Since the popularization of the technology following its use on the Empire State Building in 1929, curtain wall technology has triggered a significant transformation in the design of building envelopes over the years. 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 residential 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. Curtain walling is an important element for the exteriors of high-rises; 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 walls are essentially non-structural cladding systems that are designed to withstand the impact of external environmental forces like the wind while supporting their own weight. Curtain wall technology plays an important role in architecture, not just for the protection of buildings against harsh elements, but also to make them more resilient to water and enhance their vertical stability.
In the current era, the curtain wall market has attained a stronghold in the construction domain, with the technology becoming as structurally important as other critical building elements. Since these systems are largely exposed to the external atmosphere, curtain walling solutions need to be well designed, installed, and maintained, often through the use of modern technology.
Emergence of BIPV indicates technological advancement in the curtain wall market
The role of technology has evolved swiftly over the years, so much so that its presence is fundamental to the success of nearly every modern industry. The curtain wall industry is no exception to this and is heavily influenced by the emergence of innovative technologies facilitating the development of future-ready solutions.
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 cells into glass curtain walls is a breakthrough in this scenario, one which has been recognized by various PV specialists and designers across the globe, giving rise to new solutions such as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).
BIPV systems involve the integration of PV modules directly into the building envelope, such as in the facades of the roof. 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, mitigate fossil fuel use and the resultant emissions, and add an architectural appeal to the building.
PV curtain walls, in particular, are gaining massive traction over the years, bringing together the benefits of curtain wall technology with PV power generation functionality to convert solar energy into electricity through glass panels. 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 April 2022, AGC, a Japan-based glass manufacturer introduced its new BIPV panel equipped with solar cell-embedded laminated safety glass. Dubbed SunJoule, the panel 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 key role in building refurbishment applications
In recent years, the construction industry is turning increasingly towards refurbishment and retrofitting projects to make existing structures more efficient. Economically, retrofitting is emerging as a more feasible solution than a full tear down and rebuild project and is essential to making existing buildings more sustainable and cost-effective.
For successful building refurbishment or renovation, it is essential to improve various structurally important elements of the construction, including curtain wall systems. 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. 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 is a notable example. 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.
In January 2021, Kingspan Light + Air introduced the Kingspan UniQuad, a new translucent, unitized curtain wall system delivering wider flexibility in design through a single system that has been designed to integrate seamlessly with other façade solutions. Developed using dense-cell, double-skin polycarbonate units with a light transmission of nearly 33% and lower U-values, the solution was designed to be lighter than other glass systems, reduce construction costs, improve the building’s energy efficiency, and improve the overall experience.
An avid reader since childhood, Saloni Walimbe is currently following her passion for content creation by penning down insightful articles relating to global industry trends, business news, and market research. With an MBA-Marketing qualification under her belt, she has spent two years as a content writer in the advertising field, before making a switch to the market research domain. Aside from her professional work, she is an ardent animal lover and enjoys movies, music, and books in her spare time.