Optimizing the Architectural Layouts and Technical Specifications of Curtain Walls to Minimize Use of Aluminium

Adam Lee, Paul Shepherd, Mark Evernden, David Metcalfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)
415 Downloads (Pure)


During the recent decades it has become common to enclose large buildings with lightweight, weathertight walls that hang, like curtains, from the floor edges. The frames of these curtain walls are, usually, extruded aluminium – a material whose production is highly energy-intensive. Although means of enhancing the thermal performance of building envelopes have been scrutinized, comparatively little attention has been given to the cost and embodied energy savings that can be achieved through efficient structural design. No guidelines for efficient use of aluminium in a curtain wall have been published, and architects therefore have not known the impact that their decisions have upon the facade's material content. In this study more than 1000 unique curtain wall systems have been optimized numerically, each one to a different set of design criteria, and the results show the extent to which aluminium content is influenced by floor height, locations of supports, number of horizontal members per panel, width of the extrusions, spacing between mullions, design wind pressure, and the minimum allowable thickness of aluminium. The conditions in which the amount of metal required to construct a window wall (glazing spanning between two floors) might be less than that required for a curtain wall (an uninterrupted, multi-floor shroud), also have been explored. The results show that substantial metal savings – reductions of 40% or more – can be realized by making modest changes to the layout geometries and specifications that are in common use. The value of the corresponding construction cost reductions is significant: in the worldwide construction market, the potential savings are in billions of dollars per year. The practical steps that an architect and specifier should take in order to reduce metal content in a curtain wall are set out in a list. These savings are separate from, and in addition to, any that might be attained by optimizing the cross-sectional shapes of extrusion profiles. Unlike improvements in a facade's thermal performance, which usually require capital investment in insulating materials for returns that accrue over decades, material-efficient design methods are free to apply, and the benefits can be enjoyed immediately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-25
Number of pages18
Early online date2 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Curtain wall
  • Embodied energy
  • Facade design
  • Green building
  • Layout optimization
  • Structural optimization
  • Topology optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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