Glass Sphere Built for Expo Posed Challenge


A sphere of glass on the skyline of Astana acts as a beacon for Kazakhstan’s Future Energy expo, epitomizing the aesthetic of innovative days ahead.

The hub of the expo is the Kazakhstan Pavilion, which acts as a center focal point for the complex and was created by Chicago-based design firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Reminiscent of a number of retrofuturistic designs, such as the Montreal Biodome from Expo ’67, the glass dome is 262 feet in diameter. Sitting atop the pavilion, this is where the Museum of Future Energy—the heart of the expo—is housed.

Designing the Dome

More than simply drawing inspiration from the past, the design firm also sought to comply with the president of Kazakhstan’s request for a sphere to be part of the structure. Smith + Gill set out to do what others had failed to—create a true sphere.

“Instead of segmented glass, we decided to do double-curved, insulated, fritted glass,” Gill said in an interview.

What initially seemed to be a straightforward design process turned out to be anything but, with problems beginning with the very shape of the structure itself—causing an issue of an undefined transition of heat across its surface—and carrying through to the fabrication of glass panels.

To address the issue caused by the sphere’s form, Smith + Gill implemented a convection system to move air throughout the space.

In order to solve the issue posed by the glass panels, the design firm soon realized that, despite assuming double-curved glass would be easy to find due to its use in car windshields, there were only three manufacturers of double-curved insulated glass on the planet that could deliver what was needed.

After the architecture firm chose the Italian company Sunglass for the job, both groups collaborated on a structure design that resulted in the choice of a rhombus shape with horizontal members. These would be rationalized with the floor line during installation.

The building envelope is a glazed unitized curtain wall system. A diagrid shell comprised of a primary and secondary steel frame system supports aluminum mullions, while also supporting and thermally isolating connections to the glazing units. The radiant heating system is surrounded by a perforated enclosure, which is supported off of horizontal mullions.

When it comes to the exterior, ceramic frit glazing was used on the outboard laminated lite of the curtain wall. Ultra-clear low-iron glass, covered in a low-E coating, was utilized throughout the work. LED lights and shading systems can also be found within the exterior curtain wall mullions.

Around 2,900 double-curved spherical panels were used, along with another 315 panels to comprise the sphere’s wind turbine inlet for its two upper-level wind turbines. Integrated photovoltaics from Ertex can also be found in 388 of the panels.

“There’s a lot of science behind this simplicity,” Gill told Archpaper. “It seems so straightforward and almost like a one-liner, but it unfolds in front of you as you go through it to reveal a whole litany of sophistication.”

There are eight floors, with each displaying a different type of alternative energy.

“For instance, the first floor is hydropower, the second floor is the energy of the sun, the third floor is wind energy, the fourth floor is bioenergy, chemical energy,” President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev said in a statement.

Future Energy Expo

The focus of the Astana expo this year is a combination of achieving changes in the energy sector, along with investigating new sources of energy and designing new modes of transportation. Finding a way to promote economic growth and a better quality of living while removing some of the burden on the environment remains at the heart of this year’s expo in Kazakhstan.

Phase 1 of the expo was completed in June, which saw the design and construction of expo buildings. The buildings themselves generate power, becoming the world’s first truly post-Industrial Revolution city.

Phase 2 of the expo is known as Legacy Mode, and will convert the expo buildings into an office and research park, with 100 percent of the post-expo non-potable water demand to be provided by an onsite water reclamation facility, and 24 percent of electrical demand to be met by BIPV energy systems.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; Color + Design; Construction; Design; Design build; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Glass

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