Historic Structural Detail 4

by Don Friedman on March 5, 2013

Because technical language changes at a different rate than technology, we sometimes use obsolete words to describe new things and we sometimes use new words to describe old (or oldish) things. Case in point: people started referring to “curtain walls” in the  1890s, when the non-structural walls in question were 12 (or more) inches of solid masonry. Architects and engineers talked in the professional press about how thin and light those walls were – which they were compared to bearing walls of that era.

Old curtain walls often don’t seem very light to us, today, since we are used to a light wall being a glass wall. From a building we’re working on, the 1920s “light curtain wall” with a portion removed:

 

 

Where the pier has removed, the non-structural nature of the wall is made clear, both by the removal and the presence of the steel column directly behind…but that’s a heavy-looking curtain.

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