An aluminium curtain is an effective way of providing shade for a building

When carrying out a complicated construction development, one thing which can have an incredibly large effect on the final success of the building project is the choice of sunscreening. The majority of architects are trained to think about the inconveniences that can result from direct and strong sunlight falling on a building and to include some form of sunscreening into their plans. There are a number of methods which are used to screen buildings, ranging from basic aluminium curtains to allow shade from the summer sun to the patterned concrete walls popularised by Le Corbusier in the first half of the twentieth century. The architectural name for these mechanisms for providing sunscreening is a brise soleil. Normally external louvre will be incorporated into the design of the sunscreen in order to enable the effect of the sunscreening to vary with the seasons.

Brise soleil is a French term (the plural is brises soleils) which means ‘sun breaker’. These are most often found, and most necessary, on buildings where the facades are made from large amounts of glass. During the summer the rooms enclosed by these glass walls can overheat awfully because of the blazing summer sun. The form of sunscreen most often used by architects these days is a horizontal projection from the sunside façade of a new building. Often louvres are incorporated into the design which will stop the high-angle summer sun from falling on the building, but will let the low angle winter sun to hit the building’s façade in order to give some passive solar heating.

Sometimes architects chose to use external contractors to design and manufacture sunscreening. Such companies can design both internal and external sunscreens and also manufacture them. Designs can vary in colour and material and the architects are able to specify certain aspects of the sunscreens’ design in their briefs, such as requesting they provide maximum privacy for users of the building.

A brise soleil or aluminium curtain is becoming an increasingly common sight on many new buildings often with external louvre giving an interesting pattern of light and dark to their outer walls. An exceptional example of this is the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (designed by Jean Nouvel) where the brise soleil has motor controlled apertures filtering and controlling the sunlight that falls on the building and breaking it up into geometric motifs. The building won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and is one of the cultural reference points of Paris. It is well worth seeing.

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