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Curtain Wall: Back to Basics in Architecture Design

By 9th Jul 2019 Jul 16th, 2019 No Comments

If you are looking to make a gorgeous architectural and eco-friendly statement in your home or commercial building design, then it is worth considering adding a curtain wall as a design feature

 What are curtain walls?

 A curtain wall is a frame of enhanced glass that is installed on the outside of the building. It adds, style, space, lots of natural daylight and an element of beauty and modernity to a building.

Curtain walls consist of expenses of pressure glazed or flush glazed glass inside an aluminium or stainless steel frame. The curtain wall and frame are created separately from the building and attached to the building’s main slabs at specific points, installed from the outside. Other materials can be used beside the glass, such as metal panels, or a thin layer of stone. The framing holds only the glass or other material used but does not carry the roof or floor loads of the building. Curtain walls can be installed in standardised sizes or custom-made for a building, depending on the size expanse required. 

Window walls are different from curtain walls. They are installed touching the top and bottom of a floor, between the slabs of a building.

Both types give an unusually beautiful and striking design aesthetic to a building, with excellent light.

Curtain walls are excellent for creating large glass surfaces without using the support of the main structure. They are installed after the main structure has been built, as a stand-alone feature.

Different Types of Curtain Walling 

Stick Curtain Walls Systems

Generally used on low rise buildings, the curtain walls are installed piece by piece onto the building. The transport costs are lower due to the smaller components, but the labour costs of installing are higher. This system does allow for onsite adjustments, however. 

Unit Curtain Wall System

As the name suggests, the entire curtain wall is assembled in the factory, transported and installed as one unit. The unit curtain wall is popular for high rise buildings. Installation is quick and not as labour intensive, but transport costs of the entire unit can get high.

 Features of Curtain Walls

Curtain walls consist of four structural elements – transom, mullions, vision glass and the anchor. They envelop buildings for ideal heat efficiency. Functionally, they provide benefits by being resistant to temperature expansion, seismic forces, water, air and rust. A curtain wall shields the exterior of the building while also protecting the interior. Vision glass is transparent glass that can be double or triple glazed and includes a reflective coating as well. 

Curtain walls give an effect that is both timeless and classic and modern and trendy at the same time. Because of the envelope a building, they control the solar grain, reducing the heat that comes through windows. This keeps the building cooler in Summer months as well as insulating the interior in Winter and reducing heating costs.

Many curtain walls feature hydrophobic coatings, which preserve the glass and help to reduce the maintenance cycle, by creating an almost self-cleaning effect through the glass being coated.

Another consideration, especially for commercial buildings is that curtain walls can improve a building’s security by being resistant to ballistic threats.

Which materials are best for curtain walls?

Once you have decided that a curtain wall is an ideal feature for your building, it is time to look at the materials you will use. Frames and mullions can be made of stainless steel or aluminium or even a combination of both. Both materials have excellent advantages.

Stainless steel, and especially laser fused sections of the steel result in an extremely accurate fitting and perfectly square corners, resulting in smooth, elegant lines and watertight seals. Stainless steel is easy to use in custom designs, doesn’t rust prematurely, lasts well against the elements and is a sustainable material that can be recycled and repurposed.

Aluminium is also a favourite with architects and designers for excellent durability due to its anti-corrosive nature. Aluminium adds flexibility to the frame, adding to the curtain wall’s function as a shock absorber against heavy winds. The metal has the dual benefit of being extremely strong yet lightweight at the same time, making it easier to use in the construction process. 

Other benefits of using aluminium for curtain walling include:

  • It is 100% recyclable
  • Aluminium has great insulation properties
  • It does not burn and is non-combustible (or only at 650 °C, and even then, does not produce harmful gases.)
  • It is very cost effective, in production, transport and installation
  • It does not need regular replacing

Curtain walls are visually stunning, they protect the building and they are a cost-effective option in the long term as they are energy efficient. They resist air and water filtration reducing your cost of heating, cooling, and lighting the building. Curtain walls can be designed and installed in large or small units, giving an amazing level of creativity to the building’s architecture, and creating unique exteriors that do not date.

Architects, that need a full project quotation? Use our online technical quote submission and we will happily give you an exact quote on all your needs!

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Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore is the CEO of Inso Architectural Solutions