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Double Skin Facades
For some applications, double skin facades can be an effective way of layering together dynamic and static elements to increase the performance of window systems. Solar heat gain and daylighting can be managed through an operable blind system in the cavity, which can also be utilized for a range of ventilation strategies including pre-conditioning outside air and creating a solar flue to draw air out of the adjacent spaces. A double skin facade can provide acoustic benefits for buildings with natural ventilation. The cavity can also provide a thermal buffer between interior and exterior to reduce heat loss, although in most commercial buildings cooling is more of an issue than heating. Overheating of the cavity must be balanced with acoustics and other factors for configurations with fixed outer openings, or operable outer openings can be utilized to allow seasonal adjustments.
For tall buildings, where the wind speeds might be too high for dynamic exterior shading devices, a double skin can provide wind protection. Since the 1990s Northern European design teams have sought to improve the performance of highly glazed buildings with double skin facades. The most significant challenges include the high cost, the tendency for overheating in the cavity, and general effectiveness. Building off the lessons learned from earlier installations, a new generation is now being designed and installed with the intent of further improving performance. Experience has led to a better understanding of the trade-offs between thermal performance, daylighting, and acoustics, and is resulting in more selective and strategic use of double skin facades. Simulating and measuring the performance of double skin facades is extremely complicated, but is essential to assure that the strategy is applied appropriately, and that assemblies are properly designed.
A good resource on this strategy is the book, Double-Skin Facades—Integrated Planning, by Eberhard Oesterle, Rolf-Dieter Lieb, Martin Lutz, and Winfried Heusler, Prestel Verlag, 2001.
For some applications, double skin facade assemblies can effectively manage solar heat gain, daylighting, and natural ventilation.