What makes for a better façade - Glass or Aluminium

What makes for a better façade - Glass or Aluminium

Have you ever paid close attention to the front of a building? Was it welcoming, imposing, dramatic? Façades and building envelopes – which form the outer skins of buildings – project image and creative intent. How these look is no accident. Someone designed them with a lot of attention and precision.

When a façade is designed, many elements require consideration. What will the entrance look like? What style will they go for? Fenestration must be consideration, as does the placement and proportions of windows. And finally, what type of building materials will be used.

Of late, two building materials have been talked about in increasing volume when it comes to façades and building envelopes: glass and aluminium. Both can create stunning finishes and visionary forms, but does one outperform the other as stuff that architectural dreams are made of? In this blog we’ll try and find out.

Probably the most important factor that architects and specifiers will look at when designing a façade is cost. Aluminium, as a building material, is one of the cheapest metals and most cost-effective structural solutions to use in construction. However, manufacturing of glass is high energy consuming process due to the high temperature required for processing the raw materials. Glass is also an expensive material and ultimately can increase the cost of a building. So designers looking to save their pennies should probably look towards aluminium when deciding what material to use for their building’s façade.

Money aside, another significant consideration for a façade is its weight. Certain buildings can only hold so much weight upon them and choosing the right one should be high on the list of importance to architects and specifiers. Glass is a very light weight building material, and one reason that developers and architects relish glass is because it reduces the weight on the foundation and hence makes the building lighter. Similarly, aluminium is also a very light material with a specific weight of 27 g/cm3. In this area, both materials perform equally well.

But let’s go from the outside in and consider how the façade affects the interiors of the building. Glass allows natural light to enter the house even if the doors and windows are closed which brightens up the space inside – and we all know that daylight makes a very positive impact on the mood and productivity of the occupier. Glass also offers unobstructed views thus making the interiors look larger. When used in the exteriors it helps in bringing the outdoors into the indoors. Aluminium, on the other hand, is not see-through, so if natural light and the benefits that brings are high on your list of priorities, you should opt for a glass façade.

Glass can also be moulded into virtually any shape and made either transparent or translucent. Most architecture today uses transparent glass for a building facade, but the flexibility of the material allows architects to be creative with how it is used. However, aluminium is also easily bent into any shape and as a material, is very flexible.

Sustainability is the buzzword of the day and many architects and specifiers are looking to make as eco-friendly choices as possible when it comes to their building materials. Glass is 100% recyclable and does not degrade during the recycling process, which means it can be recycled again and again without loss of quality or purity. However, so can aluminium. Aluminium can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality. The re-melting of aluminium requires little energy; it saves up to 95% of the energy required for primary aluminium production.

Glass and aluminium share high specs and share many benefits. Ultimately, the choice between them comes to aesthetics. As we said before, façades and building envelopes project image and creative intent – and the image you’re trying to portray will probably dictate your choice on building material. But it’s good to know that no matter which one you choose – you’re choosing well.

Like these? Check out our Facades & Architectural Glazing Hub for more.

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