In 1926, the German architect, Walter Gropius, constructed the first modern, functional curtain wall for the Bauhaus.
Since then, it has remained a staple of modern architecture.
Considering the cost required to erect curtain walling, why has it become a staple of modern architecture?
Maybe it’s the ability to withstand high wind loads even at heights up to 2900 feet. Maybe it’s the way it can be used to transform otherwise dull looking buildings into architectural masterpieces; from Dubai to London, curtain walls can be found in city centres, hospitals, libraries, schools, and new buildings everywhere.
The reasons for creating a facade on buildings stretches beyond aesthetics. Architects also consider how to make buildings airtight and resistant to forces like rain, heat flow, excess light, wind-borne debris, airborne chemicals, wildlife, dirt accumulation, theft, even earthquakes and dangerous levels of noise vibration.
Modern curtain walls are made of light, yet strong networks of transoms and beams to create a lattice that can support glass panes.
In commercial buildings, these panes are designed to:
- Improve energy efficiency by providing thermal insulation.
- Reduce incoming noise without sacrificing daylight.
- Minimise the heat from the sun whilst allowing sunlight in.
- Be impact resistant thus providing a safe and secure space.
- Remain clean by using technology that combines daylight and rain to break down organic dirt.
Attempting to offer so many benefits may seem a tall order, but developments in material science and facade construction have made these, and much more possible.
The earliest design of curtain walling was the Stick Wall system, where the wall is installed on-site, piece by piece. Still widely in use, especially in low to mid-rise curtain walls, this system has low shipping and handling costs. However, its need to be constructed on-site makes it an unwieldy option on high-traffic projects.
A Hybrid semi-unitised system was developed to eliminate the need to construct the wall on-site. This allows most of the components to be fabricated and assembled into a unitised panel in the factory and delivered to be finally put together on-site. This is an advantage when the wall is to be used across floors.
The most modern version is the Unitised Curtain Wall System. Considered the best quality system due to its assembly under strict factory conditions, this system can be rapidly installed; up to three times as fast as with a stick wall system. This type is, however, plagued by one design flaw. There is a possibility of the wall developing a leak at the third joint of every mullion and transom.
Curtain walls are not limited to use skyscrapers alone; modern homes are using them to provide extra features. Again, aesthetics are not the only reason they are used in residences. In homes, they are usually not part of the structure and are often used in public areas of the home.
The type of glazing used can greatly add to the functionality. Glazing can be reflective, low-E, anti-reflective etc. Innovative architects install photovoltaic cells on south-facing walls to capture the sun’s rays for power generation and also to provide a source of passive heating. Some homeowners position plants close to the walls to take maximum advantage of the sun’s rays.
Other treatments that can be applied include a reflective coating for one-way vision and the use of low-iron glass to allow high levels of light and solar energy transmittance.
Nowadays in construction, curtain wall systems are no longer mere building envelopes.
They form a part of the building’s image. A good design and the right fit will guarantee a facade that beautifies and protects any building, whether residential or commercial.
Thinking of using a curtain wall for your next project? Worried about which system is best for you? Contact SRL Limited today and speak with a professional.