Hung from rather than part of a building's structure, a curtain wall is usually made of glass
John Hill January 1, 2000
Houzz Contributor. I am an architect and writer living in New York City. I have Bachelor of Architecture and Master in Urban Planning degrees, and over ten years experience in architectural practice, split between Chicago and NYC. Currently I'm focused on writing and online pursuits. My daily blog can be found at http://archidose.blogspot.com
Houzz Contributor. I am an architect and writer living in New York City. I have Bachelor... More
A curtain wall is one of the primary means of expression in modern architecture. It is a non-load-bearing wall, typically made of glass and metal, mounted in front of a structural frame. Curtain walls are hung from a building's structure, rather than being part of the structure itself; their invention in the early 19th century (the Hallidie Building in San Francisco is considered the first example, dating to 1918) broke strongly from the traditional architectural expression of small windows in heavy walls. Early curtain walls were made of steel frames with single-pane glass, but advances in technology and sustainability concerns have made aluminum framing with insulated glass the standard today.
Curtain walls are used primarily in tall office buildings as well as in multifamily and institutional buildings. Yet they are also found in houses, primarily modern ones of at least two floors.
The first two photos show a modern house in Nashville from the outside and inside. Curtain walls typically span vertically, as is the case here, meaning there is some design freedom in the location of the horizontal and other mullions in between.
Most curtain walls have a regular grid of framing, allowing for a variety of infill pieces: clear glass, spandrel glass (solid, single-pane glass in front of insulation), metal panels, operable windows and even doors.
One of the main characteristics of curtain walls is transparency, which some people desire and others find to be create the feel of living in a fishbowl. Regardless of photos like these, just about all buildings with curtain walls have blinds, curtains or other shading elements to cut down on solar heat gain and maintain privacy.