The technology built into structural systems like curtain walls is constantly developing, as well as the energy efficiency of the high-rise buildings where they are implemented. The spread of retrofitting also sheds light on the benefits of such systems.
The construction industry has witnessed many evolutions, with high-rise buildings emerging as one of the most prominent. In the UK alone, the total number of high-rise buildings with a height of 18 meters or more was estimated at around 12,500 in April 2020. As the number of these constructions continues to rise, the demand for important structural solutions, such as curtain walls, is set to gain momentum as well – – facilityexecutive.com points out.
Curtain walling – the face of a building
The exterior is essential for the protection of the interior as well as the structural integrity of the building in general. Since the exterior is the face of the building, facades and curtain walls are among the most integral design elements in modern high-rise constructions.
Curtain wall technology plays an important role in architecture, not just for the protection of buildings against harsh elements, but also to enhance their vertical stability. Since these systems are largely exposed to the external atmosphere, curtain walling solutions need to be well designed, installed, and maintained through modern technology.
From smart glass to BIPV
One of the most prominent technologies for curtain walling applications has been the creation of smart glass, which is designed specifically to adapt automatically to varying lighting and climate conditions on the outside of the building. The integration of solar PV (photovoltaic) cells into glass curtain walls is a breakthrough giving way to new solutions such as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).
What is BIPV?
The acronym BIPV stands for Building Integrated Photovoltaics. These systems can be integrated with solar PV cells into various building envelopes, including glass curtain walls, thus ensuring a modern appearance and environmentally conscious operation. BIPV systems have thermal insulation, flame retardant, low noise and light pollution properties.
BIPV systems involve the integration of PV modules directly into the building envelope. By serving the dual purpose of power generator and building envelope material, these systems can generate significant cost savings in terms of electricity and material costs. Besides mitigating fossil fuel use and the resultant emissions, they can also add architectural appeal to the building.
Walls that transform light into energy
PV curtain wall technology offers substantial benefits over conventional curtain walling, by delivering cleaner electricity as well as demonstrating heat-insulating, flame retardant, low noise- and light pollution properties.
In January 2021, Kingspan Light + Air introduced the Kingspan UniQuad. This new translucent, unitized curtain wall system delivers wider flexibility in design through a single system that has been designed to integrate seamlessly with other façade solutions.
In April 2022, AGC, a Japan-based glass manufacturer introduced its new BIPV panel equipped with solar cell-embedded laminated safety glass. Dubbed SunJoule was designed to be adapted to various building requirements, including canopies, facades, and curtain wall systems. The objective behind the development of these panels was to block the sunlight during the harvest of solar energy, and in turn, decrease heat transmission.
Curtain wall technology to play a key role in refurbishment and retrofitting
In recent years, the construction industry is turning increasingly towards refurbishment and retrofitting projects to make existing structures more efficient. According to estimates from Global Market Insights Inc., the curtain wall market is set to register a nearly 9.6% growth rate from the refurbishment segment through 2028 – facilityexecutice.com reports. The ongoing refurbishment trend in construction applications is facilitating the development of various curtain walling solutions for retrofit projects in recent years.
The EENSULATE project
As a European Commission-funded research project under the Horizon 2020 programme consisting of 13 partners from eight European nations, one of the main objectives of EENSULATE was to introduce a new unitized curtain walling system designed to meet market demand for economical, high-performance, pre-fabricated façade retrofitting solutions with reduced thickness and weight.
Photo: kinspan.com, agc.com