The modern curtain wall has
evolved from static wrapper to active building system.
Use the following learning objectives
to focus your study while reading this month’s ARCHITECTURAL
RECORD / AIA Continuing Education article.
After reading this article, you
will be able to:
1. Describe innovations in facade
2. Explain how the facade works
with other building systems.
Raimund Abrahams Austrian
Cultural Forum in Midtown Manhattan slopes away from the
street in accordance with strict zoning regulations.
In Building Skins (Birkhauser), Christian Schittich writes,
[In the Fagus Works shoe factory (191125)], Walter
Gropius succeeds in collaboration with Adolf Meyer in suspending
a curtain wall in front of an industrial hall as filigree,
transparent skin that no longer has any load-bearing function
and clearly announces this freedom. He and other pioneers
of Modernism liberated the building skin from the load-bearing
frame, and there was no going back. Such liberation, however,
absolved the facade maker from any obligation to the interior.
Architects make careers out of creating wrappers for undetermined
Today, facade engineering is synonymous with curtain-wall
design, which is to say that every facade is a curtain wall.
Facade innovation first came in the form of incremental improvementsmore
energy-efficient glazing units, structural sealants, lighter
materials. More recently, innovation has been associated with
new productsnew composite materials, high-strength concrete,
fabrics, and photovoltaics.
The following projects show that real innovation grows out
of successful problem-solving, whether it be in response to
the impossible site or in developing systems integration.
Between bedrock and a hard place
The Austrian Cultural Forum (this issue, page 122) was wrenched
vertically out of the ground and stuffed horizontally into
what can only be called a mean fissure in a tightly packed
urban block of Midtown Manhattan. The program for the building,
which is only 25 feet wide and 81 feet deep, called for a
24-story structure on the site of a former town house. This
incredibly tight space created a multitude of challenges for
Austrian architect Raimund Abraham in his first American commission.
The building envelope was the major design problem from the
onsethow to give an iconic presence to the entrance
facade while meeting New York Citys stringent zoning
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