An Idiot's Guide To Curtain Walling

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Curtain walling you question?  It’s basically a façade that covers many modern buildings.  It doesn’t bear any weight loads – just its own.  Even this is transferred to the main building by connectors at floors. 

This ‘protective envelope’ or finish can be used on low or high-rise commercial buildings.

What are the advantages of curtain walling?

There are many reasons for curtain walling but the main ones are about protecting the occupants and the building from the environment:

  • Resistance to air or water infiltration – the elements basically
  • Resistance to wind force
  • Resistance to seismic forces

You can see from these main reasons that the object of curtain walling is to strengthen buildings and make them less susceptible to natural forces and elements which might cause the building a problem. This is particularly important for tall and taller than average buildings.

What are they made of?

Typically a curtain wall is made from an aluminium frame filled with glass. This not only looks aesthetically pleasing but also lets in lots of natural light. Within this façade the design may include windows or louvers that open for natural ventilation or facades of other materials such as metal, fabric or stone.

Many of the curtain walls for modern high rise buildings are bespoke and have to take into consideration and facilitate thermal expansion and contraction, sway and movement if the building is very high. With sustainability in mind, thermal efficiency is another big consideration so that the building’s heating, cooling and lighting can be cost-effective.

The history of curtain walls

Curtain walls as we know them, have come about in the last 50 -60 years. Prior to this the façade of a building was load-bearing  which meant it had to support the load of the whole construction. They were usually constructed of steel or brick.

Strangely curtain walls which are walls that surround walls of the main building as a protective layer have their roots in or can be compared to medieval castles!

Medieval castles were surrounded by walls often connected via ‘mural towers’ to add strength and offer a better defence for the castle. Curtain walls follow the same principle although they are rarely defending modern buildings from siege!

Shining examples

The 72 storey Shard in London is one of the latest examples in the UK. This tapering sky-scraper stands 308 metres high and was designed by Renzo Piano an award winning Italian architect. The Shard is currently the tallest building in the EU.

The design of the building represents earlier church steeples and the glass façade is angled to reflect both sun and sky. This also adds the aesthetic touch of an ever-changing look for the façade as light and seasons change.

Renzo Piano also designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris which also has a glass façade and lots of colourful utility pipes on show; the New York Times Building in New York which has a steel frame infilled with glass; St Giles Court in Central London is two buildings, one residential and one commercial with colourful terracotta and glass facades.  All very different curtain walls.

 

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