curtain WALL

What is a curtain wall? Visually, we see an almost uninterrupted wall of glass — a modern engineering feat.

Technically, a curtain wall is defined as any external wall that carries no building loads. The wall is hung, like a curtain. In the case of 900/910, and all the towers that followed its example, the larger I-beam mullions stiffen the curtain wall, and the light glass sections prevent air and moisture from entering the building.

The engineering pioneered in 900/910 was a major progression from the 860/880 buildings. 860/880 were a first step along Mies’ way to creating his often imitated, but never equalled, glass and steel high-rise architecture. Unlike the later 900/910 buildings, the exterior walls of 860/880 are not true curtain walls because the windows are placed within the structural frame of the building so they do not form a continuous, separate curtain wall structure. By contrast, at 900/910 the curtain wall stands apart from the buildings’ structural skeleton as a separate continuous element.

Unlike facades in more traditional architecture, the facades of these buildings expose the structure rather than hide it. Finding the beauty in exposed structural elements was a hallmark of Mies’ modernist philosophy.

Photo: Alec McAusland.
Diagram: © Alvin Ho/Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal


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