9 Curtain Wall and Enclosure Trends

Every year, hundreds of projects come across my desk and into our firm. We win some and we lose some, but we get to at least assess or review all of them. As I wrap up the year with this blog, here are the trends I am seeing, based on the projects we are working on.


1. More Glass

  • Custom unitized projects with an emphasis on glass, daylighting, views, visibility and connection to the outdoors.
  • Lites from 75 to 120 square feet in size in unit walls; often floor-to-ceiling (almost) with very small, heavily insulated spandrel areas.
  • More robust glass that’s insulated and thicker to meet structural and flatness requirements for large sizes, different spacer options, coatings, laminates, patterns.
  • Structural glass walls with and without vertical glass fins.
  • Custom shaped glass such as folded, bent, leaning, not square or rectangular.
  • Structural Silicone Glazed– two and four sided.

2. Stack (expansion) Joints at or directly above the floor line

  • Stack joints aligned with the floor or within 6 inches from top of floor to top of horizontal.
  • “Drop Down” anchors with recessed inserts.

3. Panels, panels, panels

  • Many architects and designers seem to love panels; plate, sheet, ACM, corrugated, perforated, ACM and solid aluminum. Framed, hook and pin, face screwed, glazed and more.
  • Formed, profile-cut fins arranged in undulating patterns to form a more complicated looking geometry.

4. Stone, again?

  • I'm starting to see dimensional stone again in small doses, applied either on a rain screen or in a unit wall. 
  • Dimensional stone is lovely, and provides a great look combined with glass and metal.

5. “Fly-Bys”

  • Cantilevered elements with glass and aluminum framing that protrude outside the weather line anywhere from 3 feet to 10 feet; sometimes self-supportive and sometimes supported back to a clad structure that also protrudes from the building. These aren’t original architecturally. I see them on job after job.
  • There are many design issues to work through with these features. Watch out for the soffit and parapet conditions. They are “hanging out” vertically and horizontally and have to be stabilized in both directions.

6. Design- Assist

Most custom, unitized and even some stick curtain wall systems on highly visible 
facilities or projects of note with unique facades have some form or design-assist or design-
participation. This is GOOD for the industry as it integrates the design professional with the 
glazing subcontractor client and the AEC team. Integration and collaboration create 
understanding, shorten the design time cycle, and get everyone sharing each other’s reality. 
It’s the only way to go.

7. Modeling

The use of 3-D AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino and Inventor is becoming more commonplace. Some of the more complex geometries are most easily solved in a 3-D platform and then rationalized to make it “build-able.”

8. Revit Coordination

The use of Revit in curtain wall and clash detection has increased again. Some owners are requiring jobs to be modeled, plus requiring production drawings to be developed from 
models. Regular BIM coordination meetings are held to coordinate between multiple trades.

9. Façade/Enclosure/Curtain Wall Consultants

Some good, some not so good, but more of them (us). 

The exterior wall defines the look of the building. It’s often complex. It’s dynamic. It protects occupants from the outside environment. I find it a privilege to work in this field and it’s as fresh and interesting now as it was when I started over 30 years ago. As I say to many colleagues, “Thanks for your partnership in the work. Let’s build some great stuff together.”

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.


John, Re: Article Glass Mag 9 CW enclosure trends! Thanks for your contribution to the industry! Great topics! I think your perspective is really important in sharing what your seeing coming out for bid & getting built! I really like your comments on design-assist! Small changes can have huge impacts to the walls. If you could write about this it would good info for the suppliers, fabricators, glazing contractors! I.e.: Why are you charging me so much? The square footage didn't change, we just changed a few dimensions to clarify the design intent? I have a saying of "Hand me that Piano!" Easier said than done! Thanks for your contribution! I enjoy reading your articles! This will benefit everyone with your experience!
Nice article John! We have seen all of these trends and an increased use of SentryGlass interlayers to integrate multi-lite composite strength laminated jumbo glass. New technology to heat treat and laminate oversized glass will continue to push our industry to accommodate designer's appetites for oversized glass and unitized curtain wall units. The future for our industry is very exciting!