How do manual handling weights affect façade design?

When it comes to designing an architectural façade or solar shading system, the weight of the components is important.

In a nutshell:  

  • The weight of components is important in façade design
  • Heavier façade systems are more difficult and potentially dangerous to handle
  • Maximum handling weights will affect how façades are designed, manufactured, delivered and installed
  • Architectural façades are typically installed as individual panels – but 3D assemblies are heavier
  • Modular assemblies have recommended safe weights of 100kg for mechanical lifting - and 50kg for manual handling

At an engineering level, heavier materials or large systems require more robust support structures and stronger brackets and fixings. Additional loads, say from wind or ice build-up, need to be taken into account too.

But at a practical level, a heavier system is just more difficult (and potentially dangerous) to handle. That will affect how it’s designed, manufactured, delivered and, ultimately, installed.

Take brise soleil, for example. Horizontal or vertical systems are often pre-assembled as cassettes in a factory environment. These modern methods of construction (MMC) can lead to faster build programmes, reduced cost, less waste, and improved health and safety on building sites.

But the recommended maximum safe weight for cassette panels is 100kg for mechanical lifting, and only 50kg for manual handling. Anything more and the system will have to be designed as standalone components, and assembled on site. And while aluminium lends itself to MMC, these weight limits will almost certainly rule out timber.

Architectural façades are typically designed, manufactured and installed as individual panels. The exception is the complex 3D façades that are increasingly common in modern architecture. Here, a number of smaller panels can make up a single (and heavier) assembly requiring a longer, more expensive installation programme involving lots of mechanical lifting and offloading.

It stands to reason that metal with holes in it is lighter, so perforated panels can often be safer and more cost-effective to install than heavier solid panels. Of course, perforated panels may be more expensive to manufacture, so there are pros and cons. As a slightly lighter alternative to perforated panels, expanded mesh can be a good option – but it could compromise the design intent.

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