When I first got into the construction trade, I found the more technical aspects of the industry rather perplexing.  Where construction meets architecture, it all gets a bit technical, apparently! Everyday parlance at work demanded, however, that I had some knowledge of certain terms – for example, I needed to know my brise soleil from my aluminium curtain and external louvre.  I was hoping to learn a good amount on the job but pretty soon I realised that I would only really get ahead if I spent some hours teaching myself until I really knew what I was talking about in all things construction.

The word brise soleil, I discovered, is from the French for ‘sun breaker’ which pretty much explains its purpose.  Architecturally, brise soleil describes a variety of sun-shading techniques – and there can be more types of them than you might think.  A brise can be a patterned concrete wall, or a more sophisticated creation like the one devised by Santiago Calatrava for the Milwaukee Art Museum.  They are not always ornate or creative, though.  More typically, it will be a horizontal projection from the sun facing side of a building.  Buildings with large amounts of glass can overheat seriously during the summer moths, and a brise soleil is the ideal way to stop this from happening.

External louvres can be incorporated into a brise soleil to make sure it offers protection from sun which falls from a higher angle, while also allowing winter sun in, optimising the passive solar heating potential of the building.  An aluminium curtain is also a way of protecting buildings from the weather – it is essentially a curtain wall which provides a non-structural covering of a building, but one which protects it from air and water infiltration, as well as the effects of the wind.  Initially, curtain walls were made of steel, but they tend to be constructed with aluminium now.  The aluminium frame can be infilled with glass to create an aesthetically more pleasing building, which lets in a good amount of natural light.

Although I now understand that an external louvre can be fitted to a brise soleil to minimise exposure to direct sunlight, and an aluminium curtain provides a non-structural outer covering, I still feel a bit out of my depth when discussing the finer points of these structures with the skilled architects who design them.  The more I looked into the subject, the more I came to understand why these professionals need to study for seven years!

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