durable high-tech solution complementing the historic structure.

  Project ReferenceGL_PR0058
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Project Details
Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM, Italy
Opening Date
Building Type
  • Museums and Cultural Building
About the Architect/Installer
Giuseppe Facchini
CONSTRUCTION MANAGER: Arlotti, engineer ENGINEERING: Cattivelli - Ing. Fausto, Bagnolo (RE) STRUCTURAL CALCULATIONS: Mike Davidson – engineer at Pilkington Architectural
Benefit Led Categories
  • Glass Systems