Why haven't double-skinned glass walls achieved the popularity in the United
States that they have in Europe? This was the question asked in several different
ways by audience members after the presentation on the subject by William Braham
and Ali Malkawi, both associate professors in the Department of Architecture at
the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, at the AIA annual convention in
Las Vegas last week.
The response was very practical: Energy costs. But it was also conceded that
cultural issues have played a role in this as well.
After all, Braham pointed out in his presentation, the concept of double-skinned
walls had been very popular in the United States in its early stages.
The presentation was titled Active Glass Walls: A Technical and Historical
Account. It was both-technical and historical.
Le Corbusier is credited with constructing the first double-skinned structure
in 1912, a house in the Alps. Not much of significance happened after that until
the Loomis house was built in Tuxedo, N.Y. in the 1950s. Then the movement gained
strength in Scandinavia in the 1960s and 1970s.
Next came the energy supply crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, which morphed into
the popularity of double-skinned buildings in Europe in the 1990s.
As Braham pointed out, one of the things that makes glass walls so interesting
is that they make visible the interaction of the building and its environment.
The point of double-skinned walls is the desire to build glass structures
that can control the climate so that it is comfortable for the occupants.
While this type of construction has become popular in Europe, the speakers
pointed out, there has not really been that much research done on how effectively
these skins fulfill the expectations that owners/architects have for them. (Malkawi
made the point that there has been resistance in Europe to going back to the buildings
to determine how effectively they are operating.)
This is where the work at the University of Pennsylvania comes in. The Building
Simulation Group is trying to "take it to the next level," as the speakers
phrased it, by doing research to find out what the variables are with this type
of wall and to develop computer models to show how it performs.
Malkawi gave examples of such on-going work being done on Levine Hall, which
is on the school's campus and constructed in 2003.
The complete papers will be posted on the school's website at www.gsfa.upenn.edu\bsg.
The AIA educational program covers a wide range of topics, as would be expected,
as architects are involved in an array of activities, techniques and materials.
The presentation on double-skinned walls served the purpose of increasing the
knowledge a crowd of 150 people has about an increasingly popular architectural
design that utilizes a lot of glass effectively, and seems poised to make a comeback
in the United States.