‘In the beginning, it was all black and white’… Maureen O’Hara., actress.
Everything big had a humble beginning. Every ‘big phenomenon’ has had one moment of revolution which has paved the way for others. The case in focus here is’ curtain wall design’. We are talking about an exemplary building that enabled others to innovate. The building in focus here is Oriel Chambers.
What is a curtain wall?
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A curtain wall is a type of walling solution in which an outer covering of a building is non-structural. Being non-structural lightweight material such as glass could be used which reduces construction costs. When glass itself is used as the curtain wall, there is a big advantage is that natural light can penetrate more deeply within the building. Glass allows natural light which reduces the dependency of artificial lighting during day times.
The curtain wall facades, in general, do not carry any dead load weight from the building except its own dead load weight. A curtain wall is designed in such a way that it can resist air and water infiltration, oscillate persuaded by wind and seismic forces acting on the building.
Trace of history:
Oriel chambers is renowned as one of the world’s first buildings that featured a structure with a metal framed glass curtain wall. First of its kind. The building was drafted by famous architect Peter Ellis in the year 1864.The building covers an area of 43,000 sq. ft. and extends to five floors. The building is located in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Oriel chambers holds immense significance whenever you consider modernistic architectural design. Its pre-fabricated structure is almost bible like in the history of architecture. Oriel chambers is often footnoted in architectural histories as a pioneer in the progress towards modernism. Modern architecture around it after the bombing of World War 2 has made it less obvious but it hasn’t lost it’s charm and significance.
Oriel office was basically a designed space for rent in the shape of chambers. The early days of history, a chamber is what the Americans would call a suite, that is, a small office. Each of the chambers was supposed to be rented for a private business with a small number of end users, in between two and ten generally. Oriel Chambers was named so because of its oriel windows that cover in vertical stripes opens on both the facades. The structural short façade with seven stripes of windows with the non-symmetrical main entrance design opens to the famous Water Street.
Ground floor plan and elevation [Image Source- Link]
The main entrance to the building is designed out of the main façade axis because it fronts the corridor, which is located exactly at the axis of the inner part of the building. In other words, internal space efficiency is given a lot of importance. The building has been designed in such a way that from the outside it might seem to have three floors but in reality, there are five.
The central corridor of the building separates the plan in two let out areas. One side opens to Covent Garden Street and the other side opens to a narrow internal courtyard. The scheme of providing lots of light to both sides of the building (external and courtyard’s façade) must have really appealed to the owners.
The actual structure of the building is a combination of cast iron H-shaped columns forming a grid frame with cast iron inverted girders, spanning along the short direction of the building. The space between frames is small and it coincides with the windows broadness. This means that the external and internal facades become free of any structural stiffening.
Paving way for others:
The revolution of modern architecture that began with Oriel Chambers encouraged others to innovate. Soon after the building of Oriel Chambers the world witnessed several curtain wall and skyscrapers designs coming to life. Some of them are:
Reliance Building, Chicago (1895): The first building to use large plate glass windows.
Image Source- timstonor
The Woolworth Building, New York (1913): Best example of Gothic Revival type architecture.
Image Source- boweryboyshistory.
Empire State Building, New York (1931): Second largest building in the world.
Birmingham Post and Mail building in Birmingham: The building was constructed post World War 2. It has use of reinforced concrete frame, smooth marble and glass skin walling.
Image Source- architecture.com
Gherkin’, London: St Mary Axe is a commercial skyscraper in London’s primary financial district. It is a perfect example of sustainable modern architecture.
Image Source- londontopia
For more insight check out this video on Oriel Chambers:
Curated by editor at Wienerberger India
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