Most innovative decorative glass application: commercial

Vortex Mall of Arabia, APG International Inc.
September 27, 2009

Al Hokair Group, the largest owner of shopping malls in Saudi Arabia, appointed APG International Inc., Glassboro, N.J., to design, engineer, manufacture and install a large glass artwork element called the Vortex at the Vortex Mall of Arabia, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The concept design was to create a free-form glass structure suspended from the roof as a continuation of the ceiling, says Ed Zaucha, CEO, APG. The structure would take a funnel shape and would be fully glazed with additional dynamic LED lighting integrated into the system. “There is a fountain on the floor below that shoots water up through the second floor and into the Vortex. And if you look through the Vortex, you see a point-supported skylight within,” he says. “It’s eye catching.”

There are three Vortexes in the building all of similar size, 350 square meters (3,767 square feet). They measure 15 meters (49 feet) high and 20 meters (about 66 feet) wide. Construction began in March 2008 and was completed in August 2008.

The structure had to be self-stabilizing as its weight needed to provide sufficient tension in the system for it to remain stable. The sub-structure, or ‘stocking’ net, is constructed from a triangular mesh of stainless steel tie rods connected with stainless steel machine nodes. Each rod and node is unique because of the geometry.

In each Vortex, there are 400 glass panels, all custom screen printed; 600 stainless steel tie rods; 1,200 glass frame members; and 800 stainless steel precision nodes.

Completing the design, engineering and structure fabrication for a piece with no common elements was challenging. “No two pieces of glass [on the Vortex] are the same shape or size,” Zaucha says. “We did the manufacturing in New Jersey, cutting the metal to precise angles to achieve exact dimensions. … There are thousands of pieces of metal that make up that Vortex.”

The Vortex features laminated low-iron glass consisting of a 6-millimeter outboard lite, a 1.52-mm PVB interlayer and an 8-mm inboard lite. A custom dot-patterned screen print was required on all glass panels in order to function with the LED system that was integrated into the glass frame. The dot matrix pattern needed to change intensity from the LED source outwards, requiring the dot diameter to grow larger the farther away from the light source.

The LED system was integrated into the glass framing. A new aluminum die was extruded to carry the LED, connect to the structural net and provide a wiring channel. The LED strip lighting was developed by Insta, Germany, and using a single serial cable, was able to control multiple lites at a time with different colors and intensities.

“One of the things that we are specializing in now is animated glass applications. For the Vortex, we incorporated LED lights that are wired to a central glass control module,” Zaucha says. “The animation made it more elaborate and the Vortex became much more of a centerpiece of the mall.”

Echo Consultants, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was the architect, and Flachglas, Bavaria, Germany, supplied the glass.