Keeping Up the Right Façade

Modern airport designs often incorporate extremely large areas of glass facades; probably partly due to the overall trend in construction industry driving ever more glass on building façades, and in part due to the architect’s desire to afford passengers unobstructed views on the surroundings, as well as on planes landing and taking off.

One of the first considerations that typically comes to mind when designing the glazed façade of an airport is that spaces tend to be very large and are thus difficult to heat up in winter and cool down in summer. The façades should be designed in such a way as to minimise heat flow, thus reducing the heating or cooling needs. This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on climatic conditions.

In areas where there are large seasonal variations, with cold winters and hot summers, thermal conduction through the façade represents an important factor to be controlled. This is measured by a performance parameter called U-value which represents how much heat enters (or exits) the building by unit of façade, based on the temperature difference between the inside and the outside of the building.

There are several ways of controlling the U-value of the building. The first step is to reduce the wind-to-wall ratio. Spandrel panels are typically insulated and thus offer very low U-values. This particular technique may not be compatible with the architectural design, though.

The second technique consists of adopting double-glazed units (DGUs) for vision areas. DGUs have a much lower U-value than monolithic glazing (less than half, typically). When this is not sufficient, a third technique involves filling DGUs with a rare gas such as argon, which further lowers the U-value for even greater efficiency.

Another aspect of heat losses through the façade is related to radiant heat (infra-reds). To minimise this type of heat loss, glazed panels can receive a layer of ceramic frit (a type of permanent paint) that helps reduce heat flow through the façade.

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August 12, 2011
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