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Curtain wall approach


February 23, 2010
By Mike Davey

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A walk through any downtown core will make it plain that glass is the
material of choice for large buildings. This becomes especially
significant if we look only at new buildings.

We all know how common the use of glass is in curtain walls. You don’t need to be in the glass industry, architecture or construction to recognize this.

A walk through any downtown core will make it plain that glass is the material of choice for large buildings. This becomes especially significant if we look only at new buildings. As architects reach ever higher, and strive to design ever more complex machines for living and working, it seems that glass is among the profession’s favourite materials for curtain walls.

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We can expect to see many new buildings clad in glass, if the past can be taken as any indication of the future. It’s true that expecting tomorrow to be just like yesterday has led a lot of people into trouble over the years. However, I believe that glass, with its natural advantages, will continue to be commonly used in curtain walls.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t see new approaches with glass and metal envelopes. Far from it. As Steven Murray of Morrison Hershfield points out, there are a number of ways in which glass cladding can help with environmental sustainability.

“The use of glass envelopes is extremely helpful in terms of daylighting,” says Murray. “Environmental sustainability can certainly be advanced when we reduce the artificial light requirements in the building interior. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by means of the primary structure, geometry and orientation of the building. That’s not new. Frank Lloyd Wright did it all the time. What is new is just how much daylighting can be achieved by the proper use of one cladding element.”

That new approach may involve the use of light-diffusing insulating glass. In this case, a material similar to fibre optics is integrated inside the insulating glass air space. Normally when light hits a window, it is refracted, and the angle of refraction may not be ideal for lighting the building’s interior. With light diffusion the light is refracted by the fibres and diffused from the perpendicular. This results in much steadier daylighting qualities and should serve to eliminate the need for light shelf surface.

Speaking of daylighting in regards to environmental sustainability, we may be on the verge of totally integrated photovoltaics. Invisible ones.
  
A company called New Energy Technologies recently announced that researchers have overcome a significant challenge in creating totally see-through solar glass. It has managed to overcome a significant scientific hurdle in creating the first-of-its-kind see-through solar glass by replacing a visibility-blocking solid metal component with environmentally friendly, non-metallic, transparent compounds.

While this technology may not be ready to market quite yet – there is still research and development to be done before New Energy Technologies’ SolarWindow is complete – we will likely one day walk in a world where our buildings generate much of their own energy. This is excellent daylighting indeed. •


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