Curtain Walling: More Than Just A Pretty Fac(ade).

City centres, from London to Singapore, are full of skyscrapers gleaming in the sun.

Many of them sport vast swathes of glass and steel, whose sole purpose seem to be to blind passers-by. But it may surprise you to note that curtain walling has been in use for much longer than you may think.

As a building envelope, it was used in 1895 on the Reliance Building in Chicago.

In the UK, the Crystal Palace building in Hyde Park was the first building to be completely covered in plate glass. Since then, there have been many more after it. From the Alcoa Building to the Lloyds Building, curtain walling has been used to spotlight building design.

The earliest forms of cladding were made from masonry, terra cotta, wood, even wide sheets of glass hung over the fronts of buildings. Yet, they were revolutionary for their time. Most of them had one major drawback; these older types didn’t allow much light to pass through. In 1930, the revolutionary Boots factory in Beeston was built with a completely transparent glass front. This led to the coining of the term ‘daylight factories’.

Although curtain walling is non-structural i.e. it doesn’t support any load but it’s own weight.

This affected the height to which they could be installed. This limited the earliest glass curtain walls to only three floors high.

The architect, Willis Polk created the initial design of a large, continuous, non-loadbearing glass wall that is built on the face of the entire building.

Advancements in metal and glass manufacturing, (thanks to the growing automotive and aircraft industry) led the way for building metal curtain wall panels.

Nowadays, in addition to making buildings more energy efficient, architects use curtain walling to create unique design elements. The 7, 500 panes of glass on the Burj Khalifa are a welcoming sight to visitors to Dubai. A building in France, the Institut du Monde Arabe has an intricate facade on the southwest of the building. Behind the glass curtain wall, a metallic screen seems to move of its own accord. It’s actually a bank of moving geometric motifs. They’re 240 photo-sensitive motor-controlled shutters, that open and close; that control the amount of light and heat entering the building from the sun. Talk about elaborate!

From early 1900 till date, the development of better glass and steel manufacturing processes, have allowed curtain walls to become lighter and have better insulation properties.

Historically, curtain walls were fitted to:

  • Improve the insulation properties of the building.
  • Improve worker morale by allowing more natural light enter the workplace.
  • Solve heating/cooling issues by regulating temperatures.

Modern curtain wall systems do these and more including:

  • Maintaining an ideal temperate internal environment.
  • Providing extra protection from fire if firestopping materials and design is incorporated.
  • Can help extend lifespan of the building by efficiently channelling runoff, if pressure-equalised rain screen systems or water managed systems are installed.
  • Maintaining high levels of internal air quality by retarding the growth of mold due to the formation of condensation (This hinges on the use of high grade sealants and rubber gaskets).

Aesthetics was the original inspiration for the curtain walls in the 1900s. Technology has evolved to make them a key element in improving the energy efficiency of the buildings they cover. Do you need a modular system or a stick system for that cladding project? Would you prefer glass or stone in-fills? Whatever your project requirements, SRL Limited can help. Contact our qualified team today.