Category: Sun Protection


The attraction of brise soleil: from Le Courbusier to the twenty-first century

When a climate is irregular, oppressively hot or cold, or when a building is located in a polluted area such as a large city, external louvres are often used to provide ventilation and a regular circulation of fresh air. These consist of several slats placed at precise angles to ensure the best possible circulation for fresh, temperature-controlled air. Large structures, such as brise soleil, its name taken from the French (‘sunbreaker’) can also shade people around the building from either overwhelming sun or light precipitation. Smaller louvres control sand or dust from entering the building, as well as ambient sound. They are an extremely useful method of reducing emissions from heating and from air conditioning, and for this reason have gained prominence as an essential feature of a ‘green building’. Air conditioning in particular is one of the most infamous culprits in carbon dioxide production.

Some louvres have even more advanced and specific environmentally friendly uses. For instance, glass louvres actively take in and retain heat, leaving buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Some are even built in conjunction with solar panels: the slats are ideally placed to support fragile photovoltaic cells, and the glass maximizes the amount of sunlight they attract. Many well-known buildings, such as Paris’ Institute du Monde Arabe, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Chandigargh city at the foot of the Himalayas, designed by the creator of brise soleil, architect Le Courbusier (‘the blackbird’), use louvres to create modern and efficient buildings.

However, architects are artists, and when planning external louvres on a building, they’re not thinking only of the functionality of efficient temperature and pollution control systems. It’s the indisputable beauty of external louvres that has made them a mainstay of all kinds of architecture projects, from airports or entire cities like Chandigargh, to private homes and small offices. Louvres are found everywhere in inconscpicious forms made out of steel or aluminium, and many are designed specifically not to be seen. But on the other extreme, an arresting structure made of wooden or glass louvres combines functionality with a design centerpiece.

When sitting out in the garden, approaching the pool, or simply approaching a building, a louvre structure is fantastic way of providing a cool, quiet and tranquil space while also enjoying the serenity for inhabitants, workers and guests that comes from gorgeous architecture. It’s increasingly unusual to find a shaded outdoor space attached to a well-designed building that doesn’t incorporate an attractive brise soleil feature – and with louvre installation becoming cheaper and more accessible to the average homeowner, the trend is only set to become more well-loved.

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The last thing you want to have to install on a building are ugly blinds and sunshades. While too much sunlight might be damaging both to fabrics, wall surfaces and art objects, not to mention human skin, a room which lets in no natural light tends to be gloomy. The solution is to install external louvres that are elegant and functional and effectively protect valuable objects and décor from sun damage. Incorporating brise soleil in your shading system makes for maximum protection and hence sustainability. What’s more, the ready availability of glass louvres from specialist suppliers means that your shades can be aesthetic as well as practical.

Putting unsightly additions on the exterior of a building can be controversial with neighbours, local councils and – if the building receives customers or clients – visitors. You need not worry about marring extant architecture by erecting stylish louvres, however. They are an extremely aesthetic choice, as well as having considerable environmental benefits. Providers supply louvres engineered to meet a wide range of requirements. As they can be made from glass, your shades can be silk-screened, tailor cut, etched, coloured or coated according to your specifications. Neither do your louvres have to be static – they can also be installed in motorised, movable positions. Louvres are more than just an add-on. With a great variety of design available, more and more architects are integrating louvres into buildings.

The question of the durability of your shading system is worth considering. Extra resilient shading systems made from aluminium and stainless steel will withstand high winds and loads of snow. Thanks to their lightweight frames, vibration is also minimised. Whatever the façade of the building in question, whether commercial, public, old or new, a selection of fixings and colour coatings can be chosen from in order to blend shading systems with their immediate surrounds.

Most importantly, a good quality shading system will promote the longevity of objects such as valuable works of art, save costs on air conditioning, reduce glare and increase privacy. First and foremost direct sunlight is prevented from entering a building. Significantly, direct sunlight is the chief cause of heat gain and as shading systems help keep things cool, you’ll save on your air conditioning bill. Additionally the environment will benefit, as ozone-depleting gases produced by air conditioning units will be correspondingly reduced.

To sum up, brise soleil enables natural ventilation to be a viable option without the loss of privacy or risk of light damage. External louvres are an effective protective measure, and decrease running costs. Glass louvres combine function with style. If you are environmentally conscious when it comes to architecture and light damage, turn to a comprehensive shading system solution.

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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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