Curved glass barrel vaults are used in malls, airports and shopping corridors. Barrel glass vaults allow long spaces to take advantage of the openness of the sky and incorporate the outdoors to an otherwise claustrophobic space.
With a curved barrel vault design, the vectors of pressure result in a downward force on the crown while the lower portions of the arches realize a lateral force pushing outwards. As an outcome, this form of design is subject to failure unless the sides are anchored or buttressed to very heavy building elements or substantial earthwork sidings.
The inherent difficulty of adequately lighting curved glass barrel vaulted structures has been solved through the use of glass. The engineering issue is to avoid fenestration punctures in stonework barrel vaults have been solved through the use of curved glass. In the past, such openings could compromise the integrity of the entire barrel vault arch system. The Romanesque medieval builders had to resort to techniques of small windows, large buttresses, or other forms of interior wall cross bracing to achieve the desired lighting outcomes. Curved glass barrel vaults solve this architectural challenge set by the medieval builders. In many of the monasteries, a natural solution was cloisters, which could have high curved barrel vaulted construction with an open courtyard to allow ample lighting. Since 1996, structural engineers have applied Newtonian mechanics to calculate numeric stress loads for curved glass barrel vaults. These analyses have typically used a finite element algorithm to calculate gravity-induced stresses from the self-weight of a curved glass arched system. In fact, for structural engineers, analysis of the curved glass barrel vault has become a benchmark test of a structural engineering computer model "because of the complex membrane and extensional bending states of stress" involved. In terms of comparison to other vaulting techniques, the curved glass barrel vault is inherently a weaker design compared to the more complex groin vault. The curved glass barrel vault structure must rest on long walls creating less stable lateral stress, whereas the groin vault design can direct stresses almost purely vertically on the apexes.