The Role of the Building Façade – Curtain Walls

Apr 02, 2012

The building envelope remains one of the most important exterior elements for building functionality. While the façade is an elegant component that helps to define the unique architectural aesthetics of the building, it also has the critical role related to energy performance and interior function of a building. As technology continues to improve, different options for improvement become available for incorporation into building facades. These elements are geared toward improvement of the building envelope performance.

By definition, the curtain wall is an independent frame assembly with self sufficient components that does not brace the building structure. While curtain wall systems are proprietary systems, there are many available to the industry but not all systems have the same function. In commercial and similar buildings, the building envelope components, especially, the curtain wall provides two key functions: Weather barrier against the environmental factors for air and water infiltration and light transmittance to the interior space.

Considering the function of these components, we have to address existing buildings performance and access or improve the dynamics related to the environment. At times, the professional community misapplies material choices and system application to environment due to a lack of understanding or familiarity of said systems. The existing buildings thus provide reference information demonstrating the merits and/or lessons learned from those choices. The importance of dialogue and knowledge sharing with the construction community should not be understated.

Review of components and functions are important in relating to how the building performs. Not only are component choices in the curtain wall important, the installation scheme of the system and subsequent maintenance by the building management are complementary of the performance of the curtain wall.

The paper discusses several aspects of the curtain wall as it relates to building performance: design parameters, building type, material components, assemblage, maintenance and retrofit. Considering the fiscal investment in the commercial property, at times the expectation of these systems sometimes doesn’t synchronize with performance for varied reasons. It then becomes important to discuss the dynamic, learn about improvement in design approach and constructionablity in order to enhance a building performance.

Dudley McFarquhar, PhD, PE (McFarquhar Group Inc.)
Presented at: 
Building Enclosure Science & Technology (BEST3) Conference
Published & professionally reviewed by: 
McFarquhaer Group, Inc.
Building Enclosure Technology & Environment Council (National Institute of Building Sciences)